One of these muzzles is not like the other

16797283_1431318833553072_5673588159068704731_oIf a dog is trained to wear a muzzle, he should be able to wear any type of muzzle with ease. Right?

Not necessarily.

Some dogs are great generalizers. They easily apply their training to different contexts and environments. Dogs who sit on cue at home, at the park and at the veterinary office have successfully generalized this behavior. No matter the scenario, they know what to do when presented with the cue, “sit.” Dogs who recognize that seeing other dogs leads to good things, whether on- or off-leash, indoors or outdoors, sidewalk or park, have successfully generalized that other dogs predict good stuff. No matter the scenario, they know when they see another dog, good things will happen.

Generalization is an important life skill for dogs, but it isn’t easy. In fact, it’s a skill that comes a lot easier to humans. Dogs who haven’t had a lot of practice in the process of generalization and dogs who have underlying fears and anxieties may find the business of generalization difficult. This is important to remember in all aspects of training, including muzzle training.

Think about what a dog initially learns during the muzzle training process. When a human presents a specific muzzle in a specific context, good things happen. As the dog progresses, he learns that placing his snout in that same specific muzzle within the same specific training context, good things happen. As the human and dog work through the training plan, they may address duration, where the dog wears the muzzle, and what activities the dog performs while wearing the muzzle, often using the same style of muzzle, if not the very same specific muzzle, during each training session.

If that same dog is suddenly presented with a different style of muzzle and is expected to perform to the same standard, that dog at best could be a bit confused. At worst, that dog could be quite scared. And fear is not something we as humans want to take lightly.

We often lump muzzles into one category – “muzzles.” Sometimes, we’ll differentiate between basket muzzles and grooming muzzles (the mesh muzzles that are only safe for use for brief periods of time). (Note that The Muzzle Up! Project does not recommend using mesh muzzles for any training purpose, but more on that in another blog post!) Remember, humans are great generalizers, so these broad categories tend to work for us. But for dogs, the experience of wearing a muzzle differs greatly not only by type, but by brand. Baskerville basket muzzles are made of a thicker, heavier plastic. The basket has larger holes, making treat dispensing relatively easy, and the basket generally fits a bit looser around the snout. The traditional “Italian style” basket muzzles are made of a lighter plastic, have smaller holes for treat delivery, and the basket tends to cover a larger surface area of a dog’s snout. BUMAS muzzles aren’t made of plastic at all, and in lieu of a buckle, can have a snap enclosure (this snap! sound can be startling to dogs if they haven’t been desensitized to it previously). Mesh muzzles (again, not recommended by The Muzzle Up! Project, even for short durations) have an entirely different fit than a basket muzzle (the dog’s mouth is completely closed).

Some dogs may be able to switch from muzzle to muzzle with relative ease, needing only a few warm-up sessions to get those generalizations going. Other dogs may need more time. This is especially important to remember if you plan on muzzling your dog at the vet or the groomer. If your dog has been trained on a Baskerville muzzle, and the veterinarian uses an “Italian style” or mesh muzzle, it could be quite a scary experience for your dog to suddenly have to wear a new style. The muzzles the veterinarian provides may smell different (and may smell like other dogs), creating yet another new factor that may increase anxiety.

Fortunately, it’s not difficult to prevent generalization mishaps. Here are some pointers The Muzzle Up! Project recommends:

  • Always bring your dog’s muzzle to your appointments and ask to use that specific muzzle during any vet or grooming procedures.
  • If you know your dog will have to stay for an operation, or simply as a preventive, train your dog to wear different styles of basket muzzles. This way, if the veterinarian insists on using a specific muzzle, if you accidentally forget to bring your dog’s muzzle with you, or if a tech has to muzzle your dog when you’re not present, you’ve provided your dog with some padding so he still feels safe.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com. 

When good muzzle training goes bad, part 2

UntitledIn part one of this series, I talked about the importance of keeping Pavlov front and center when muzzle training. This week, I’m going to delve a little deeper into another common training mistake that can cause hiccups in the muzzle training process: Order of events.

