Guest Post: Take the Two Week Muzzle Challenge

14 - 1Many thanks to Katie Grillaert, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, CBATI, of Fetch Dog Training and Behavior for this guest blog post. Grillaert, who specializes in training fearful and aggressive dogs, also started a community initiative called Fetch-for-Fosters, dedicated to educating people about the importance of training and to providing low-cost training services to rescue dogs. 

Dog-industry professionals are working hard to change the public perception for muzzles. Trainers are teaching how to teach your dog to love the muzzle through a simple “treat basket” exercise. Behavior consultants are emphasizing how muzzles can improve the quality of life for dogs that are fearful, aggressive, or have pica. And veterinarians appreciate the added safety of a muzzle-trained dog during medical emergencies. But owners are often hesitant to use a muzzle on a regular basis. From personal experience, I can vouch that they’re missing out on the benefits of a great tool!

As a certified behavior consultant, I work with a lot of fearful and aggressive dogs – dogs that have a bite history, and dogs that are a bite risk. I teach all of my students how to muzzle train their dog and I provide strict recommendations regarding when a muzzle should be used. And I tend to be on the conservative side of things – I’d much rather go slow, wear the muzzle a little more often and a little longer than necessary – than to put the dog’s life in jeopardy due to a bite incident.

I’ve fitted muzzles to many dogs, and I’ve trained my own dogs to wear muzzles. But I hadn’t personally needed to use a muzzle in public with my dogs until I moved to a major metropolitan city. Before the move, I planned my behavior modification plan carefully, and decided that my fearful/aggressive Border collie mix, Oliver, would wear a muzzle at all times in public while we were transitioning to a new environment. I didn’t know how many off-leash dogs to expect, I didn’t know how many children or bicycles would come bearing down upon us without warning. I didn’t know if lots of people would try to pet him and how he would react to people stepping out of buildings onto the sidewalk right in front of him. And I knew that despite my best intentions, I wouldn’t be able to look around every single corner to check for a dog coming straight in our direction.

I knew Oliver would undoubtedly be experiencing higher levels of stress for the several weeks (or months!) due to the great environmental change, and I didn’t want anything to go wrong. It’s worth noting that others in this situation may choose to consult with a veterinary behaviorist as well, to discuss if a medication would be helpful during this transition. Ultimately, I decided not to pursue this with my dog right away, although it always remained an option should he have difficulties.

So, we set out on muzzling for our daily tasks – every elevator ride, potty break, and walk down the street. And while some people opined that wearing the muzzle must be so difficult for Oliver, he paid it little mind. The biggest difference the muzzle made? It was in me, which came as quite a surprise!

I regularly help people develop personal techniques to be calm while handling their reactive dogs, and I coach leash handling and body posture that further contribute to calm communication. I would often initially have better results with reactive dogs than their owners did, simply because I was more relaxed than the owner. I wasn’t too worried about my skills handling my own dog. But now, as my own “coach,” I discovered a huge improvement thanks to a mental exercise that I didn’t know I was missing! Since I didn’t worry about my muzzled dog injuring anyone, my brain allowed small muscles in my body to relax – muscles I hadn’t even been aware were tense. Maybe I even reduced my own production of cortisol, a primary hormone produced in response to stress.

How did I notice this? Well, my dog told me. Dogs are incredible observers of human body language, and Oliver could detect a difference. If I was a bit stressed, it probably caused him to think that there might be something worth being a bit stressed about. By regularly wearing a muzzle, going outside became less stressful for both of us, and we enjoyed our time together more. Of course, I still prioritized proactively responding to our environment, but my subconscious (or conscious!) worry was greatly reduced.

Now, this isn’t exactly new. Most trainers will tell you that owners are always more emotional when handling their own dogs. Often, owners can swap dogs in a reactive dog class, and the dogs all seem to behave better! Maybe you feel like you personally aren’t emotional – but you have a mental preparation to use a leash pull to keep your dog away from trouble. The simple act of planning this strategy in the secondary motor cortex likely causes a skeletal-muscular preparation and – you got it – an increase in tension in your body.

So, I challenge you to “hack” your brain and take my Two Week Muzzle Challenge. Even if you think you’re not the type of person who needs it – you’re cool as a cucumber. Even if you think your dog doesn’t really need to wear one.

