Muzzle Up! Online: More than just muzzles

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In the months since the launch of Muzzle Up! Online, I’ve noted a theme among all my clients: The program’s benefits extend far beyond the primary goal of muzzle training.

While not surprising, seeing this theme in action is rewarding and inspiring. The following are some snapshots to inspire you, or someone you know, to participate in Muzzle Up! Online.

More Trust

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.

Muzzle Up! Online teaches clients to watch their dogs’ body language carefully. If the dog shows any signs of discomfort, I help the client take a step back in the training plan. At each step of the way, the dog has the right to say “I’m not comfortable with this, please stop.” By moving at the dog’s pace and paying attention to body language, clients build, and in some cases establish, a foundation of trust. And when dogs and owners establish trust, the dog becomes comfortable not just wearing a muzzle, but engaging in other play and exploratory behavior.

“Ellie was just playing with me (eeee, this still is new and heartwarming!) so I got out her muzzle – and her reaction was the same as for dinner time! She shoved her nose in it and I did it up while she wiggled her tail, and then she got some hard treats that she had to chew a bit. No problem! She was wiggly and happy. She then chased me around the house and out into the backyard (wearing the muzzle!) and got some more hard treats, and was super bouncey – almost zoomie!” – Cara and her shy dog, Ellie

Better Body Handling 

Many Muzzle Up! Online clients have dogs who are also sensitive to handling. Common examples include fear of: Hands reaching over and touching a dog’s head, various grooming implements touching the body, gentle restraint for veterinary and grooming procedures, and harnesses/head halters being placed on the body. Even though the online program focuses on muzzle training, many clients have reported an improvement in their dogs’ handling sensitivities.

Why? For starters, the program trains the owners to become highly skilled at implementing classical conditioning procedures, meaning their training for other types of procedures is more efficient. Secondly, clients’ dogs learn that various handling procedures involved in the muzzle training program lead to safe, fun activities. To effectively muzzle train dogs, I teach clients to incorporate various body handling activities in the initial preparation stages so that later on, the necessary fiddling with buckling the muzzle and hands moving around the dogs’ head doesn’t cause the dog stress. These exercises are helpful not just for muzzle training, but a myriad of other body handling sensitivities.

“I am so grateful I found Muzzle Up! Online. I could not find anyone who really did this type of training. Mostly they would just send me a PDF or link to sites for examples. Thank you.” – Yvette E.

Enrichment and Play

Believe it or not, muzzles are a gateway to a variety of enrichment games, which clients and I incorporate into the online sessions. Games and the element of play are important for any dog, but especially so for fearful dogs. Due to the reasons why dogs need to be muzzled, many Muzzle Up! Online clients have dogs with fear and anxiety. Since I believe dogs should actually enjoy wearing the muzzle, not simply tolerate it, clients and I create muzzle games based on their dogs’ individual play styles. The results are heartwarming and result in increased confidence and exploratory behavior, not to mention a tired and happy dog!

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“Maureen, look what we did to MooMoo. She is going to nap the day away. Happy puppy, happy mom. Thank you for the wonderful session ❤.” – Joanna and her fearful dog, MooMoo

This year will be an exciting one for The Muzzle Up! Project. In September, I will be leading a seminar in conjunction with Helping Idaho Dogs, Inc. and Tawzer Dog addressing muzzle education, advocacy and training. In November, I will be presenting on The Muzzle Up! Project at the Pet Professional Guild’s inaugural Force-Free Summit, with the goal of encouraging force-free trainers across the world to elevate muzzle training to a higher standard.

Continue watching this space for more updates throughout summer and autumn.

Thank you to all supporters of The Muzzle Up! Project. Together, we can elevate muzzle training to a higher standard and change the lives of dogs for the better.

– 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. She will be presenting about Muzzle Up at this year’s Pet Professional Guild Summit in Tampa, FL. Get in touch at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.

Elevating Muzzle Training to a Higher Standard

Ellie, eagerly anticipating her muzzle training session. Ellie's guardian is Cara Lynne Moynes, owner of Pup Tent in Toronto, Ontario.

Ellie, eagerly anticipating her muzzle training session. Ellie’s guardian is Cara Lynne Moynes, owner of Pup Tent in Toronto, Ontario.

When I first launched The Muzzle Up! Project, I never predicted its potential impact on muzzle education, awareness, and the lives of humans and their dogs. Supporters from across the globe have amazed and inspired me, sending photos of their dogs living full and enriched lives while wearing muzzles. Most importantly, feedback from supporters shows how we as humans can use the foundations of animal learning to train dogs to enjoy wearing their muzzles.

Muzzles don’t have to mean a prison sentence for a life bereft of enrichment.

