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.

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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 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 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 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 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.

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!

image

 

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.

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.