First, spend the time to properly desensitize and train your dog to wearing the muzzle. Then, use it every time you go out in public, for two weeks in a row. Consider keeping a short journal of your dog’s behavior and your emotions. Give this a try for two weeks and you might be pleasantly surprised with the results. Even armed with my professional skills, I think that this simple mental trick helped me to guide Oliver and improved his progress. And now, I am so thankful to share many experiences with him – taking the train, relaxing at the park, having dessert at the coffee shop – stress free for both of us.

– The Muzzle Up! Project promotes safety and education on muzzles and dog behavior, provides online muzzle training and support, and aims to reduce the stigma associated with dogs who have to wear them.

Muzzle Q & A: Dr. E’Lise Christensen Bell, DVM DACVB

__1330294011Last year, we launched a Q and A series with veterinarians and veterinary behaviorists as part of Muzzle Awareness month. Due to its popularity, we are continuing the series, this time with Dr. E’Lise Christensen Bell, DVM, DACVB.

Dr. Christensen is a board-certified veterinary behaviorist and an international lecturer and author.  As the only board-certified veterinary behaviorist in Colorado, she sees patients with a huge variety of serious behavioral issues. She has contributed to articles in Dog Watch, Cat Watch, Cat Fancy, Dog Training Solutions, Real Simple, Newsday, and various other print media.  She has been a contributor and guest on Foxnews.com’s “Pet Health” and “Studio B with Shepard Smith”, ABC News’ “Nightline,” and many other radio programs, television programs, and newscasts.  She enjoys lecturing internationally on an array of behavior topics including, but not limited to, small animal behavior, public health and animal sheltering topics.

Dr. C is board-certified by the American College of Veterinary Behaviorists.  She is a member of the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior (AVSAB) Speaker’s Bureau, the American Veterinary Medical Association, and The Association For Force-Free Pet Industry Professionals.

Why are muzzles so important in the world of dog behavior?

SAFETY!!!  If a dog can happily wear a muzzle, you can implement appropriate behavior modification with less risk.  In addition, an appropriately fitted and trained muzzle can keep our friends by our sides (within reason, of course) rather than isolated.

What are the most common reasons you recommend a client muzzle train her dog?

Really, every dog should be muzzle trained, even if you don’t think he/she will never need one.  In emergency situations, a muzzle may be used whether you think your dog needs one or not.  We have to make sure medical professionals can do their jobs quickly and without fear of a bite when time is of the essence.  If a dog is already comfortable with one, it will be one less stressor for him/her during a scary time.

Also, the last thing you want to do is have a bite AND THEN, because of the urgency of the situation, put a muzzle on a dog without appropriate training.  It can be done, but it’s not dog-friendly and it can shoot you in the foot for future work.

What are some situations that dog owners may encounter, both in and outside the vet office, that make muzzle training so important?

Low stress handling and restraint methods, while wonderful, are still relatively new in veterinary medicine.  You may not know when someone is going to muzzle your dog in the hospital.  Untrained staff may be more nervous and rough with a dog who isn’t wearing a muzzle due to fear of a bite.

A muzzle can also keep other people and their on-leash dogs away.  I LOVE that aspect of a muzzle and sometimes recommend them for dogs without any aggressive behavior for that very reason.  Not everyone understands the Yellow Dog Project’s work and we all know “No Petting” gear doesn’t always work either.  Muzzle’s aren’t 100% successful, but they can be helpful.  And don’t we all need whatever help we can get managing these kids?!

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

My dog will be more aggressive while wearing a muzzle.  

My dog will be more fearful while wearing a muzzle.

-Both of the above COULD be true depending on each dog’s learning history.  That’s why you train comfort with a muzzle regardless of whether you need one.

-I have yet to see a dog trained to wear a basket muzzle be more aggressive while wearing one.

People will think my dog is “mean.”

– OK.  This one may be true, but people are crazy.  Do we want to change our behaviors to accommodate other people’s crazy ideas?  Do they know what’s right for your dog more than you?  NOPE.

Other dogs will pick on my dog because they “know” he/she is more vulnerable.

– That may happen depending on the dog group, but probably it’s more about the novelty of the muzzle than some perceived weakness on the part of the muzzle-wearing dog.

A muzzle is punishing for my dog.