This spring, I launched Muzzle Up! Online, an online training program to coach dog owners through the muzzle training process, giving them real-time support to ensure peace of mind and a successful training process. The initial launch has been nothing short of inspirational.

Beyond Safety

Many of my training colleagues have been gracious enough to participate in the program with their own dogs. Many of these dogs are fearful, whether it be generalized fear and anxiety, resource guarding, handling sensitivity, or previous scary experiences with muzzles.

Not all of the dogs participating in Muzzle Up! Online’s initial launch need to wear a muzzle for public safety. Not all of them have a bite history, or a history of dog- or human-based aggression. Their humans are participating in the program because they want to refine their muzzle training skills and want their dogs muzzle trained as a preventative measure. And, most importantly, they want to increase their trusting partnership with their dogs through a force-free training experience.

“When folks ask why I’m muzzle training sweet little Ellie, sometimes I mention her bite history, sometimes I mention prevention and liken a muzzle to a seatbelt or helmet, and other times, I show them photos like these.

Why muzzle train? To see more of these faces! Happy face doesn’t have to be just for dinnertime.” – Cara Lynne Moynes, owner of Pup Tent in Toronto, Ontario

Cara and her dog, Ellie, are an excellent example of how muzzle training has benefits beyond safety and prevention. Because Cara and I are training Ellie using the principles of counterconditioning and desensitization, she has been comfortable and happy during each step of the training process. Ellie is elated when she sees her muzzle, because she knows, through gradual training, that she will have a fun and safe experience (and also get lots of liverwurst).

For other fearful dogs, muzzle training further helps them develop confidence. They learn new skills, continue making positive associations with their environment, and engage in games and activities that promote positive associations.

A higher standard for muzzle training

What sets Muzzle Up! Online apart from basic muzzle training 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.

Muzzle Up! Online addresses all these factors, using the principles of operant and classical conditioning to facilitate play, loose and comfortable body movement, and teach a variety of games and activities. Together with the dog’s humans, I 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.

2015 and beyond

This year will be an exciting one for The Muzzle Up! Project. In September, I will be leading a seminar in conjunction with Helping Idaho Dogs, Inc. and Tawzer Dog addressing muzzle education, advocacy and training. In November, I will be presenting on The Muzzle Up! Project at the Pet Professional Guild’s inaugural Force-Free Summit, with the goal of encouraging force-free trainers across the world to elevate muzzle training to a higher standard.

Continue watching this space for more updates throughout summer and autumn.

Thank you to all supporters of The Muzzle Up! Project. Together, we can elevate muzzle training to a higher standard and change the lives of dogs for the better.

– 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. She will be presenting about Muzzle Up at this year’s Pet Professional Guild Summit in Tampa, FL. Get in touch at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.

Modifying your dog’s muzzle: An equipment guide

For many dog owners, finding the best muzzle for their dog often involves modifications, whether to prevent skin chafing, provide a more secure fit, or ensure more efficient delivery of treats. The following is a compilation of resources to help you create the most comfortable fitting muzzle for your dog.

If you are still searching for a muzzle, take a look at our equipment guide, and check out our Facebook page for frequent updates and more photos from our supporters.

Chafing Prevention

Muzzle Up! supporter Rochelle Riri Kneale used yarn to pad a Baskerville muzzle for her dog, Tia

Muzzle Up! supporter Rochelle Riri Kneale used yarn to pad a Baskerville muzzle for her dog, Tia

Soft, anti-irritant fabrics wrapped around the basket portion of the muzzle, the straps, or both are a great way to prevent your dog’s skin from becoming irritated from rubbing against the muzzle. For dogs with hard-to-fit snouts, placing a bit of support at near the nose bridge helps prevent slipping and rubbing. There are a large variety of materials that work, but here are some of our favorites:

Fleece wrap for the muzzle straps (also useful if your dog’s harness causes irritation)

Boot liners from Ruffwear, cut up into strips for either the straps or plastic portion. We love this fabric because it’s breathable and quick-drying, perfect for dogs who spend a lot of time outdoors.

– If using a Baskerville muzzle, soften the plastic by placing the muzzle in hot water or put it through a full hot cycle in the dish washer. This helps the plastic chafe less and makes it more pliable.

An example of muzzle padding from supporter Laurie Thomson.

An example of muzzle padding from supporter Laurie Thomson.

– Moleskin wrapping (for either the plastic or the straps), available at most health stores and on Amazon.

– Replacing the nylon straps with leather or soft cording for dogs whose skin becomes irritated with the common nylon options.

– Duct tape wrapped around the basket of the muzzle (also great for muzzle art!).

– Memory foam or gel foot pads for use on the plastic portion to prevent rubbing and chafing (examples here and here).

