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 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 FAQs: Measuring for a proper fit

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:




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



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

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!



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

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 – January 27, 2014

Muzzle Up! supporter Heather sent us today’s Muzzle Art Monday photo featuring a very festive Lili and a snazzy muzzle with pink accents.


Send your muzzle art to And remember: there’s no reason safety can’t be stylish!

– 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

Human reactions to muzzles

MqUgt47xH8sB1LY0DvU7uAd9y-wGVKQQN7HJps-Wl80,tbddtejv52x1vYi5rqdsfha8KEg-MAqFwLi8wSaAJRw,bG1p_GdldAOMIy6xS-4pom5y2fYMkBjL54s2Gat7ivI,GxuDbVthEx20W6GcRQrijCmX_0zWfkH5XUB1rSw9jqg,F7nJQiRNXnqul8w_nIbBrETvAIRcYd8z_McGLO6jSTY-1One of The Muzzle Up! Project’s goals is erasing the stigma associated with muzzles. While it’s difficult to find research studies focused on human perceptions of muzzled dogs and how that affects our behavior, I fortunately came across an interesting study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research in 2009.

The study observed the behavior of adults who came within a specific distance of a man walking a German shepherd dog, both when the dog was wearing the muzzle and when the dog was not wearing one.

According to the authors, “We focused on 3 behaviors potentially indicative of fear, relating to either avoidance or vigilance: (1) movement away from the dog while passing by; (2) looking at the dog while passing by; (3) turning around to look at the dog after passing by.”

The results showed that the muzzled dog elicited more fear-based behaviors in humans. The study also found that the people who encountered the muzzled dog moved away from the dog to avoid him and also turned around to look at the dog once they passed him, indicating fear and hypervigilance.

“This study suggests that, paradoxically, a muzzled dog is considered as more dangerous by humans than a non-muzzled dog, whereas only the latter can be a real source of danger,” write the authors.

– By Maureen Backman, MS

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


The dog or its muzzle as a Signal of danger for humans
Anaïs Racca, Claude Baudoin

Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 1 
March 2009 (volume 4 issue 2 Page 94 DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2008.09.055)