-True only if you use it that way and your dog isn’t trained to like a muzzle

My dog can’t play while wearing a muzzle.

-False!  Your site shows some great options for object play and fetch that can work while wearing a muzzle.

If my dog is wearing a muzzle, I can put him/her in whatever situation I want and it will be OK.

-NOPE!  Come on!  DON’T DO THIS. Once I worked with a family whose dog had bitten multiple times.  They also had a toddler.  After much convincing they finally taught the dog to wear a muzzle.  At our next recheck, they reported allowing the toddler to handle the dog roughly (she was a toddler after all, that was normal behavior). Now *shocker* the dog was getting even more agitated.  Well, it’s not rocket science!  A muzzle is a safety tool, not a free pass to put your dog in a situation it can’t handle or enjoy, unless you absolutely have no other option (like emergency medical care).

My dog is “fine” in a muzzle so I shouldn’t have to train him/her to like it.

-Train your dog to like the tools you need.  It’s more fun for everyone and doesn’t increase the risk of fear and agitation.

Muzzles make dogs feel uncomfortable or sad.

-Dog’s believe what you tell them about muzzles for the most part.  Some are harder sells than others, don’t get me wrong.  But if you have a predictably pleasant interaction pattern with your dog, you have a really good chance at getting him/her to love a wearing a muzzle.

Muzzles are ugly.

– TRUE!  Most muzzles are ugly.  Why is that!?  Bling it out.  Stickers, non-toxic paints on the outside, tiny ribbons, whatever you like, plug ’em right on the outside.  Don’t let your dog eat that stuff though!

And let’s all just keep lobbying for some great company to step up here…Baskerville?  Are you hearing me?  We want colored basket muzzles ASAP!

A muzzle will make my dog look like Hannibal Lecter.

-Nuh uh!  Dogs are way, way to cute to look like sociopathic cannibals, no matter how many times they have bitten or threatened to bite.  In fact, that’s a problem for them.  If dogs were uglier, people would leave them alone and that would suit most of these dogs just fine, thank you!

How can vets and vet behaviorists begin to erase the stigma associated with muzzles?

I think we just have to keep fighting the good fight with education for the public, trainers, other veterinarians.

What is your favorite brand and style of muzzle?

Like so much in behavior-land, that depends.  Type of dog, why I’m recommending it, length of time I want it on, previous learning history with muzzles, etc.

Generally though, I like the Baskerville’s although I wish they came in better colors AND with a fast clip instead of the belt buckle collar.  A girl can dream, right?

When should dog owners contact a veterinary behaviorist?

ACK!  I hope no one every needs me.  Sadly not the case…

– If your dog is a danger to him/herself or others

– If there are medical problems complicating the dog’s behavior

– If the dog is experiencing significant panic (like separation anxiety or thunderstorm phobic dogs)

– If appropriate training programs have failed

– A training plateau has been reached

– If the patient isn’t improving as much as he/she should in a reasonable amount of time

– If the patient is generalizing to more and more triggers, etc, etc.

In your opinion, what are the critical elements to a successful muzzle training program?

SLOW DOWN and use some awesome food OR play if that’s what your dog loves the best

Be wary of incompletely “proofing” your dog to a muzzle and then only doing nasty things when it’s on.  For instance, doing a couple sessions of muzzle work and then only using the muzzle when you try to put in ear meds.  Let’s just say that increases the fail rate.  In fact, sometimes it’s an epic fail.

How can muzzle training prevent stress during a veterinary/vet behaviorist consult?

Well, now we all know the chance of a bite is much lower.  YAY!!!!  🙂

People (even veterinary behaviorists) think better when they aren’t worrying about getting bitten.  And clients can learn better, too, when they don’t have to be quite so on edge.

With a muzzle on board, even if our work accidentally triggers that patient, he/she isn’t getting another bite on the record.  And we can see the next case instead of being the next patient in a crowded human ER.

Many thanks to Dr. C for contributing to our Q & A series! If you are a veterinarian or vet behaviorist and would like to participate, please email us at muzzleupproject@gmail.com

– Mauren 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 muttabouttownsf@gmail.com and muzzleupproject@gmail.com.

Muzzle Art: The Duct Tape Muzzle

At the Muzzle Up! Project, one of our main goals is reducing muzzle stigma. After all, safety and style don’t have to be mutually exclusive!

