As part of Muzzle Awareness Month, The Muzzle Up! Project is publishing a series of interviews with noted dog trainers and behaviorists.
Up first is Jean Donaldson, founder of The Academy for Dog Trainers and award-winning author. Jean is one of the top dog trainers in the world and has lectured extensively in the US, Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Before transitioning full-time to pet dog training, Jean competed in dog sports with dogs of various breeds, earning numerous titles and wins. She holds a degree in comparative psychology and is a keen student of evolutionary biology.
Why are muzzles important in the world of dog training and dog behavior?
Muzzles prevent bites, which protects the public, professionals and the dog himself (from euthanasia). They allow dogs who are otherwise great dogs to have safe access to public places and activities.
What are some situations dog owners might encounter that make muzzle training so important?
Primarily dogs who are uncomfortable with strangers and dogs who, when they squabble with other dogs, don’t know their own (jaw) strength, and so might injure other dogs.
What, in your opinion, are the critical elements to a successful muzzle training program?
Patience and repetition! We live in a very fast culture and animal training goes at the pace of the animal. Dogs can be taught to happily wear their muzzles and this takes a bit of practice. But it’s well worth the effort. Muzzles shouldn’t just be put on the dog without a gradual getting-used-to program.
What would you tell owners whose dogs already have a negative association to wearing a muzzle?
It might take a little bit longer to get a dog with a negative association back to happy, but oh boy, that investment in time and patience pays off hugely.
Name some of the biggest “myths” and misconceptions out there when it comes to muzzles and muzzle training.
That dogs feel vulnerable wearing muzzles. That muzzled dogs are “bad” dogs. That people whose dogs wear a muzzle are irresponsible – quite the opposite in fact!
How can trainers and dog owners begin to erase the stigma associated with muzzles?
Like any consciousness-raising campaign, it’ll be about facts and repetition. Muzzles are valuable tools that give dogs their lives back, keep the public and dogs safe, and allow owners to relax and enjoy their dogs.
When should owners contract a dog trainer?
Hire a competent trainer if you have any wish to change your dog’s behavior, i.e. you don’t have to live with it! And modern dog training is no longer this scary business of yanking dogs around or “dominating” them. Modern dog training is based on strong underlying science and should be fun and safe – never scary or painful – for both the dog and owner.
What questions should the owners ask any potential dog trainer regarding muzzle training and training philosophy?
Be wary of dog trainers who don’t take your concerns seriously, don’t know how to systematically desensitize a dog to a muzzle, or who boast about never using or never having to use muzzles.
What are your favorite style and brand of muzzle?
I’m hoping for a technology some day that marries the ease-of-feeding of a groomer’s muzzle (tube-style) with the safety (allowing for panting and drinking) of a basket muzzle. I don’t have strong preferred brands but fit matters both so the equipment doesn’t fail and to prevent discomfort.
Give us a catchy slogan to encourage dog owners to Muzzle Up!
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 firstname.lastname@example.org.