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.

Muzzle training: Not just about the muzzle

Many dogs who need to wear muzzles are also fearful of hands reaching, touching and restraining them on the face, ears and snout. It’s a frustrating irony; after all, most muzzle training plans require guardians to do at least one of those things. No matter how strong a positive association a dog has to the muzzle itself, if he is uncomfortable with someone reaching around to buckle the strap or adjusting the muzzle on his snout, he’s not going to feel completely safe. Depending on the severity of the fear of reaching and handling, the dog’s positive association to muzzle training can erode over time, even if the trainer was diligent in desensitizing the dog to the actual muzzle.

Fortunately, it’s possible to teach dogs positive associations to reaching hands and handling around the head before worrying about buckling straps or placing the basket over the snout. The following videos demonstrate how to prep a dog for muzzle training, ensuring a stress-free and fear-free session.

Step 1: Desensitization and counterconditioning to reaching hands

Step 2: Desensitization and counterconditioning to handling the face, ears and snout

As dog owners, want our dogs to trust us. We want our dogs to feel comfortable in our presence. We don’t want our dogs to be scared of us. When done the proper way, muzzle training can increase the trust in you and your dog’s relationship, because in every dog’s training plan, trust is not only the foundation, it’s the terminal behavior.

–  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 Veterinary Partners Program

10405602_10104866618120157_1407600026303849398_n.jpgThe Muzzle Up! Project is excited to announce its newest branch of services for veterinary clinics across the world: The Veterinary Partners Program.

The goals of the program are:

  • Increasing successful muzzle training outcomes
  • Reducing fear and stress during veterinary visits
  • Providing clinics resources to further support clients, improving quality of care and value of services
  • Improving client compliance for training follow-through

Launching in spring 2016, the Veterinary Partners Program will consist of webinars created and narrated by the project’s director, Maureen Backman, MS CTC PCT-A, and will focus on four core competency areas related to muzzle training and husbandry:

  • Why dogs wear muzzles
  • Building and executing muzzle training plans; troubleshooting common training problems
  • Equipment, modifications and safety
  • Evidence-based counseling techniques to increase successful outcomes

Once clinics complete these webinars, they will receive certification from The  Muzzle Up! Project and follow-up materials for staff and clients. Clinics who complete the program will be eligible for in-person seminars and staff trainings, and will receive a quarterly newsletter containing staff and client training tips, updates on best practices, and interviews with clinicians.

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 , sign up here. For questions, contact the Muzzle Up! Projects director, 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

Why muzzles matter

813front-01-2When I first launched The Muzzle Up! Project, I developed it with three objectives:

1) Reduce stigma surrounding muzzles

2) Provide high-quality information about muzzle training and safety

3) Give owners whose dogs wear muzzles a supportive platform to interact and share ideas

Supporters from across the globe have amazed and inspired me, sending photos of their dogs living full and enriched lives while wearing muzzles. The Facebook community page has grown to almost 5,000 supporters, including leaders in the training and veterinary fields. This positive feedback shows how we as humans can use the foundations of animal learning to train dogs to enjoy wearing their muzzles and help others realize muzzles don’t have to mean a prison sentence for a life bereft of enrichment.

What sets The Muzzle Up! Project and its online training program apart from basic muzzle training available on the web is the use of parameters and games so that dogs not only tolerate wearing their muzzles, but enjoy wearing them. Many plans end with putting the muzzle on the dog, when in fact securing the buckle of the muzzle strap is just the beginning. After all, just because a dog is OK with wearing a muzzle for a few seconds doesn’t mean he has learned to play, run, or interact with the environment while wearing it.

Some dogs are uncomfortable moving their heads when wearing a muzzle. Other dogs freeze when they get outside, unsure whether it is safe to sniff or run. Still other dogs need help learning to eat and move while wearing one.

Using the principles of operant and classical conditioning, Muzzle Up Online works with clients and their dogs to facilitate play, loose and comfortable body movement, and teach a variety of games and activities. We use the dog’s favorite motivators to make muzzle time rewarding and fun, whether it be fetch, soccer, nose work, or simple agility moves.

The results are heartwarming and beautiful. Imagine a fearful dog gaining confidence and weaving around agility poles while wearing a muzzle. Or a shy dog running toward the muzzle from across the room in order to place her snout in the basket, eagerly anticipating her reward. These aren’t just pipe dreams; training makes them possible for dogs of varied breeds, backgrounds and temperaments.

As dog owners, want our dogs to trust us. We want our dogs to feel comfortable in our presence. We don’t want our dogs to be scared of us. When done the proper way, muzzle training can increase the trust in you and your dog’s relationship, because in every dog’s training plan, trust is not only the foundation, it’s the terminal behavior.

2015 has been a momentous year at Muzzle Up. Many thanks to all our supporters, including Tawzer Dog and the Pet Professional Guild, whose DVDs and inaugural summit have helped Muzzle Up’s message reach dog owners and pet professionals across the globe. Onward to 2016!

–  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