Think of Pavlov, or classical conditioning, as a way for dogs to predict what’s going to happen in their environment. Dogs use this type of learning to gain tip-offs to whether something good (or bad) is going to happen. These tip-offs can be noises, environment changes, the appearance or disappearance of stimuli, or behavior cues. It’s the reason your dog starts salivating and trotting toward you when you crinkle a sandwich bag or reach into your treat pouch; crinkling bags predict cookies. It’s the reason your dog jumps and barks in excitement when you reach for the leash; leashes predict walks and playtime. It’s also the reason dogs will display signs of fear and discomfort in certain situations. If dogs have a bad experience at the veterinarian, they may show fear at the sight of the vet office’s waiting room (or even the parking lot). If their only experience with nail trims ended in pain and styptic powder, they will likely show discomfort the next time the nail clippers appear.

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Pavlov is driving

Pavlov is important. But it’s equally important to ensure you’re implementing Pavlov the correct way. After all, it determines whether your dog forms a positive or negative association with a muzzle, and determines the strength of that association.

Let’s delve a little deeper. The first goal in any muzzle training plan is to ensure the dog has a “yipee!” response when the muzzle appears. In order for this to happen, the dog has to learn that the muzzle is a reliable predictor of good stuff. Every dog has a varying definition of what constitutes the “good stuff” in life, but for most dogs, food is at the top of the list. The higher value the food (think: tripe, chicken, cheese, steak), the better. To be a reliable predictor in training, a muzzle has to precede the good stuff every single time.

Muzzle –> Good stuff. 

Sounds simple enough, right? It’s actually easy to get wrong. First, let’s talk about what a good muzzle training procedure looks like. The trainer gets the muzzle from its resting place and presents it to the dog. Then, the trainer walks to get the food and dispenses it to the dog. Once the food is gone, the trainer puts the muzzle away. This constitutes one conditioning trial.

Now let’s look at a few ways this seemingly simple procedure can go wrong, and why it’s important to avoid these scenarios.

  • Muzzle + Good stuff: Muzzle and Good stuff arrive at the same time. If you’ve ever reached for food while at the same time grabbing the muzzle, or put peanut butter or cream cheese on the muzzle and presented it to your dog, you’ve gotten your order of events wrong. In these scenarios, the muzzle isn’t predicting anything. It’s simply arriving at the same time as the good stuff. While not the end of the world, this is an inefficient way to train. To avoid this pitfall, make your training set-up as clean as possible. Present the muzzle, then place the peanut butter on the muzzle for your dog. Dispense food after the muzzle appears. Make sure the muzzle always predicts, not conflates.
  • Good stuff –> Muzzle. Good stuff predicts Muzzle. If you’ve ever put on your treat pouch before getting the muzzle, grabbed food from the fridge before presenting the muzzle, or even done food prep immediately before muzzle training, you’ve gotten your order of events wrong. These are examples backwards conditioning, in which the dog learns that the good stuff means the muzzle appears. Not only is this bad training, it could potentially poison your training set-up. To avoid this pitfall, do food prep well ahead of your muzzle training session. Get the muzzle out before reaching for food containers or bait bags. You can also do “extinction” trials, where you reach for your treat pouch and nothing happens. Make sure the muzzle always predicts.

The presence and strength of the “yippee!” response is the single most important factor in muzzle training. If your dog goes “uh oh,” “ho hum,” or “I’m not sure about this” when he sees the muzzle, it doesn’t matter how great the rest of your training plan is; the dog hasn’t made a strong, accurate association between the muzzle and the good stuff and without that association, your training will hit roadblocks. So keep your training set-up clean and work methodically. Put Pavlov front and center and get your order of events straight, and your training be more efficient and humane.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com. 

When good muzzle training goes bad

If you’ve been to one of my Muzzle Up! seminars, you’ll be familiar with the following content. If you’ve yet to attend one, get ready for some important information on how muzzle training can easily slip from competent to coercive.

First, a bit about my training approach and why I train the way I do. I work a lot with fearful dogs. And, not coincidentally, many dogs that need muzzle training come with pre-existing fears about their world. When dogs are afraid, nothing else matters. When the fight-flight-freeze system kicks in, a dog’s ability for more complex cognitive functioning is minimal. This is why asking a petrified dog to “sit-stay” or come when called often goes awry: just like it’s challenging for us to do our taxes while having a panic attack, it’s challenging for dogs to respond to operant cues when their bodies and brains are responding to a fearful stimulus.

