Muzzle Up! Online: More than just muzzles

h3tJEeKL3tLeAbaS3qNHkDtbtvu2zi5aC1M-rMb7tDU

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!

11218923_460181967480819_3620205964510829719_n
“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.

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 Monday – March 10, 2014

This week’s Muzzle Art Monday features penguins! Emma Hindson created this masterpiece for her dog, Zara, inspired by Muzzle Up’s art project last month. Looking good, Zara!

1613772_254398658074548_355414265_n

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.

Why using muzzles as punishment is dangerous

Photo by Animal Kingdom Hostpial/Flickr Creative Commons License

Photo by Animal Kingdom Hostpial/Flickr Creative Commons License

Imagine a child who, every time she misbehaves, is subsequently punished by being placed in a car with the seatbelt buckled. Each time the seatbelt clicks shut, she is left in the car for a period of time without explanation. The only association she has with the car and the seatbelt is as a form of punishment, causing her to dislike it.

Now, imagine that same child has to go to the emergency room. The only means of transport is a car. Faced with the prospect of having to endure what has historically been a form of punishment for her – the seatbelt – she resists, taking up precious time that could be spent driving to the hospital.

This scenario may seem a bit outlandish, and it should. Using a standard safety measure as a form of punishment is ridiculous and cruel, not to mention counterproductive for any life-threatening situation. Unfortunately, when people use muzzles as a form of punishment or time out for dogs, they create a situation not unlike a child being punished with a seatbelt.

Many dogs become fearful if placed in a muzzle without proper desensitization and counterconditioning. They will fear the muzzle even more if it is used as a means to reduce undesirable behaviors (especially if the person presenting the muzzle has a stern tone of voice and agitated body language, two things that often accompany punishment). Now add continual repetitions of the muzzle being used as punishment, and the dog acquires an ever-growing history of negative associations with it.

Why is this such a problem? The fact is, at some point, most dogs will have to wear a muzzle. It’s often the first step when applying pet first aid. It’s also used as a safety measure at the veterinarian if a dog is in pain. Dogs may develop fears at any point in their lives, which could result the need for a muzzle while training is underway. Dogs may even need to wear muzzles for non-aggressive behaviors like eating feces. In any of these situations, it is critical that a dog be desensitized and trained to enjoy wearing a muzzle, especially in the case of an emergency when time is of the essence and mucking around isn’t an option.

Even in non-emergency situations, training a dog to like a muzzle once he has developed strong negative associations to it will take eons longer than performing a standard muzzle training plan from the beginning; fears are easy for dogs to develop and difficult to overcome.

For all of these reasons, refrain from using a muzzle as a way to reduce unwanted behaviors. Your dog’s life may depend on it someday.

-Maureen Backman, MS
Maureen is the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and owns Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco.

Training Troubleshooting Series, Part 3: Splittiness

Steve Holt Photography (steveholt.org)

Steve Holt Photography (steveholt.org)

Originally posted on Mutt About Town.

Over the past week, I have been working with a client on muzzle training her dog. In doing so, I am reminded of the importance of “splits” in dog training, and why sometimes following a training plan won’t automatically get you the results you want.

A typical muzzle training plan looks like this:

  1. Provide treats upon showing the dog the muzzle
  2. Click and treat whenever dog touches muzzle with nose
  3. Shape behavior by selecting longer nose bumps to mark and reward
  4. Click and treat when dog places muzzle in opening, luring if necessary
  5. Add duration for placing nose in muzzle opening
  6. Work on attaching straps
  7. Adjust straps so that the muzzle fits closer to the head
  8. Gradually tighten the fit of the muzzle

Essentially, we sequentially train the dog to like the muzzle, like placing her nose on the muzzle, like placing her nose in the muzzle, like keeping her nose in the muzzle, and not mind attaching or adjusting the straps.

When working with my client’s dog, we started out with the basic plan. She responded well with steps 1-4, but got stuck on step five, the duration. Despite being heavily rewarded for placing her nose in the muzzle, the minute the treats stopped, she moved her nose from the muzzle opening.

If we continued barreling through the plan without getting her comfortable with duration, any positive associations with the muzzle would have gradually eroded, and we would have hit an even bigger roadblock. Clearly, we needed to add something extra to the plan.

In dog training, this something extra is termed a “split.” As the name implies, a split is essentially a bridge between two steps, so that instead of requiring a dog to go from step one to step two, we give her a 1a (and perhaps a 1b and 1c) to make the jump less difficult. Remember learning to ride a bicycle without training wheels and needing an adult to stabilize and launch you so you didn’t immediately fall off? Eventually you were able to start the ride on two wheels on your own, but the stabilizing hand of an adult eased you into it, minimizing bruises and injuries. It’s the same concept in dog training. Read More