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.

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.

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 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.

Muzzle Up Challenge – Muzzle Fetch

Recently, The Muzzle Up! Project launched our first challenge: Show us how you make muzzle fetch fun and enriching for your dogs. We got some great responses, two of which are featured in this post. Be sure to follow us on our Facebook page to get involved!

 


“When Ludo started wearing a muzzle we developed a new game called snozzball which involves knocking a ball about the beach with his muzzle, he loves it!” – Tom Horsley

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“My rescue greyhound Dennis is delighted to finally have a ball he is able to retrieve whilst wearing his muzzle (Nobble ball from Just Dogs Shop).” – Jane Jones

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 Mine are not big ball players as one would rather just eat them and the other is just an independent lurcher. Anyhoo what I know works is using a ball with a rope so that they can pick them up through the muzzle.” – Alexia Granatt

 

– 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.

Adding fun to the muzzle equation

unnamedOften, we as trainers and dog owners introduce dogs to muzzles for serious situations. A dog is reactive on leash, fearful toward strangers, phobic of veterinary procedures, or is subject to breed-specific legislation. All of these situations are appropriate, if not encouraged, uses for muzzles. But none of these situations signals something so critical to muzzle training and a dog’s associations to muzzles: Fun.

The primary goal when muzzle training is to develop a dog’s positive conditioned emotional response (CER), which is the technical term for a dog’s association (positive or negative) to a stimulus. For example, a dog who is uncomfortable being handled by strangers may develop a negative CER to the veterinarian’s office. On the other hand, a dog who has been trained to love handling and has a history of receiving high-value rewards during vet visits may develop a positive CER.

The above image, created with help from Jean Donaldson and The Academy for Dog Trainers, illustrates the positive CER we build through a standard muzzle training plan. The presence of the muzzle, and the placement of the muzzle on the dog’s body, always results in a high-impact, high-value reward (in most scenarios, food). In the world of dog math equations, we’re teaching the dog: Muzzle = snacks.

While this initial training is critical to getting your dog comfortable wearing a muzzle, it’s important continue pairing the muzzle with fun, rewarding scenarios for your dog. Why? 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 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 Muzzle Up! Project is not only about muzzle education and safety, but also muzzle creativity. The following are a few ways to make muzzle training and wearing a joyful experience for you and your dog. Remember, these are a supplement to the standard muzzle training plan. (Enjoy these exercises once your dog has gone through the plan and has a strong positive CER to wearing the muzzle.) Get creative with your dog’s math; Muzzles = snacks, affection, meals, playtime, and anything else your dog finds rewarding!

– Muzzle Mealtime: Put the muzzle on your dog. Instead of a treat, feed her breakfast or dinner for a new, very high-value reward!

– Muzzle Tug: If your dog’s basket muzzle fits properly, your dog will still be able to play with certain bones and tug toys that can fit through the openings in the basket. If you own a dog who gets a thrill out of tug, occasionally play the game after putting on her muzzle.

– Muzzle Cuddles: It’s important for your dog to be able to settle while wearing a muzzle. Practice putting the muzzle on your dog, and sitting with her by her bed or, if she is allowed, on the sofa. Give her treats intermittently, as well as her favorite massages, for several minutes.

– 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 Art Monday – January 19, 2014

We have two installments for this week’s Muzzle Art Monday. First up is from a Muzzle Up supporter who also happens to be a dog, named Buddy.

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Next is a little project we completed over the weekend involving patterned duct tape and a Baskerville size 5 muzzle.

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Send your muzzle art to muzzleupproject@gmail.com. And remember: there’s no reason safety can’t be stylish!

– 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 comfort and style

Meet this gorgeous rescued whippet from Muzzle Up! supporter Leanne from the Warwick Dog Training Club.

“She is a rescued Whippet mix so wears a whippet muzzle. (She has a purple and a pink one! I’ve slightly modified them by putting fleece on the nose band),” Leanne writes. “She gets nervous around boisterous dogs and also when people she doesn’t know approach her. I feel so much more confident when she wears it in public. I have been able to take her to the beach, country park and public places where I would have worried before hand.”

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Muzzle Up! is always eager to see photos of colorful and comfortable muzzles. Send yours to muzzleupproject@gmail.com!

Muzzle Art Monday – January 13, 2014

Muzzle Up! is starting a new feature every Monday – a chance to show of some of our supporters’ snazzy and sassy muzzle art. Our photos this Monday come from supporter Carol Louise Bell, whose decadent, sparkly Baskerville muzzles are true works of art. Be sure to submit your muzzle art through our Facebook page or email us at muzzleupproject@gmail.com. And don’t forget, you can join our new Flickr group and use the hashtag #muzzleup to spread awareness.

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– 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.

 

 

Explaining why your dog is wearing a muzzle

muzzle-cartoonsYou’re walking your dog and someone approaches. Maybe a neighbor, a coworker, or perhaps a complete stranger. And then comes the question you wish you didn’t have to constantly answer: “Why is your dog wearing a muzzle?” Sometimes, it’s asked out of pure interest. But most of the time, it’s tinged with many underlying fears and questions. Is that dog vicious? Will your dog attack me? Is your dog a bad dog? Many supporters of The Muzzle Up! Project face this question quite often, and they’ve come up with some great responses that erase stigma, ease anxiety and insert a little humor into living life with a muzzled up dog. Here are the brilliant ideas of our supporters. Enjoy!

  • I say, “My dog has an injury and sometimes also has issues with strangers approaching me, so I am being a responsible owner until we work through that.” Or something like that. – Christine
  • “She is scared of new folks.” And then I turn my attention to Diamond and ask her to do something to help her remain cognitive and build positive experiences with strangers around. And then I reward her cooperation. She has come a long way. More often than not, she now seems to have a more positive interest in strangers. – Angie
  • I have one who wears a muzzle as shes not keen on other dogs coming up to her and as she’s a big girl. I’m overly cautious. I also have a lead with “no dogs” printed on it and my boy wears a lead with ‘friendly’ on. Most people I see are nice but I’ve had a few comments. – Deanna
  • I have a greyhound and I muzzle her when we go to the groomers as they usually have little white fluffy lures in there. I explain I would rather be safe than sorry as she has been trained to chase.Then I say she is really a lamb. – Tracey
  • I once had someone ask me why my dog was wearing a hockey mask – made me cease and explain the situation, all whilst I had blood dribbling down my leg because I had just fallen over and was trying to sort a plaster. We must have looked a right pair! – Emma
  • I put my foster dog on my Facebook cover photo saying she is a DINOS Diva (Dog in need of space), just to change my own perception of using a muzzle and be comfortable being proactive by having her wear a muzzle when out. She looks kind of like a ‘super hero’ with her yellow jacket and her head gear. – Jo-Ann
  • She has a hard time trusting other people and other dogs, but she still deserves the same love and privileges as any other creature… I muzzle cuddles so that she and the other creatures around her can live a safe and normal life. – Кристина
  • Obviously, because he can’t wear two. – Luis
  • Mine used to wear one one when he was a pup “because he is a pig – and hovers up anything and everything and makes himself sick!” – Emma