As I’ve written in previous blog posts, if I could give fearful dog owners one training mantra to carry with them at all times, it would be this: “I will do everything I can to help my dog feel safe in a chaotic world.” This is equally pertinent when it comes to muzzle training. After all, one of the worst things we as humans can do to a fearful dog is introduce yet another fear-inducing stimulus or training tool into an already stressful environment.

Fortunately, we can train dogs to love their muzzles. The Muzzle Up! Project has been promoting the benefits of criteria-based, force-free muzzle training plans since its launch back in 2012. But herein lies the nuance: If we forget about that all-important mantra to keep our dogs feeling safe, and move to quickly into getting behaviors and pushing further into training plans, well-intended muzzle training can cause problems.

When good training goes bad

Animals learn two ways: via association (Pavlov and classical conditioning) and via consequences (Skinner and operant conditioning). While both coexist during a training session (and in a dog’s interaction with the environment), when we’re training, either Skinner or Pavlov is in the driver’s seat.

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Pavlov is driving

If Pavlov is in the driver’s seat, the dog doesn’t have to do any behavior in order to get reinforcement. The dog simply has to be aware of a stimulus in the environment. A stimulus appears, followed by a high-value food item like tripe. The same stimulus appears, again followed by tripe. And so forth. If done correctly, dogs realize the stimulus is a tip-off to tripe, and voila, dogs develop a positive emotional response to a previously scary thing. Before focusing on any behaviors, we need to use classical conditioning to change dogs’ emotional states in the presence of stimuli they perceive as dangerous. This includes muzzles and all the parameters that come with wearing a muzzle. 

It’s easy to get classical conditioning wrong, because as a society we ourselves are conditioned to ask dogs for behaviors, and then respond with consequences to those behaviors. But for classical conditioning to work effectively, dogs must realize their triggers are sure-fire, no-holds-barred, no-fail tip-offs to high-value rewards. If we impose conditions on that reward – ‘you must sit and look at me for two seconds,’ or ‘you must heel at my side to receive a treat, even if you’re really scared’ – we create confusion. We weaken the strong association between stimulus and positive event needed to successfully change dogs’ emotions. In other words, if you’re doing classical conditioning, make sure Pavlov is firmly in the driver’s seat.

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Skinner is driving, Pavlov is securely along for the ride

Often, I’ll see trainers and guardians jump to an operant procedure too quickly. Or, they forget to check in during training to make sure that the dog’s positive association to the muzzle hasn’t eroded over time. (I like to call this the “yippee!” check; when presented with the muzzle, does the dog still give a “yippee!!” response?) If you switch to operant conditioning, wherein Skinner is in the driver’s seat, it’s imperative to ensure that Pavlov is still along for the ride. If not, you risk pushing ahead with training when a dog isn’t yet ready, isn’t feeling completely comfortable, isn’t going “yippee!” anymore when the muzzle appears. And this is where good training goes bad.

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When good training goes bad, Pavlov gets left behind in the dust

Think of it as Pavlov trying to catch up via tricycle while Skinner blazes ahead. You may be doing everything correctly from an operant perspective, but that all-important classical conditioning is getting left behind in the dust.

The importance of thresholds in muzzle training

A common phrase among force-free training circles is “keep the dog under threshold.” Whether Pavlov is in the driver’s seat, or in the sidecar alongside Skinner, it’s critical that the dog is under threshold. Under threshold means no fear.

It doesn’t mean dog is mostly fine.

It doesn’t mean dog is nervous but hanging in there.

It doesn’t mean dog is shut down.

It means dog is under the threshold which things become uncomfortable and the sympathetic nervous system kicks in with fight, flight, freeze.

In other words …

No fear. 

If you see any signs of fear during your muzzle training plan, take a step back and answer the following questions:

  • Who’s driving this training plan? (Skinner or Pavlov?)
  • Is Pavlov along for the ride, or has he been left behind?

Once figuring out those two questions, revisit and reassess your training plan, and ensure that you adjust your criteria steps to ensure the dog is feeling safe and comfortable at each stage of the muzzle training process. Then, you’ll ensure Pavlov is indeed in the sidecar, and not left behind in a tricycle.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com. 

Colorful, comfortable BUMAS muzzles coming to the U.S.

