Muzzle Q and A: Heidi Steinbeck, CTC, CPDT-KA

Next up in our Muzzle Q and A series for Muzzle Awareness Month is Heidi Steinbeck, owner of Great Shakes Dog Training. Heidi is a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA) and Certified in Training and Counseling (CTC) through the prestigious Academy for Dog Trainers developed by Jean Donaldson. In addition to private and day training, she is involved in education services to Chew Dog Rescue providing seminars for continuing education.  She also helps foster families improve the adoptability of their charges.

Why are muzzles important in the world of dog training and dog behavior?

They protect the dog from getting it wrong and can help the dog succeed at training.

What are some situations dog owners might encounter that make muzzle training so important? 

Risk to others for a dog that is afraid or uncomfortable with proximity and to help make vet visits less anxiety producing and safer for everyone. Additionally, there are other scenarios not related to fear that benefit from muzzle wearing, for instance, to prevent dogs from eating things that could make them sick or literally kill them.

What, in your opinion, are the critical elements to a successful muzzle training program?  

Patience and a great plan to follow that paves the way to creating a love for wearing the muzzle.  Desensitization and classical conditioning works best with a NEW THING and the muzzle is new to most dogs.  They can be taught to love it, just as we can teach a dog to love being brushed, it is powerful.

What would you tell owners whose dogs already have a negative association to wearing a muzzle?   

Get a new muzzle and start over.  This is really no different than conditioning a dog to like having nails groomed when they once learned it was a bad thing.  We merely start fresh, new muzzle or new nail trimmer using a great plan and patience to go slow.

Name some of the biggest “myths” and misconceptions out there when it comes to muzzles and muzzle training.  

Dogs that wear muzzles are dogs that will bite or kill people.  This is false.  All dogs can bite and many will if put in just the right situation and some dogs wearing muzzles may be wearing one for other reasons.  The dog in the muzzle is the one with the mouth in check.

Dogs wearing muzzles can’t be trained, that’s why they wear them.  The opposite is true, likely the dog that is wearing the muzzle is on a behavioral modification plan.

Muzzle training is stressful for a dog, they hate things on their faces.  Just as it is possible to teach a dog love wearing a head halter for pulling on the leash, it is as possible to teach a dog to love wearing a muzzle.

How can trainers and dog owners begin to erase the stigma associated with muzzles?

By promoting awareness of the benefits of properly conditioned muzzle wearing. Also, by showing that dogs wearing muzzles are not unhappy and depressed but are having fun and experiencing LIFE!   Maybe for the first time!

When should owners contact a dog trainer?

At any sign of fear or aggression find a force free trainer and fast!  Do not delay!  Additionally, when they can see that what they’re doing is not working. The “not working” tactic goes on far too long which delays progress and allows for the problem behaviors to worsen.

What questions should the owners ask any potential dog trainer regarding muzzle training and training philosophy?

They must ask specifically how to do it.  The trainer must have a step by step plan for the owner to follow that results in a great positive feeling about wearing the muzzle along with clear coaching to ensure good mechanics.  What the owner wants to hear is “I have a plan for you and have had success at helping people teach their dogs to love muzzles using desensitization and classical conditioning.”  Ask them “what will happen when my dog gets it right” and “what will happen when my dog gets it wrong.”

What are your favorite style and brand of muzzle? 

Well to date I’ve only had experience with the Baskerville Ultra muzzle and like it very well.  I’m interested in seeing the Italian muzzle, which I understand is lighter weight.  Anything that keeps the dog successful, feeling comfortable, able to pant, eat, drink and play.

Give us a catchy slogan to encourage dog owners to Muzzle Up!

“Muzzled for Success!”

Maureen Backman, MS, CTC

Maureen is the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and owns Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco, CA. Get in touch at