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Training the Muzzle

Training your dog to wear the muzzle can be a very handy thing when it comes to visits with the veterinarian. After many years of working as a pet dog trainer where I've heard countless horror stories from clients who's dogs ended up in quarantine after a problem at the vet, I make it standard practice with ALL my dogs to always wear a muzzle at the vet. This is more for my dog's protection than for the veterinarian as I want to make sure there is no question about any incident that happens while in the care of the vet. Wearing a muzzle does NOT have to be a stressful thing for the dog. 

First, its important to get a good quality muzzle. Pictured Left is our dog Ciro von der Kleinbrucke in a Morrco wire basket muzzle. This muzzle allows the dog to drink, breath, and take treats while still having three straps so the dog cannot take it off. We use this muzzle in French Ring training as well so its good to have something that fits well and is comfortable for the dog. You can find these muzzles for approximately $30 by following this link here. 

Once you have your dog sized properly for a muzzle and select the muzzle you will use, we start by teaching a simple touch exercise. I use a simple command such as "get dressed" and reward the dog for any attempt to touch the muzzle. It may be a piece of strap or actually putting their nose into the muzzle but I will say 'yes' and treat for any attempt by the dog to touch their nose to the muzzle. Eventually, I will only accept when the dog offers to put their nose into the muzzle. You can use luring with treats to trick the dog into putting their nose in but I prefer making it a game and seeing if the dog will offer to touch the muzzle. 

Once the dog is touching the nose inside the muzzle, now I want the dog to HOLD their nose inside the muzzle.So I will only reward when the dog's nose stays there for 2 seconds. Then I want 3 seconds. I continue to ask for a longer and longer amount of time of the dog holding their nose IN the muzzle before rewarding with a treat. The dog may paw at or get frustrated by the game at this point but I just ignore any other behaviors they offer.
Once the dog is willingly holding their nose still in the muzzle for several seconds, I will start fiddling with the straps. The most common mistake in muzzle training is an owner straps it on the dog, the dog starts pawing and trying to get it off and then the owner is left struggling and/or punishing the dog for trying to get the muzzle off. If you start with the protocol listed above the dog has only associated the muzzle with a fun game so there is no stress/conflict about wearing their muzzle. 

Likewise, when I start the process of actually securing the straps on the muzzle, I don't want the dog to panic and make a poor association so I only ask for 1 second with the strap on loosely then remove muzzle and reward. I do this over and over, gradually asking the dog to stay with the muzzle strapped on loosely for longer periods of time. If the dog removes it or paws it, I simply say no and start the process over (delaying giving the treat). 

The final step in muzzle training is having the dog walk/heel at your side in the muzzle. Like all the steps before, we break this down into the simplest parts so I will ask the dog to take 1 step then remove muzzle and reward. Then 2 steps, remove muzzle and reward. Etc. Etc. A typical vet visit the dog will only wear the muzzle for the actual examination or any point where the dog leaves my sight so it could be in the muzzle for 5-10 minutes, maybe longer depending on the procedure.I try and have the dog wear the muzzle justaround the house while on a leash …. so maybe the dog wears the muzzle while we are hanging out watching TV or while I am returning emails on the computer. Because of the design of the basket muzzle, I can reward the dog with a treat thru the muzzle, or remove the muzzle and give the dog a treat and then put the muzzle back on. At this point the dog has only had positive associations with the muzzle and while they may not like it, they know it means they will get rewarded so they tolerate it. 

Again, as a pet dog trainer I have had probably a dozen client dogs who end up in quarantine for biting the vet so for me, wearing a muzzle is for the dog's own safety. 

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