The ‘M’ word!


06 January 2022
When you see a dog wearing a muzzle, what assumptions do you make? Yet a muzzle is just a training tool, and has many potential uses, as Julie Hill discovers.

When I say in class: ‘Today, we’re going to do muzzle training!’

Jodie believes that every dog needs to be taught to be comfortable in a muzzle.

I see people’s faces drop because they have that preconditioned response to muzzles,” said Jodie Forbes, of Crazelpup Dog Training in Dorset. 

“Then I ask: ‘Why might a dog need a muzzle?’ And everyone starts off with the bite risk! That’s the obvious one — but actually there are numerous reasons why a dog might need a muzzle.” 

While muzzles can help with reactive dogs, they can also prevent a dog eating harmful or disgusting items, help break habitual licking, prevent self-damage, aid in wound management, and ensure a dog is comfortable in holiday destinations that require a muzzle.

If you think that none of this applies to you, there’s one more category of use that, unfortunately, might become relevant  — emergency use. 

For that reason alone, it makes sense to accustom your dog to wearing a muzzle. 

Give a dog in a muzzle plenty of space.

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“When dogs are in pain, they’re far more likely to bite,” warned Jodie. “Even if a dog is super friendly, if they have a broken leg, they could become a bite risk and need to wear a muzzle. You don’t want to have to fight them to put a muzzle on, and stress them further.” 

Thankfully, muzzle training your dog is easy and can become part of your training routine. Jodie advised that you don’t actually need to use a muzzle initially. “I get a small flowerpot, cone, or plastic cup — something that’s replaceable,” she explained. “That way, if you accidentally mess up, you can get another flowerpot for 50p, whereas if you start with a muzzle and mess up, that’s £10 – £50 (or more) worth of equipment you need to replace, because you don’t want to have any negative emotional conditioned responses towards the muzzle.” 

Jodie recommends putting a treat in the pot. “Let the dog see the treat, and if he then puts his nose into the pot to try to get that treat, use the marker word, and ‘pour’ the treat onto the ground,” she explained. ‘Pouring’ the treat onto the ground is important as if the dog can’t reach it, he may try to use his paws, which could encourage him to scratch at the muzzle later. Another vital point is that this process involves the dog choosing to put their nose in the pot; the owner shouldn’t chase the dog with the pot. 

“Next, don’t put the treat in the cup, but pretend to,” said Jodie. “When the dog puts his nose in, use the marker word, and give him the treat with the other hand. Now he’s learning to put his nose in without luring him, so he’s thinking for himself, you can  gradually build up the duration. Instead  of marking straight away when he puts his nose in, count to five, then mark and reward.” 

When the dog is comfortable with this, you should add in stroking the back of his head to accustom him to having the buckle fastened. “This is a really important step that’s often missed out,” Jodie added. 

Then introduce the muzzle. Put the small pot you’ve been using inside the muzzle initially, then just use the muzzle, and the already learned behaviour will be transferred onto it.

Read the rest of the feature in the February 2022 issue. Buy the latest digital edition and read instantly on your computer, mobile or tablet device.

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