Food Delivery

Photo of Simba wearing modified muzzle for easier treat delivery, from supporter Victoria Maclennan.

Photo of Simba wearing modified muzzle for easier treat delivery, from supporter Victoria Maclennan.

Many muzzles come with wide enough gaps to allow for efficient delivery of food. But, if you use an Italian style basket muzzle, or if your dog has difficulty receiving treats through the muzzle, here are some modification ideas:

– Cut out the front portion of the Italian basket muzzle, seen in the photo to the right.

– Use soft treats like peanut butter or cream cheese and deliver through a squeeze tube.

– By Maureen Backman, MS CTC. Maureen is the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and owns Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco, CA. She will be presenting about Muzzle Up at this year’s Pet Professional Guild Summit in Tampa, FL. Get in touch at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.

Jumpstart your muzzle training with technology: The Treat & Train

Since founding the Muzzle Up! Project over two years ago, I’ve talked to many clients, veterinarians, trainers and dog owners across the world about the challenges of muzzle training. I’ve noted three overarching themes from these conversations:

1) Managing the treats while holding the muzzle
2) Increasing the amount of time the dog is comfortable wearing the muzzle (building duration)
3) Making the process a fun and rewarding one for both human and dog.

The Treat & Train, an automated treat dispenser developed by the late Dr. Sophia Yin, is a valuable tool for each of these challenges. In addition to dispensing treats via an automated program or via remote control, dog owners can also set the Treat & Train to dispense treats at various time intervals, including fixed and variable ratios.

Dogs develop a rapid and strong positive association to the machine – after all, it dispenses treats – making it a perfect match for muzzle training, where dogs need all the positive associations and enrichment they can get. Because the machine takes care of dispensing the treats, dog owners have more hands to handle the muzzle, and more bandwidth to observe the dog’s body language, and another way to incorporate fun and games into the muzzle training process.

Before using the following techniques during muzzle training, I recommend training your dog to enjoy the Treat & Train without the muzzle. The user guide that accompanies the machine has some excellent tips and games to help you get started.

For those who have already used the Treat & Train with your dogs, the following is an enrichment plan to jumpstart your muzzle training plan, help you build duration and provide your dog with a fun muzzle game. Make sure to start any muzzle training program with our step-by-step muzzle training plan.

Teaching your dog to place his snout in the muzzle 

1) Place high-value treats in the dispenser, and either set the machine to a 5-second variable ratio, or dispense via remote control at a high rate.

2) Place your dog’s muzzle near the base of the Treat & Train, so that your dog has to place his snout in the muzzle to retrieve the treat. You can prompt him initially by placing a few treats into the muzzle by hand, or placing a small amount of peanut butter on the inside of the muzzle.

3) Continue reinforcing at a high rate as your dog eats the treats through the basket of the muzzle. Use your voice to keep him engaged in the activity!

Building duration while wearing the muzzle

1) Place high-value treats in the dispenser.

2) Place the muzzle on your dog and begin dispensing. Start at a 5-second variable ratio. You can increase the machine’s dispensing ratio to 7 seconds, 12 seconds, 15 seconds, etc., as long as your dog is enjoying the game and is not showing any signs of distress.

For real-time, one-on-one training sessions for you and your dog from the comfort of your own home, check out our latest offering, Muzzle Up! Online – available to anyone across the globe. When you become a client, you can be assured you are receiving the highest quality training and coaching to ensure peace of mind, success, and a rewarding training experience for you and your dog.

So get excited, get creative, and most importantly … Muzzle Up!

– Maureen Backman, MS, CTC Maureen is the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and owns Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco, CA. She will be presenting about Muzzle Up at this year’s Pet Professional Guild Summit in Tampa, FL. Get in touch at muttabouttownsf@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 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.

Mythbusting: Muzzles and Safety

photo-3To say that owning a dog that is fearful and aggressive is stressful is an understatement. Mix that stress with the existing disinformation about and stigma associated with muzzles, it’s no wonder the topic is emotionally charged.

The Muzzle Up! Project aims to take the stigma out of muzzle use and provide quality, accurate information regarding dog behavior, training, and muzzle equipment – and debunk common muzzle myths along the way.

One of these prevalent myths: If you muzzle your dog, you are putting your dog at risk because he will not be able to defend himself in the event of a fight with another dog.

It’s understandable that dog owners are concerned for their dogs – after all, we strive to keep our dogs safe from harm and unpredictable environments. But this statement contains a large dose of myth and little to no fact.