Last year we created a new way to decorate muzzles using duct tape. Since then, Muzzle Up supporters have been amazing us with their muzzle decoration skills. Enjoy these latest works of muzzle art.

Pip (Photo: Kirsty Robson)

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(Photos: Kelsey Robertson)

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Send us your muzzle art and join our Facebook community!

** As many of you know, when not working on Muzzle Up, I am busy with my dog training business in San Francisco, CA. It’s currently up for best pet training in the Bay Area A List awards. If you have found the content on my website and on Muzzle Up helpful, please click on the link and cast your vote. I appreciate all your support, and many thanks for helping make Muzzle Up a great resource for all. http://sf.cityvoter.com/mutt-about-town/biz/675495 **

– 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 muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.

Muzzle Training for the Vet: A “must” for every dog owner

10406983_878508355500792_4172449915177937825_n*This will be one of a broad range of muzzle-related topics that Maureen Backman, MS, CTC will be presenting at the Pet Professional Guild Summit 2015*

The vet can be a scary experience for even the most socialized of dogs. They’re poked, prodded, and touched by strangers with strange-looking implements.

Dogs who are ill or in pain are at higher risk of biting, even if they have previously been desensitized and counterconditoned to being handled at the vet. (This is why one of the first steps in pet first aid is to muzzle the injured dog to prevent injury.)

In a 2001 JAVMA report Dog bites to humans – demography, epidemiology, injury, and risk, Dr. Karen L. Overall and Molly Love write that “…veterinarians should be aware that pain, certain endocrine and neurologic conditions, and many sedative, tranquilizing and anesthetic agents … can make dogs more reactive and less predictable.”

Years ago, I had the experience of having my dog taken “to the back” by a vet tech to do a necessary procedure. In my dog’s case, he had a bee sting, and the stinger was still attached to his paw. Already shy about being handled by strangers, the addition of pain made any attempts to go near his paw impossible. The tech took my dog to another room, where he was restrained with a muzzle so the stinger could be removed. It was an unhappy and stressful experience for us both.

This was before I became a dog trainer, and before I understood the important role muzzles play in a dog owner’s toolbox of preventative tools.

My story is far from unique, and is a common one I hear from my private training clients and through discussions with members of the Muzzle Up! community. When people adopt dogs, or bring a puppy into their home, they come equipped with a checklist of training “musts” to  shape a well-adjusted, happy dog: Socialization, housetraining, leash manners, basic obedience, and so on. Now, proactive dog owners are even practicing husbandry exercises so their dogs happily allow them to clip nails, clean ears and brush teeth.

Unfortunately, muzzle training isn’t included often enough on that list of “musts.” Most muzzle training occurs after a dog has bitten another dog or human. Or, a dog is placed on a muzzle without any prior training due to an emergency or invasive veterinary procedure.

How wonderful would it be if dogs were conditioned to love wearing their muzzles early on, so that if they needed to wear one later in life, it would not be an aversive event for them?

When dogs come to the vet for a procedure, it’s not uncommon for them display anxious behavior. They may snap or bite at the staff out of fear, requiring staff to use a muzzle to prevent a bite. At this point, your dog is experiencing trigger stacked upon trigger, rendering him even more anxious and fearful with each added stressor.

As Dr. Jeannine Berger of the SFSPCA wrote in our veterinary behaviorist Q&A series last year, “Unfortunately, since the dog hasn’t been muzzle trained, it gets even worse from here. Your dog might get even more upset and start to resist as they try to place the muzzle.  The next step that follows is that the veterinarian now decides in order to complete the nail trim your dog needs to be sedated, adding additional costs to your bill and adding additional trauma to the dog.”

If dog owners prepare their dogs to wear a muzzle by using a muzzle training plan, so the dog associates the muzzle with positive, happy things, they will help reduce their dogs’ anxiety in the event he needs to wear one at the vet. Proactive muzzle training also increases the possibility of vets doing certain procedures without using heavy restraint or anesthesia.

Muzzle Up recommends owners arrive at the vet prepared by bringing their dog’s normal basket muzzle. This way, their dog wears his already well-fitting muzzle used during training.