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Yesterday, I met up with a friend and colleague who recently got involved with the BUMAS muzzle company. For those who aren’t aware, BUMAS makes made-to-order, colorful, comfortable muzzles for all dog breeds.

Many dog guardians struggle with finding a muzzle that fits their dog, not to mention one that allows for ease of movement and treat delivery. Muzzle Up’s Facebook page and website are full of recommendations to help improve fit and comfort with at-home modifications, but even with these aids, most muzzles available in local stores fall short. Because of BUMAS’s commitment to comfort, safety and a positive image, their muzzles have been a favorite recommendation of mine ever since I discovered their company. (Ironically, my friend told me a majority of the orders BUMAS receives from the United States each year come from the Bay Area, where myself and The Muzzle Up! Project are located. Coincidence? I don’t think so!)

Luckily for those stateside, BUMAS is expanding with BUMAS USA.

I’m sure others sitting in the cafe thought my friend and I were a bit eccentric during our meeting yesterday. The table was covered in a vast array of muzzles of every size and color combination imaginable. (And I may have been squealing with delight at the teacup-sized pink muzzle I’m holding in the photograph above.) I even got to see a muzzle made to fit a brachycephalic snout (think pug).

But more important than two trainers excitedly discussing muzzle specs, the people who saw us and our pile of dog muzzles smiled and wanted to know more about what we were doing. Because of the stigma associated with muzzles, the fact strangers were smiling and curious is a statement to how BUMAS embraces one of The Muzzle Up! Project’s mission statements: “We don’t need to fear muzzles.”

The Muzzle Up! Project has never endorsed a product or company before, but I am very proud to support BUMAS and BUMAS USA because of the company’s high standards and their commitment to humane and comfortable muzzles. On February 12, they are launching a Kickstarter campaign for 30 days to support their expansion into the U.S. Visit their website for more information.

As an extra treat, here’s their pre-release trailer.

For now, stay tuned to The Muzzle Up! Project for further collaborations with BUMAS, as well as more information about their Kickstarter campaign. Share this post, subscribe to our blog, and visit our Facebook community.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.

2017 at The Muzzle Up! Project

15826145_10106181575185657_2520992499882626033_nIt’s 2017, and The Muzzle Up! Project is heading into the new year with continuation of our advocacy education and training programs, plus some exciting updates to share along the way. Here’s a guide to what’s on tap, and what to look forward to in the year to come.

Advocacy: 

  • Maureen Backman, the Muzzle Up! Project’s founder, will be speaking at the California Animal Care Conference in Sacramento, CA March 12-13, and will be participating in an expert panel. More information to come.

Education: 

  • If you are part of the veterinary community, the Veterinary Partners Program has launched and is and approved for CEUs by the American Association of State Veterinary Boards Registry of Approved Continuing Education.
  • If you work  in an animal shelter or rescue, check out the Shelter Partners Program, a four-week interactive course.

Training: 

  • If you need extra help with finding the right muzzle, or troubleshooting a training problem, check out The Muzzle Up! Project’s website for resources and videos.
  • You can also sign up for Muzzle Up! Online, which provides 1:1 Skype training sessions to help you effectively muzzle train your dog using force free training methods.

The year ahead: 

  • We’re still organizing our 2017 seminar schedule, and will be adding more dates to the calendar. If you’re interested in hosting a seminar, click here.
  • We’ll be expanding our advocacy outreach to muzzle manufacturers and retail stores.
  • We’ll be expanding our library of training graphics and materials.
  • We’ll be continuing our engagement with our expanding group of supporters on our community Facebook page.

As always, thank you for your continued support!

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.

Muzzles are a tool, not a green light to ignore criteria

11836806_1019780071373619_2665502212739058912_nI’m currently on a flight to Albany, NY to give another Muzzle Up! seminar and, given the fact it’s a long flight, I thought I’d tackle one question I’m often asked: Will a muzzle will improve a dog’s reactivity or aggression?

While The Muzzle Up! Project promotes muzzles as an excellent tool to keep dogs and humans safe in a variety of situations, it’s important to remember that a muzzle isn’t a green light to lead a dog into a situation that will cause him to react. Even though he may not be able to put teeth on skin, it’s still dangerous and will only serve to strengthen a dog’s reactivity.