 

Why dogs fight

To understand why the above statement is a myth, we must understand why dogs fight and how often they choose to do so. Dogs evolved with a repertoire of aggressive behavior in order to: Protect themselves from perceived threats, get enough food to eat, and compete for resources. Due to domestication, dogs no longer need to compete for resources. They live with few environmental threats. However, they still retain this behavioral software from their ancestors, be it somewhat buggy in its domesticated form.

Aggressive behavior is behaviorally expensive. For a dog in the wild, fighting exposes the animal to injury, wastes precious energy reserves, and could potentially end in death. As Jean Donaldson explains in her influential book Fight!, “Humans also appreciate the difference between filing a lawsuit and brandishing a machine gun. It is no different with animals: Because aggression is so expensive and yet so necessary, all kinds of rituals have evolved” (4). These rituals include growling, snapping, biting without maiming force, and snarling.

The point in all of this is: Most dogs don’t fight with maiming force. The ones that do are a minority (and should be wearing a muzzle).  Read More

Safety and enrichment are not mutually exclusive

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A common argument against the use of muzzles on dogs is that they significantly inhibit a dog’s ability for enrichment on walks, whether off- or on-leash. While it’s understandable why dog owners and professionals are concerned about this issue, training and creativity can ensure a safe, mentally and physically enriched dog.

The argument that we should allow dogs absolute freedom, despite a history of aggression toward humans or dogs, is misguided. It’s hard to deny its allure – who wants to say “no” to freedom – but it flies in the face of the safety of the general public and other dogs.

Our society is structured with safeguards that inhibit our freedom yet keep us safe from preventable harm: Seatbelts, bicycle helmets, speed limits, children’s car seats, and drunk driving laws, to name a few.

We work hard to keep our own species safe from harm. We owe it to our dogs to do the same for them.

If a dog has a known bite history, a known history of aggression toward people or other dogs, or a significantly high prey drive, that dog should be desensitized and conditioned to wear a muzzle outside. Sure, things might turn out just fine. But the future of a dog whose teeth sinks into another person or dog is not a good one: bite records and dangerous dog laws will significantly limit that dog’s freedom more than a muzzle. And potential for physical and psychological damage to the victim, whether human or canine, is significant.

Remember: Desensitization and counterconditioning help a dog to enjoy wearing a muzzle and realize that muzzles predict snacks, walks, and a myriad of other good things in life. With a properly fitting basket muzzle in place, that risk of damage, of litigation, and threat to public safety greatly diminishes.

So what, then, can owners do if their dogs love to play fetch or frisbee off leash? Are their dogs relegated to a life of boring walks with a muzzle? Absolutely not. The following are ways to increase your dog’s enrichment on walks (and are fun for muzzled and non-muzzled dogs alike).

Hand targeting/Target sticks: Targeting is an excellent game for building focus and burning off energy. The bonus: It’s do-able with a muzzle. Teach your dog to “touch” or target the end of a stick. Hold out your palm, or the stick, and when the dog touches the target with his nose, mark the behavior with a “yes!” and deliver a treat. Continue placing the target close to your dog until the behavior is fluent. Then start to make things more challenging. Place the target far enough away so your dog has to move to reach it. Place the target over an obstacle, such as a chair or block, so your dog has to step up to reach the target.

Once your dog is fluently and happily targeting, it’s time to take the behavior outside. Run in different directions, then stop and produce the target for your dog to touch. If your dog is agile, place the target in your air so your dog jumps to reach it. Target your dog over small obstacles in the park. Get creative.

Fetch: Yes, it can be possible for a dog to play fetch while wearing a muzzle, provided you have the proper equipment. Purchase a toy with a long, tapered end (examples here and here). You may have to experiment with various toys to find the best fit for your dog. Place some peanut butter on the end to help your dog learn how to pick it up through the holes in the basket muzzle (Baskerville muzzles are useful for this exercise, as the holes in the sides and front tend to be larger.) Once your dog has the hang of it, take the fetch game outside.

Nose work: Nose work, whether done in formal classes or informally at home, is a wonderful energy burner for dogs. For more information, visit K9 Nose Work.

Free shaping: Karen Pryor’s “101 Things to Do With a Box” can be fun for dogs regardless of whether they wear a muzzle.

Training games: Force-free training is fun, burns mental and physical energy, and can keep your dog focused on you during hikes outside. Ask for sits and downs, or tricks like “shake” and “spin,” intermittently throughout the walk. If you’re with a friend, take turns calling your dog away from each other and see who can get the fastest recall time. If your dog is familiar with “go find it” or “hide and seek,” play these games on the walk. The bottom line: Have fun asking for behaviors and rewarding your dog when he gets it right. For more training games, read this article I wrote for Mutt About Town.

Seeing a muzzled dog living life to the safest and fullest is a beautiful thing. Just ask Stella:

 

– Maureen Backman, MS, CTC

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