Muzzle training will help you remove preventable trigger stacking during an unpreventable emergency or vet visit. Reduced fear for your dog, reduced stress for you. What better reason to put muzzle training on your list of training “musts” for your dog or puppy?

– 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 muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.

Muzzle Fetch: Cuz Toys

This week, The Muzzle Up! Project tested Cuz Toys from JW Pet, and we’re happy to report that they are an excellent option for muzzle fetch. The little “feet” at the bottom of the toys allows dogs to grab the toy through a Baskerville muzzle with the tips of their front teeth. The products are made from natural rubber and contain squeakers. Photos of our play session featuring The Good Cuz are below. Happy muzzle fetching!

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Muzzle Q & A: Dr. Meredith Stepita

Meredith and Chewy head shotThe final installment of this month’s Muzzle Q & A series is Dr. Meredith Stepita. Dr. Stepita grew up in Maryland, but now calls Northern California home. She received her DVM from the University of Tennessee in 2006. After completing an internship and working in general practice in Arizona she entered into the Clinical Veterinary Behavior Residency Program at the University of California-Davis, becoming a Board-Certified Veterinary Behaviorist in 2011.She spends most of her time in the San Francisco Bay Area helping pet owners improve their pet’s behavior problems, and finds working with dedicated pet owners to be highly rewarding. She is the owner of Veterinary Behavior Specialists. Her research involves the frequency of parvovirus in puppies attending puppy socialization classes, finding that vaccinated puppies attending these classes were no more likely to be diagnosed with parvovirus than those not attending these classes. She has authored book chapters on canine aggression, feline house soiling, feline anxiety, and mourning behavior in veterinary texts and is a local and national speaker. Her areas of interest include canine and feline anxiety and aggression, the human-animal bond, and animal welfare. She shares her life with her husband Chris and their dogs (Chewy and Snoopy), cats (Maddie, Cali, and Tarzan), and the occasional foster dog.

Why are muzzles so important in the world of dog behavior?

The #1 reason is safety. When properly fit the dog should not be able to bite with a muzzle on. Another reason is to give the owner and others around the dog confidence that the dog cannot bite, which in turn makes everyone calmer. This is particularly helpful when working with an aggressive dog to change their emotional response to their triggers for aggression. If people are nervous, the dog will pick up on their anxiety and it will be difficult to teach the dog to be calm and happy.

What are some situations that dog owners may encounter, both in and outside the vet office, that make muzzle training so important?

Close proximity to people, other dogs, cats, birds (other prey) as well as handling and procedures, some of which can be uncomfortable, by unfamiliar and familiar people. If there is a possibility that an aggressive dog could escape from the handler during a walk a muzzle is recommended. Muzzles are also required regardless of temperament for dogs who accompany their owners on public transit in some cities.

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

The biggest myth is that only “bad” dogs wear muzzles. This is not true. Aggression is a normal behavior; the way dogs communicate. Many aggressive dogs are actually very smart dogs- they have figured out that something scary is going to happen and communicate in the only way they know how. Since aggression is normal, we do not cure it. That would be like asking a person to never yell again. Therefore muzzles are necessary for safety reasons.

How can vets and vet behaviorists begin to erase the stigma associated with muzzles? 

Education of the general public and animal professionals as to why muzzles are important and to dispel myths.

What is your favorite style of muzzle?

Basket muzzles. These allow the dog to eat, drink from a deep bowl, pant, and vomit. If a dog is wearing a cloth muzzle and can perform these activities, he can also bite. Cloth muzzles are good for short procedures, such as giving a vaccine, but can be dangerous if not removed quickly.

When should owners not use a muzzle?

When the pet is alone as it could get caught on something, injuring or rarely killing the dog. Muzzles should also not be used to put a dog in a situation where they are uncomfortable and/or aggressive. A muzzle will not help to change the dog’s emotional response and fix behavior problems- a specific behavior modification plan is needed for that. Muzzles should be used for safety when working on the problem.

When should dog owners contact a veterinary behaviorist?

As soon as you notice your dog is having a problem. Rather than wait for the problem to create significant distress contact a veterinary behaviorist early so that we can begin the process of improving your relationship with your pet and your pet’s health. Generally the sooner we work on the problem the better the prognosis (ie chance your dog will improve).

In your opinion, what are the critical elements to a successful muzzle training program?

