Changing the Focus from Bad to Good

by Jessey Scheip, LVT, KPA-CTP

All dogs should know how to wear a muzzle.

No, seriously. It’s a great skill to have. Kind of like how all dogs should know how to be comfortable in a crate or kennel. Most dogs are easy enough to house train without one, but you never know when you might need to restrict their activity after an injury, go spend the day at a groomer, be hospitalized for a few days, etc. By ensuring the dog is well adjusted to a variety of what ifs when it does come up—it’s far less stressful for not only the patient, but for the client as well. Think of it as an insurance policy.

Muzzles are no different. There are plenty of applications for muzzle training. Taught to wear one comfortably, a muzzle just becomes another piece of equipment as far as your dog is concerned. Forced on during a high-stress situation though and it is another aversive device used as an excuse to man-handle. Muzzles are a very useful tool.

First let’s take a look at some of the positives:

  • Introduces the family to complex handling training. This is more involved than just teaching paw manipulation.
  • Prevent dogs from eating things they aren’t supposed to. I hear about the chicken bones on D.C. sidewalks all the times. Muzzles are an easy way to prevent your dogs from hoovering down something they shouldn’t.
  • Encourages people to behave respectfully towards the dog. Everyone loves dogs. Everyone wants to touch dogs. Most dogs don’t want to be touched by everyone. It’s weird and they don’t like it. Muzzles make people keep their hands to themselves. 
  • Preventing bites. One day something painful might happen to your dog. Even a super happy-go-lucky dog who is in pain might lash out. We want to make sure they’re comfortable wearing a muzzle so we can manage their medical problem more safely. 

Now, the negative:

  • Social backlash.

Muzzles have a bad reputation. They were originally used to control “bad dogs” or to punish “bad behavior.” As we learn more about psychology and canine behavior, we learn that these aren’t “bad dogs,” they’re troubled dogs.

Muzzles should be viewed more as a badge of honor: “Look at that family doing the best they can with that poor, anxious dog! Good for them.” It could be seen as a sign that they need extra space: “Oh, no, the neighbor’s dog is in a muzzle, he must be nervous around other dogs. Let’s give them plenty of space so they can pass safely.”

The only way to change that perception is for people to get involved.

  • Clinics—Talk about muzzle training as part of puppy wellness. 
  • Trainers—Teach muzzle training in your puppy/adolescent classes. 
  • Families—Teach your own dog to comfortably wear a muzzle. 
  • Public—Recognize that dogs in muzzles have medical or behavioral disorders. Don’t place blame. They just need help. 

Muzzle Training Tips

  • Fill muzzle with cheese or peanut butter and let them clean it out. 
  • Gradually encourage the dog to place his face in the muzzle without the food lure. Reward after they offered the behavior. 
  • Increase the length of time the dog holds his face in the muzzle. 
  • Practice buckling it up. 
  • Increase duration of wearing the muzzle.

If he starts pawing at it, distract, ask for another behavior, give treats, run around and play, or take it off and try again. Muzzle training is an important tool to have in your doggy toolkit. Work with a qualified professional if you need additional help. Don’t feel like you’re alone. We have a world of dog lovers and pet professionals who want nothing more than to improve your family’s quality of life.

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