Why Should Your Dog Learn to Wear a Muzzle?
If you teach your dog to accept one, a muzzle can be an effective, humane tool for managing your dog’s behavior. For most situations, we recommend a basket muzzle. Although a dog wearing this kind of muzzle looks more frightening than a dog wearing a snug-fitting nylon muzzle, the basket style is safer because it allows the dog to pant (which is how dogs regulate their body temperature) and to drink water. The wire basket muzzles sold at www.morrco.com are sturdy and come in a wide range of sizes and shapes to fit any breed.
How to Train Your Dog to Wear His Muzzle
Before you begin muzzle training, identify several treats that your dog really enjoys. Ideally, training treats should be soft so that you can break them into small cubes and they won’t crumble. Dogs can eat soft treats quickly, without having to stop and chew or lick crumbs up off the floor, so these treats make for faster, easier training.
Step One: Introduce the Clicker
What is a clicker? A clicker is a small, handheld plastic box with a metal tongue that you depress to make a “click-click” sound. Many trainers use the clicker as a tool to teach dogs new skills. You can find clickers at most major pet stores.
It’s not critical that you use one to teach your dog to wear a muzzle, but you need some way to immediately tell your dog that he has done the correct behavior. The clicker is ideal because it makes a unique, consistent sound.
How the clicker works First, a trainer teaches a dog that every time he hears the clicking sound, he gets a treat. (We’ll explain how to do that below.) When the dog learns that the sound is always followed by treats, the trainer can use it to mark the moment that the dog does something good. For example, if the trainer wants to teach the dog to sit, she’ll click the instant that the dog’s rump hits the floor, and then she’ll deliver a goodie. With repetition, the dog will learn that it’s the act of sitting that earns tasty treats. Through the clicker, which tells the dog exactly what he’s doing right, the trainer can communicate very precisely with the dog and speed up the training process. For more information about how to use a clicker, please see our article, Clicker Training Your Pet.
Getting started It’s easy to introduce the clicker to your dog. Spend 30 minutes or so teaching him that the sound of the click means “Treat!”
1. Put a leash on your dog and place the end of it under your foot. Sit and watch TV or read a book. Have a container of treats within reach.
2. Place one treat in your hand and the clicker in the other (or, if you’re talented, you can put both in the same hand). If your dog turns to you and tries to get the treat, close your hand around the treat and wait until your dog stops trying (pawing, sniffing, mouthing, barking, etc.). You don’t want to inadvertently reward him for an annoying behavior.
3. As soon as your dog stops attempting to get the treat you’re holding, click once and immediately open your hand to offer the treat. Your dog may or may not be looking, so move the treat toward his nose. Place another treat in your hand and resume watching TV or reading. Ignore your dog.
4. Three to five minutes later, click again and offer another treat. (It doesn’t really matter what your dog is doing at this point, but it’s a good idea to wait until he’s not doing something obnoxious like trying to get the treat from your hand.)
5. Continue to repeat the click-treat sequence every three to five minutes. Make sure you vary the time, so that your dog doesn’t know exactly when the next click is coming. Eventually, he’ll start to jerk his head around toward you when he hears the click—which will mean that he understands that the sound of the clicker means a treat is coming his way.
You can choose to use a word, like “Yes!” if you don’t want to use a clicker, but you’ll still need to teach your dog what the word means using the steps above. Just replace the sound of the click with the word “Yes!” Make your enunciation of the word distinctive so that it stands out from your general conversation.
Step Two: Introduce the Muzzle
Hold a treat and the clicker in one hand and the muzzle in the other. (This may feel awkward at first, but with practice, it’ll get easier.) Have your dog stand or sit in front of you.