Go at the dog’s pace and use a favorite treat. Sticky treats such as peanut butter or easy cheese work well. Rather than forcing the muzzle on, allow the dog to put his nose in the muzzle for treats. This may take a little more time up front, but you will save time in the end and not end up with a dog that runs away from the muzzle.

How can muzzle training prevent stress during a veterinary/vet behaviorist consult? 

Applying a muzzle to an already stressed pet can create more stress. Some pets will even become aggressive to their owners if they try to place a muzzle in this situation. Doing some prep work and making the muzzle into a treat basket for the dog will make veterinary visits less stressful for dogs that are at risk of becoming aggressive during veterinary visits.

Muzzle Q and A: Dr. Jeannine Berger, DVM, DACVB, DACAW, CAWA

QAlogoNext up in our Muzzle Q and A series for Muzzle Awareness Month is Dr. Jeannine Berger. Dr. Berger first obtained her veterinary degree in 1991 in Zurich, Switzerland. She moved to Davis, California in 1998, where she completed her residency in veterinary behavior and attained board certification with the American College for Veterinary Behaviorists from UC Davis in 2007. In 2014, she attained board certification from the American College of Animal Welfare. She has been with the SPCA as Director of Behavior Resources where she oversees all aspects of behavior within the Society since 2011. Her advanced training and certifications associated with Board Certified status ensure the highest level of expertise.

Why are muzzles so important in the world of dog behavior? 

Muzzles are a safety tool for dogs that have displayed aggression. It keeps the dog from harming people, dogs or other animals. We as a community should make the effort to protect all animals and keep everyone safe.

Muzzles can also be life saving for a dog that eats rocks and other dangerous items on his walk. A muzzle can prevent a dog from ingesting toxic or otherwise dangerous items and help prevent painful conditions or even surgery.

What are the most common reasons you recommend a client muzzle train her dog? 

In my practice we do recommend a muzzle for almost all dogs that have been presented for aggression of any form or dogs with the diagnosis of pica (eating compulsively non food items).

Because any dog has the potential to bite if put in the wrong situations, it might be wise for any dog to learn to wear a basket muzzle comfortably. However, for my behavior patients it is especially important to be comfortable with a muzzle when we get to the stage in the treatment plan where we reintroduce the dog to what has caused the aggression in the past. At that stage the dogs should have learned to perform alternative behaviors, but it is crucial to set the dog up for success and keep everybody safe.

What are some situations that dog owners may encounter both in and outside the vet office that make muzzle training so important?  

There are many situations that a muzzle can be helpful. I will give 2 scenarios:

The first is you bring your pet into the vet’s office for a nail trim (this is very common in vet hospitals), but your pet doesn’t like nail trims and tries to snap and bite at the staff to get them to stop the procedure.  Now the staff will reach for a muzzle to protect themselves from getting bitten. Unfortunately, since the dog hasn’t been muzzle trained, it gets even worse from here. Your dog might get even more upset and start to resist as they try to place the muzzle.  The next step that follows is that the veterinarian now decides in order to complete the nail trim your dog needs to be sedated, adding additional costs to your bill and adding additional trauma to the dog. In the perfect world you have prepared your dog for handling of the feet, and if you know your dog is fearful of a stranger handling his feet you have properly prepared your dog to wear a muzzle comfortably before you enter the hospital.

In the second scenario your perfectly calm and friendly dog severely injured his leg on a hike; he is obviously in severe pain. When you try to carry him to the car, he bites your hands and arms.  Granted, he doesn’t mean to hurt you, he tries to stop you from causing him even more pain.  Luckily you are prepared; you did bring your pet first aid kit with you AND you have a muzzle trained him, so you place the muzzle before you even attempt to tend to his bleeding injury, hence removing his ability to injure you and allowing you to better help him.

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

One misconception is that dogs with muzzles must be very dangerous and will attack people, when in fact just the opposite is true – many dog bites could be avoided if people would not reach for a fearful dog trying to “prove that they are good with dogs”. In today’s society we often protect people because they are not reading a dog’s body language clearly or don’t follow verbal instructions of the owner not to touch the dog.

