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.

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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 training: Working through common trouble spots

10481424_488290024645016_4124303747210887978_n“I’m stuck.”

It’s a frequent occurrence among clients and colleagues when it comes to muzzle training. It usually comes near the end of the plan when the dog is comfortably wearing the muzzle with secured straps for short periods of time (seconds, maybe a few minutes). Anything longer and the dog will start pawing at the muzzle. The thought that you will have to work on duration second by second until you can take your dog for an hour-long walk on muzzle is a daunting one. Luckily, provided you have gone through the training plan accurately and have laid a solid foundation of positive associations with the muzzle, you can “unstick” yourself with relative ease. The keys are habituation and continued counterconditioning.

By definition, habituation, occurs when an animal learns to ignore a particular stimulus in the environment. Dogs habituate to stimuli that are frequent and annoying, but not necessarily frightening or startling. Think: ringing phones, the television, wearing a collar or a harness. Most dogs grow accustomed to these stimuli. They habituate, just as humans habituate to bike helmets, wool sweaters and the rumble of traffic.

It’s important to note that not every dog can habituate to low-grade stimuli. Equally important is reading a dog’s body language to detect any signs of fear or stress to prevent sensitization. Some dogs react to the sound of a doorbell or have an aversion to wearing a harness. Many dogs find the experience of wearing a muzzle annoying and frightening without being properly introduced with a gradual training plan. Instead of habituating, they sensitize: Their fearful reaction intensifies with repeated exposure to the stimulus. Hence the need for a thorough muzzle training plan that builds positive associations to the presence of the muzzle, wearing the muzzle, and having the muzzle secured to their head.  Read More

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 Art Monday – August 11, 2014

Today’s dazzling muzzle art installment comes courtesy of Muzzle Up! supporter Dia Bates.

“Added some sparkle to our girls, for when she goes out to special places,” she writes.

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Want to see your dog featured for a future Muzzle Art Monday? Email us at muzzleupproject@gmail.com, post a photo to our Facebook page, or tweet us using the hashtag #muzzleup.

– 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 FAQs: Measuring for a proper fit

Measurements
Awhile back, Muzzle Up! asked you to send in questions about muzzles, muzzle safety, muzzle training, and anything else muzzle-related. Unfortunately, there’s a shortage of quality information on this topic, let alone an easy way to find answers to questions. With your support, our ongoing “Muzzle FAQ” series will bridge this information gap.

Here’s a selection from the first batch of questions we received. Thank you to everyone who sends us notes and participates in our Facebook community. Together, we can erase muzzle stigma, one dog at a time.

Q: “I loved the Paul Frank muzzle taping idea so much I bought a couple of rolls online…but ack! The tape is all peeling off…did you treat the Baskerville with something first?”

A: This question refers to our muzzle art project from earlier this year, in which we wrapped decorative duct tape around a Baskerville muzzle. The concept is still a work in progress, but luckily several Muzzle Up! supporters are giving it a try! Our one tip is to try keeping all loose ends of the tape wrapped up to prevent fraying and water damage.

Q: Where can we find more fun muzzles? Black is so boring.

A: Depending on where you live, there are various stores that sell colored muzzles. For those in the US, Baskerville sells a powder blue colored muzzle on Amazon (they discontinued the pink color, unfortunately). See our muzzle equipment guide for other retailers.

Q: A good pictorial on how a muzzle should fit (particularly for bully breeds) would be great.

A: Muzzles should allow a dog to pant, drink water, and exercise comfortably (see our graphic attached to this post.)

Each muzzle brand has specific sizing specifications. We have created a graphic that shows the basic measurements you should take before purchasing a muzzle.

The following are links to sizing information for two of the more popular brands:
Baskerville Ultra: http://www.petexpertise.com/dog-training-aids/baskerville-ultra-dog-muzzle.html

 

Jafco: http://www.petexpertise.com/dog-training-aids/jafco-muzzles.html

 

Q: How do you deal with the public when they see the muzzle and automatically think your dog is a biter? My dog has never bitten anyone but I know that people will see a so-called dangerous breed wearing a muzzle and jump to the conclusion that he is vicious. Also, does having your dog wear a muzzle effect your legal liability?

A: We created a blog awhile back that lists what many of our supporters say when facing questions about their dog in a muzzle.

Legal liability can vary depending on your region’s dangerous dog regulations. Check with your local police department for more information on dog bites and liability.

Q: Any tips for getting my dog to accept wearing a muzzle?

A: Training, training, training. Check out our website for videos  and instructions on training your dog to be comfortable wearing a muzzle.

– 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 – April Fool’s Edition

Since it’s almost April Fool’s Day, we thought we’d add a little humor to this week’s muzzle art feature. Meet Flint, who certainly has a sense of humor when it comes to his blue Baskerville Ultra muzzle.

Says his mom Kate Grundy, “We were putting some positive charge into his muzzle using lots of hotdog sausage. He agreed to pose for a picture, bless him. Lots of sausage earned.”

Way to go, Flint!

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Want to see your dog featured for a future Muzzle Art Monday? Email us at muzzleupproject@gmail.com, post a photo to our Facebook page, or tweet us using the hashtag #muzzleup.

– 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.