There are many reasons why a dog might wear a muzzle and this equipment is oftentimes worn as a precautionary measure. Regardless of the reason WHY your dog is wearing a muzzle, they should ALWAYS be comfortable and calm when wearing one.
Sounds simple enough, right?! Well, it is and it isn't. If you don't introduce your dog to the muzzle correctly your dog will develop very negative feelings about wearing a muzzle and this can show in their behaviour from stressed to terrified and everything in between. And if you are trying to train your dog or reward them for showing appropriate behaviour this will be virtually impossible.
But, I am here to show you how you can correctly introduce the muzzle so your dog is at least comfortable wearing this piece of equipment. This process can also be used to if you need to re-introduce a muzzle to your dog if they have a negative association with one currently.
Different types of muzzles.
Ok so let's look at the different types of muzzles so you can decide which one suits your dog and your situation best.
There are basically two main types with a few variations within each type. Which one you select will depend on why your dog needs the muzzle as well as what fit is the most comfortable for your dog.
1. Basket muzzle.
This is the most common type of muzzle and is usually made from plastic or metal. These muzzles are placed on a dogs face, over their mouth and are secured around the head. The basket design leaves open spaces for the dog to breathe, drink and accept food but the dog is unable to bite or fully open their mouth.
2. Mesh muzzle.
These muzzles are usually made from fabric with mesh components and rather than fully enclosing the dogs mouth, these muzzles are open at the end but encircle their snouts. They are often adjustable so you can tighten or loosen as required. Like the basket style muzzles these do up around the neck of the dog and allow for drinking and panting but restricts biting and barking too.
How to introduce the muzzle to your dog
Wearing a muzzle can be very scary for a dog, and can make them feel stressed and anxious. Not only do we not want our dogs to feel that way but it will also make training them or working through the issue very difficult.
You can teach your dog to enjoy wearing the muzzle and make sure that they have no negative emotions when wearing and interacting with the muzzle. Here's how.
1. Reward interaction
One way to make sure that your dog has a positive association with their muzzle is to link the muzzle with a favourite reward. For the majority of dogs, food treats will work really well but you could also use affection or playing a game to reward your dog. Any time your dog interacts with the muzzle in any way they get a reward and the rewards stop once the muzzle game is over (not forever, just for this activity). This might even start with just showing your dog the muzzle in your hand or on the floor before holding it anywhere near their face. Just make sure you follow step one at all times!
2. Lure into the muzzle.
To reduce the fear factor even further, we don't want to overwhelm our dog by trying to push the muzzle onto their face and quickly do it up. Instead, we will work in stages, making sure our dog is comfortable and happy to proceed to the next stage.
When it's time to fit the muzzle to your dogs snout, hold the muzzle as open as possible and put a food treat inside. Your dog will then put their own face in the muzzle to get to the food treat. And that choice is VERY important. Next, you hold the treat on the outside of the muzzle and give the treat once their face is in. Repeat this step until your dog is happy to put their snout into the muzzle. Make sure you start to increase the amount of time their snout is in the muzzle and give them treats for wearing it rather than taking their face straight back out one they had the first treat.
3. Secure or adjust.
This part can be a bit tricky as doing up the muzzle can be fiddly and you may need to do this one handed! If your dog needs extra incentive to hold still for this part, hold some treats in one hand and let your dog try to get at them with the muzzle on while you do up the muzzle straps with the other. Make sure you give your dog plenty of rewards during this process. Once the muzzle is done up, leave it on your dog for a few seconds while you praise and reward your dog then take it off. Remember, once the muzzle is off, the food treats stop.
Turn putting the muzzle on into a game! Make it fun for your dog to put their snout in the muzzle by moving it around and they have to follow it to put their nose in to get the treat. Use plenty of praise and a happy voice so they build up a positive association. And when the muzzle is on, do fun activities with your dog like focus games, going for a walk or having a snuggle on the couch. The more fun you make this experience the better. This is a great way to get them comfortable in the muzzle as it always means fun stuff is going to happen so they don't need to worry.
As a dog owner, dog trainer and pet sitter I have learnt many different tips and tricks over the years and I thought this would be a great way to share them with you. Enjoy!