We do recommend and instruct most of our clients to teach their dog to wear a muzzle in order to keep everybody safe and avoid unnecessary liability issues. A muzzle is a safety precaution just like us wearing a seat belt in the car – we hope we never have to rely on it preventing us from going through the window in a crash, but it’s there just in case.

How can vets and vet behaviorists begin to erase the stigma associated with muzzles? 

I personally thank people for being proactive and responsible dog owners by recognizing that their pet might be distressed at the hospital setting.  Educate owners that a muzzle should not be the last resort but a tool that the dog is used to wearing in a variety of situations to avoid heavy restraint or sedation. We have started to reward owners that bring their dogs wearing safety gear, such as a muzzle or a headhalter, by giving them a free bag of treats. We like doing so in the waiting area in front of other clients as to get their attention. Muzzle companies like Baskerville are also trying to change the stigma by producing muzzles in brighter, friendlier colors.

What is your favorite brand and style of muzzle? 

We recommend any basket muzzle, and there are many on the market. The most important feature is that the muzzle fits comfortably on the dog’s face without rubbing or being too close to the eyes.  The muzzle should fully encircle the dog’s mouth, yet leave enough room for the dog to open his mouth to pant, take treats, and drink.

When should dog owners contact a veterinary behaviorist? 

There are a number of medical reasons why a dog changes his behavior pattern, making a full evaluation of the behavior problem – including a physical exam and bloodwork – necessary to rule out any medical reasons.  We also recommend a visit with a specialist if the behavior problem has been ongoing for an extended time, does not improve with training or is worsening over time. Any form of severe aggression or anxiety should be assessed and treated by veterinary behaviorist.  Although a good trainer can help you train your dog, veterinarians are the only professionals that can diagnose a behavior problem and decide if medications are needed to treat the condition.

In your opinion, what are the critical elements to a successful muzzle training program? 

The key is to make it a fun and positive experience.  Often we have to change our clients’ perception first. If we perceive the muzzle as punishment for the dog instead of just another safety tool (similar to the collar and leash) then the clients are less likely to put in the effort it takes to go gradually and pair the muzzle with a positive experience such as especially yummy treats. If we only use the muzzle when the dog is already in distress we will make any experience with the muzzle even more traumatic.

How can muzzle training prevent stress during a veterinary/vet behaviorist consult?  

In most clinics an average appointment lasts 20 – 30 minutes. A lot might have to be accomplished during a visit, including taking a rectal temperature, looking closely into a dog’s ears and eyes and listening to the heart and lungs. On the other hand this is a very short time for a dog to adjust to a new environment and be simultaneously handled intensively by a stranger. If the dog is wearing a muzzle it allows the owner and the veterinarian to be more relaxed. The client can pay better attention to the veterinarian’s questions and provide a more precise history while being less worried about what their dog might or might not do.  Clients are often torn between paying attention to the veterinarian and paying attention to their dog.

A veterinarian’s stress level rises exponentially when he/she enters a room with a barking, lunging dog because we know a comprehensive physical exam can only be provided after a muzzle is placed. In most cases this can now only be accomplished with much struggle and risk to the person placing the muzzle. It might lead not only to an incomplete exam, but also the exam might last longer than the allotted time, in turn inconveniencing the next client and making it a bad experience for everybody involved.

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

Muzzles are like seat belts for dogs – a safety tool, there in case you need it.

 

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


QAlogo

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 muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.

Muzzle Q and A: Jean Donaldson

QAlogoAs 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!

Muzzle Pride!

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 muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.

Muzzle Smiles Challenge

In case you haven’t heard, it’s Muzzle Awareness Month at the Muzzle Up! Project. We’re starting things off on a celebratory note by asking for your participation in our first community challenge of the month.

We want you to send us a photo or video of your muzzled dog smiling. Why? Because dogs in muzzles are incredibly stigmatized. We face a serious lack of education and awareness about why dogs wear muzzles, why we don’t need to fear them, and why every owner should muzzle her dog.

So give us your best. Show us your muzzled dog playing a game. Show us your muzzled dog wagging his tail. Show us your muzzled dog eating cookies. Show us some muzzle smiles.

We’ll compile the entires and share them throughout the month. Submit by emailing us, posting to our Facebook page, or sharing on Twitter. Don’t forget to use the hashtag #muzzlesmiles.

And now, here’s some inspiration:

–  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 muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.