Muzzle Up! Online: More than just muzzles


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!

“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 She will be presenting about Muzzle Up at this year’s Pet Professional Guild Summit in Tampa, FL. Get in touch at

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 Q and A: Jean Donaldson

QAlogoAs part of Muzzle Awareness Month, The Muzzle Up! Project is publishing a series of interviews with noted dog trainers and behaviorists.

Up first is Jean Donaldson, founder of The Academy for Dog Trainers and award-winning author. Jean is one of the top dog trainers in the world and has lectured extensively in the US, Canada, the UK, Europe, Australia, New Zealand and Japan. Before transitioning full-time to pet dog training, Jean competed in dog sports with dogs of various breeds, earning numerous titles and wins. She holds a degree in comparative psychology and is a keen student of evolutionary biology.

Why are muzzles important in the world of dog training and dog behavior?

Muzzles prevent bites, which protects the public, professionals and the dog himself (from euthanasia).  They allow dogs who are otherwise great dogs to have safe access to public places and activities.

What are some situations dog owners might encounter that make muzzle training so important?

Primarily dogs who are uncomfortable with strangers and dogs who, when they squabble with other dogs, don’t know their own (jaw) strength, and so might injure other dogs.

What, in your opinion, are the critical elements to a successful muzzle training program?

Patience and repetition!  We live in a very fast culture and animal training goes at the pace of the animal.  Dogs can be taught to happily wear their muzzles and this takes a bit of practice.  But it’s well worth the effort.  Muzzles shouldn’t just be put on the dog without a gradual getting-used-to program.

What would you tell owners whose dogs already have a negative association to wearing a muzzle?

It might take a little bit longer to get a dog with a negative association back to happy, but oh boy, that investment in time and patience pays off hugely.

Name some of the biggest “myths” and misconceptions out there when it comes to muzzles and muzzle training.

That dogs feel vulnerable wearing muzzles.  That muzzled dogs are “bad” dogs.  That people whose dogs wear a muzzle are irresponsible – quite the opposite in fact!

How can trainers and dog owners begin to erase the stigma associated with muzzles?

Like any consciousness-raising campaign, it’ll be about facts and repetition.  Muzzles are valuable tools that give dogs their lives back, keep the public and dogs safe, and allow owners to relax and enjoy their dogs.

When should owners contract a dog trainer?

Hire a competent trainer if you have any wish to change your dog’s behavior, i.e. you don’t have to live with it!  And modern dog training is no longer this scary business of yanking dogs around or “dominating” them.  Modern dog training is based on strong underlying science and should be fun and safe – never scary or painful – for both the dog and owner.

What questions should the owners ask any potential dog trainer regarding muzzle training and training philosophy?

Be wary of dog trainers who don’t take your concerns seriously, don’t know how to systematically desensitize a dog to a muzzle, or who boast about never using or never having to use muzzles.

What are your favorite style and brand of muzzle? 

I’m hoping for a technology some day that marries the ease-of-feeding of a groomer’s muzzle (tube-style) with the safety (allowing for panting and drinking) of a basket muzzle.  I don’t have strong preferred brands but fit matters both so the equipment doesn’t fail and to prevent discomfort.

Give us a catchy slogan to encourage dog owners to Muzzle Up!

Muzzle Pride!

Maureen Backman, MS, CTC

Maureen is the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and owns Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco, CA. Get in touch at

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

Muzzle Up! Presents: Muzzle Soccer

The Muzzle Up! Project believes that muzzles and fun are not mutually exclusive. Dogs who wear muzzles in public can play and experience mental and physical enrichment – and they can do it while wearing a muzzle.

Earlier this year, we featured muzzle fetch, and received some wonderful photos and videos of supporters teaching and playing fetch with their muzzled dogs.

Watch our video on our latest enrichment project: Muzzle soccer. Share with friends, send us photos and videos of your dogs playing muzzle soccer, and connect with the Muzzle Up! community on our Facebook page.

– 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

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.


Want to see your dog featured for a future Muzzle Art Monday? Email us at, 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

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



“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




 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

Safety and enrichment are not mutually exclusive

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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


– Maureen Backman, MS, CTC

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

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

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!


Want to see your dog featured for a future Muzzle Art Monday? Email us at, 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