The muzzle itself will not fix a dog’s reactivity or dog-dog aggression. Incorporating the muzzle into a force-free training plan to help keep you and your dog safe will get you closer to your behavior change goals.  Think of the muzzle as a tool, and training as the gateway, to behavior change, allowing you to work safely on desensitization, counterconditioning, and coping skills.

When working with reactivity and aggression, it’s important to avoid adding further stress to a dog’s environment. In other words, if you’re introducing the muzzle as a tool in your training program, don’t contribute to the chaos by introducing it before your dog is ready to wear it within the required training parameters. Stress increases reactivity. Desensitization and counterconditioning your dog to a muzzle using a gradual training plan will prevent adding stress during training and ensure your dog is comfortable at each step of the process. Don’t take the muzzle into the training session until your dog has a strong positive association to wearing it, and can comfortably wear it throughout all the parameters of a training session (duration of session, on leash, walking, etc).

It’s important to continue pairing the muzzle with fun, rewarding scenarios for your dog, because dogs are masters of association.  I once encountered a client who had muzzle trained her fearful and leash-reactive dog to perfection. Yet, the dog was still visibly less comfortable with the muzzle on. After some brainstorming, the client told me the dog only wore her muzzle when in the presence of strangers or on leash walks among other dogs. Even though the client always paired the muzzle with a massively rewarding treat, the dog had made the connection that the muzzle also equaled the transition to a more stressful environment: on leash, among other dogs.

We tackled this problem by going back to the original goal: building a strong, positive conditioned emotional response (+CER). The client started putting the muzzle on her dog for short periods during low-stress, enjoyable scenarios: cuddling on the sofa, mealtime, playtime with her children. This extra training not only built a stronger +CER, but also ensured the muzzle was no longer a surefire tip-off to stressful scenarios.

The message in all of this: Muzzles are a tool, not a gateway to ignore criteria and proper training protocols.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.

Muzzle training: Cultivating calm 

IMG_6162.jpgWhen a client reaches the point in their muzzle training where they can buckle the strap on the muzzle and the dog is comfortable, we begin incorporating activities with movement: Target games, fetch, puzzle toys, and basic training cues. Focusing on movement in the training plan helps the dog learn how to move with a new object on his face, and keeps frustration levels low.

We choose activities based on what the dog enjoys and and what he needs help with. Does he have difficulty moving his head to the side? Hand targeting is a great option. Does he struggle sniffing and picking treats up off the ground? Puzzle toys of gradually increasing difficulty will help him learn how to do these things while wearing his muzzle.

My philosophy when it comes to muzzle training, and all training for that matter, is to keep frustration levels low and help dogs adapt to the training environment instead of waiting for the frustration to manifest and then punishing or ignoring the resulting behavior (pawing or rubbing at the muzzle, etc). Less reactive, more responsive. 

The next step in the muzzle training plan is more difficult and often ignored: Cultivating calm and relaxation. This parameter’s difficulty varies on a dog’s temperament and the reasons why he needs to wear a muzzle. If he’s going to wear the muzzle during a trip to the vet or groomer, or if he’s going to experience any down time either indoors or outside, it’s important to help him learn how to stay still and relax while wearing the muzzle.

For many dogs, “staying still” is not intuitive or easy, particularly when adding a new element to the environment. Not to be confused with the absence of behavior, which indicates a dog is shut down and fearful, staying still indicates a dog can settle on a bed or comfortably hold a down-stay. The dog isn’t stiff or stressed, he’s relaxed and focused.

The following are tips to help you cultivate calm with your dog during muzzle training:

  • Introduce a sit- or down-stay. Keep the duration short in the beginning to avoid frustration, gradually increasing duration as your dog is able. If you see any pawing or rubbing of the muzzle, back up to an easier place in the training plan.
  • Give your dog a massage while he lies on his bed. Find those places that help his muscles turn to butter. Reward intermittently with food. If you see any pawing or rubbing of the muzzle, reduce duration and feed more frequently.
  • Intersperse your training with periods of activity followed by calm. For example, spend five minutes playing targeting games and then ask your dog to do a brief down-stay. Then return to the targeting game, followed again by a stay or settle. This reduces frustration when cultivating calm and also teaches your dog how to settle after an exciting activity.
  • Start practicing behaviors that will help your dog at the vet or groomer. Examples include chin rests, offering a paw or leg for light restraint, and holding a standing position.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.

