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 Fetch: New toy options

The Muzzle Up! Project is always on the lookout for new ways to provide muzzled dogs enrichment. We recently discovered some new options for muzzle fetch from West Paw Design. We tested the Tizzi and Bumi toys from their Zogoflex line and found them to be a great muzzle fetch option for dogs who wear Baskerville muzzles. The toys are slim enough to fit through the front gap of the muzzle, allowing dogs to retrieve and tug with the tips of their front teeth. Another perk: the toys come with a lifetime guarantee!

Those in the UK can purchase these toys from K9Active.

Pictured below is Stella playing fetch with West Paw’s Tizzi toy.



– 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 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 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

Mythbusting: Muzzles and Safety

photo-3To say that owning a dog that is fearful and aggressive is stressful is an understatement. Mix that stress with the existing disinformation about and stigma associated with muzzles, it’s no wonder the topic is emotionally charged.

The Muzzle Up! Project aims to take the stigma out of muzzle use and provide quality, accurate information regarding dog behavior, training, and muzzle equipment – and debunk common muzzle myths along the way.

One of these prevalent myths: If you muzzle your dog, you are putting your dog at risk because he will not be able to defend himself in the event of a fight with another dog.

It’s understandable that dog owners are concerned for their dogs – after all, we strive to keep our dogs safe from harm and unpredictable environments. But this statement contains a large dose of myth and little to no fact.


Why dogs fight

To understand why the above statement is a myth, we must understand why dogs fight and how often they choose to do so. Dogs evolved with a repertoire of aggressive behavior in order to: Protect themselves from perceived threats, get enough food to eat, and compete for resources. Due to domestication, dogs no longer need to compete for resources. They live with few environmental threats. However, they still retain this behavioral software from their ancestors, be it somewhat buggy in its domesticated form.

Aggressive behavior is behaviorally expensive. For a dog in the wild, fighting exposes the animal to injury, wastes precious energy reserves, and could potentially end in death. As Jean Donaldson explains in her influential book Fight!, “Humans also appreciate the difference between filing a lawsuit and brandishing a machine gun. It is no different with animals: Because aggression is so expensive and yet so necessary, all kinds of rituals have evolved” (4). These rituals include growling, snapping, biting without maiming force, and snarling.

The point in all of this is: Most dogs don’t fight with maiming force. The ones that do are a minority (and should be wearing a muzzle).  Read More

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

Muzzles: For many dogs, a gateway to fun

Many dogs have to wear muzzles. Some are required to by law (breed-specific legislation). Some are fearful. Some eat rocks, feces, or garbage on the street.

The Muzzle Up! Project strives to erase the social stigma that comes with owning a dog that wears a muzzle. After all, when dogs are trained using positive reinforcement, they come to enjoy their muzzle, because the muzzle predicts good things (food, walks, fun with their humans). Muzzles also keep fearful and aggressive dogs safe, preventing them from possibly hurting another human or dog, while allowing them to still enjoy being a dog. And, unfortunately, some dog owners have no choice, since breed-specific legislation requires their dogs to wear one.

This blog post is a celebration of the humans who are doing it right: Desensitizing and counterconditioning their dogs to muzzles, finding creative ways to have fun with their dogs, and giving their dogs the gift of exercise and adventure.

1) First up is this gorgeous dog who doesn’t let his muzzle get in the way of a good game of fetch (thanks to Muzzle Up! supporter Rachel Jackson for the photo):


2) Next, we have this creative pooch, who has found a way to retrieve an enticing tennis ball while wearing a muzzle (thanks to supporter Faren Sandberg for the photo):


3) Supporter Emma Hindson shared this dramatic photo of her dog, Zara, who climbs mountains with her muzzle. (Check out more of Zara’s adventures on her Facebook page):


4) Kisses are an important part of many dogs’ routines. Supporter Megan Mead’s photo of Sweden shows that this muzzle is entirely kissable:


5) Supporter Cassarra Groesbeck sent us this photo, showing this group of dogs enjoying an off-leash hike:


6) Sue F. Morgan sent us this photo of Dave, displaying his athletic prowess and zest for life:


7) Not only do Cobalt and Sapphire color coordinate, they also attend a global protest to end BSL (thank you to supporter Carol Louise Bell for the photo):


To join the Muzzle Up! movement, visit our Facebook page and spread the word. A huge thank you to all our current supporters! Check back for more muzzle adventures.

– 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

Explaining why your dog is wearing a muzzle

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

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

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.