How long does muzzle training take? Wrong question.

unspecifiedI’ve encountered many clients whose dogs have such a negative association with a muzzle that they either leave the room when they see it, or are too afraid to approach it for food. This happens if dogs have been forced to wear a muzzle, or only wear muzzles during unpleasant activities like the veterinarian. It also happens when a dog has severe fear or anxiety. While going slow is important to ensure any dog is completely comfortable with the muzzle training process, it’s imperative for dogs who have existing negative associations to focus solely on changing those emotions before moving forward in the training plan.

The first step in the muzzle training plan is desensitization and counterconditioning: The muzzle appears, the trainer drops food, and once the dog eats the food, the muzzle disappears. After repetitions at random intervals, the dog will learn that the muzzle predicts food, a signal that it’s time to move to the next step in the training plan.

If you are struggling getting past this initial step, don’t panic. Your dog simply needs more time to realize that the appearance of the muzzle will not be a tip-off to something scary. Dogs remember scary events, and remember them well, so it takes time to erode those negative associations. Along with patience, here are some tips to help your dog overcome fear of the muzzle:

  • If your dog is suspicious of being forced to wear the muzzle when it appears, place the muzzle on the ground, drop food, and then leave the room. Wait for your dog to explore the muzzle and eat the food on his own time, instead of pressuring him to explore before he’s ready.
  • If your dog is hesitant to approach the muzzle, place the food three to five feet away from the muzzle, gradually placing the food closer as your dog becomes more comfortable.
  • Make sure your dog has plenty of space to gain distance from the muzzle. Drop it a good distance away from his safe space (his crate, bed, etc), so that he can retreat if he needs. Remember, the goal isn’t pressuring your dog to be OK with the muzzle; it’s creating an environment where your dog feels safe enough to explore and eat food around the muzzle.
  • If your dog chooses not to approach the muzzle, it’s OK. Let your dog set the pace of training. If he isn’t approaching for food, he isn’t comfortable. Adjust the environment and training set up with the tips above so that he feels safe.
  • Give your dog a fresh start, and avoid using the muzzle for scary experiences until he is ready. Otherwise you will erode your hard work overriding the negative associations and implementing positive ones.

Don’t worry if your dog’s muzzle training is progressing slower than you think is normal. Train the dog in front of you, and be kind to yourself. Your dog will let you know when he’s comfortable and ready to move forward, and by using the above tips, you’ll be engaging in clearer conversation with him.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.

Announcing the Shelter Partners Program

12311071_643009942506356_7194640116610784985_nStarting April 1, 2016, The Muzzle Up! Project will be launching and accepting participants in the Shelter Partners Program. The program is open to staff of all rescues and shelters.

Muzzle training is a critical element to many dogs’ quality of life. If dogs have muzzle training in their repertoire, their adoptability increases and their chances of being returned decrease. Learning how to effectively use force-free training techniques to muzzle train dogs will also  reduce stress among dogs in the shelter and reduce risk of bites among staff and other dogs.

The goal of the Shelter Partners Program is to give rescues and shelters guidance on how to provide this service to dogs in the shelter, foster dogs, and potential adopters. At the end of the program, staff will receive a booklet and certification from The Muzzle Up! Project so they can continue to train new staff and enhance the services they provide the community.

During the four-week interactive course, participants will learn:

  • the basics of executing muzzle training plans
  • how to troubleshoot muzzle training problems
  • how to address shelter-specific challenges for implementing muzzle training protocols
  • how to continue implementing muzzle training program as part of shelter services

Each week will allow the shelter to interact 1:1 with The Muzzle Up! Project’s founder, Maureen Backman, MS CTC PCT-A, with a total of 8 hours of video conferencing time. The program is designed to guide participants through progressively more challenging training cases, allotting time after each session for Q&A and troubleshooting.

Enrollment begins April 1, 2015. Trainer CEUs will be available.

The Muzzle Up! Project has established itself as comprehensive, evidence-based resource on muzzle training and husbandry for dog guardians, dog behavior professionals, and veterinarians. Maureen, its director, has produced two training DVDs for Tawzer Dog, and presented on The Muzzle Up! Project at the Pet Professional Guild’s inaugural educational summit in 2015. In 2017, she will be representing the project at Woof!2017, listed as one of the world’s top dog training conferences by The Modern Dog Trainer.

To stay informed of the program’s launch, subscribe to this blog and stay tuned for additional information on muzzleupproject.com. For questions, contact the Muzzle Up! Project’s founder, Maureen Backman, at muzzleupproject@gmail.com.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.

Muzzle Training: A proactive approach

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Clients during a Muzzle Up! Online training session.

“Act before the animal suffers.” – RSPCA Animal Welfare Act 2006

I credit Chirag Patel with bringing my attention to these words. I remember being struck at their poignancy when I first heard them. They make sense. They provide a needed paradigm for the dog training industry. They also serve as a foundation for my work.

People often ask me why I started The Muzzle Up! Project. It wasn’t until I heard the phrase “act before the animal suffers,” just five words that hold such power, that I was able to answer this question succinctly.

Muzzle Up has three goals: Advocacy, education, and training. Each of these goals strives to help guardians and pet professionals be less reactive and more responsive when working with dogs. It’s easy to react once a situation has occurred. A dog bites, and then we muzzle train. While this approach is certainly better than not muzzle training at all, a responsive approach allows us to advocate, educate and train before an incident occurs. In other words, acting before animals suffer.

The following scenarios illustrate a less reactive, more responsive approach to muzzle training:

Aggression

“If he bites, I’ll muzzle train him.” All dogs have the ability to bite. Most dogs display various warning signals prior to biting. But why wait for a bite to occur? When done properly, muzzle training will not add additional stress to a dog or interfere with an aggressive dog’s training plan. On the contrary, it ensures dogs and humans stay safe in the event of management failure. It also protects the aggressive dog from developing a bite history, which carries ramifications that can severely limit quality of life.

“If he bites again, I’ll muzzle train him.” If a dog has already bitten another dog or human, muzzle training should be the first priority. Muzzle training does not take the place of thorough desensitization and counterconditioning protocols, as well as pharmacological intervention, to help reduce a biting dogs’ fear and aggression, but it does prevent unnecessary suffering. If a child riding a bike falls and hits his head, most parents wouldn’t wait for the child to fall and hit his head again before requiring him to wear a helmet. Better yet, the parents would require the child to wear a helmet from day one. Acting before he suffers. We owe dogs the same type of responsive care.

Puppies

“My dog is a puppy. Why would he need a muzzle?” Puppy training is all about socialization, preventing future behavior problems by giving the puppy positive, safe experiences with as many different people, dogs and stimuli as possible. Often, muzzle training is left out of the socialization mix. While puppies don’t need muzzles, the socialization window is a prime opportunity to form early, long-lasting positive associations with a muzzle and handling around the face. Most puppy classes now focus on desensitization to nail clippers, brushes, vacuum cleaners, and more. It’s time to add muzzles to the mix.

The veterinarian

“My dog already hates the vet.” Many dogs are afraid of the veterinarian. They need to be taken “to the back” to be restrained and muzzled for various procedures, often adding to that fear. While muzzle training will not erase fear of various veterinary procedures, it’s a critical component to any fear-free vet training program. Training a dog to love his muzzle lowers one stressful component to a vet visit. Instead of having to wear a cloth muzzle, guardians can bring the dog’s usual muzzle – the one loaded with positive associations – with them. Eliminating chances of a bite helps vets and techs can perform a more thorough examination, reduces the need for anesthesia for certain procedures, and also opens the door to do further desensitization and counterconditioning to all types of procedures and restraint.

The “normal” dog

“My dog doesn’t bite. He doesn’t need a muzzle.” Every dog has the ability to bite. The chance of a bite increases manyfold when a dog is in pain or injured. By pre-training a non-aggressive, socialized dog to love wearing a muzzle, guardians can once again act to prevent additional suffering if their dog has an emergency, instead of stacking a new stressor onto an already stressful situation.

–  Maureen Backman, MS, CTC, PCT-A is the owner of Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco. She is also the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and Muzzle Up! Online. To get in touch, email her at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.  To purchase her training DVDs, visit Tawzer Dog.