1. Hold the muzzle toward your dog.
2. Let him sniff it. The instant he does, click and offer a treat.
3. Pull the muzzle back toward your body, away from your dog.
If your dog doesn’t try to sniff the muzzle when you extend it to him, show him that you’re rubbing a bit of the treat on it. Then extend it toward him again. It will smell delicious, so he’ll probably sniff it. Follow the steps above, and then continue with the steps below:
4. Wait 20 to 60 seconds and then present the muzzle again. Click and treat when your dog sniffs it.
5. Repeat until your dog is reliably reaching toward the muzzle with his nose.
Step Three: Teach Your Dog to Put His Nose in the Muzzle
Now you’re going to change the rules a little. First, you’ll require your dog to touch the muzzle with his nose. Then you’ll change the rules again and ask him to start putting his nose into the muzzle.
1. Hold the muzzle toward your dog.
2. Wait until he reaches toward the muzzle and actually touches it with his nose.
3. Click and treat.
4. Repeat these three steps about 10 times—or until your dog readily pokes the muzzle with his nose every time you hold it out toward him.
5. Next, when your dog touches the muzzle with his nose, refrain from clicking and hold the muzzle still. He will probably push it with his nose. When he does, click and treat.
6. Click and treat for pushing the muzzle about five times.
7. Now comes the tricky part. Hold the muzzle toward your dog. Watch carefully as he reaches toward it and shift it slightly so his nose goes part-way into the muzzle. Click right when your dog’s nose is in the muzzle.
8. Repeat this a few times until you don’t have to adjust the positioning of the muzzle. See if your dog can figure out that he needs to put his nose into the muzzle himself.
9. Once he gets the idea, ask him to extend his nose a little farther into the muzzle each time. When you click, he will naturally pull his nose out in order to receive the treat. That’s exactly what you want.
Step Four: Teach Your Dog to Keep His Nose in the Muzzle
Once your dog is sticking his nose all the way into the muzzle, teach him to hold his nose in there. Delay the click for just a millisecond or two. Then click and treat. If your dog pulls his nose out before you click, just refrain from clicking and treating. Hold the muzzle toward him again and wait for him to hold his nose in it for just an instant. (It really should just be a millisecond or two in the beginning.) Over many repetitions, gradually ask your dog to hold his nose in the muzzle for longer until you get up to about 10 seconds.
Step Five: Strapping on the Muzzle
The next step is to teach your dog to hold his nose in the muzzle while you strap it on. Hold the clicker in one hand and the muzzle in the other. Put the treats somewhere next to you, like on a shelf or table, where you can reach them but your dog cannot.
1. While your dog is holding his nose in the muzzle, use the hand that’s holding the clicker to take hold of one of the neck straps. Click, let go and treat. Repeat a few times.
2. During subsequent repetitions, gradually delay the click and treat until after you take the strap and hold it up behind your dog’s ears, as though you are about to buckle or snap on the muzzle.
3. Repeat the same steps, from the beginning, with the other strap.
4. Now move both of the straps at the same time. Take one strap in each hand and lift them up, as though you are about to buckle, snap or hook the straps together. Click and treat.
5. Continue Step Five until your dog can stick his nose into the muzzle and hold it there while you fasten the neck straps behind his ears. Right after you fasten the straps, immediately click, unhook the straps and allow your dog to pull his nose out of the muzzle to get his treat.
Step Six: Teaching Your Dog to Wear the Muzzle for Longer Periods of Time
Now you’ll build up the length of time your dog wears the muzzle before you click, remove it and deliver a treat. It’s normal for your dog to fuss with the muzzle a little, but do your best to distract him and give him something else to do instead. Ask him to walk with you, let him sniff the ground, watch a bird, whatever interests him. You can also teach your dog to take treats that you pass through the side of the muzzle. (Long, skinny treats like Pup-peroni® or jerky treats work well.) If he tries to paw or rub the muzzle off, stop him. You can say something to get his attention, or you can physically stop him from trying to remove the muzzle. Refrain from scolding him, though. He’s just learning to wear the muzzle. He’s not doing anything wrong. When your dog is comfortable wearing the muzzle for one to two minutes, take him outside so that he has plenty of other things to do while it’s on. Go for a walk or play a game of chase. Now it’s just a matter of letting your dog gradually get used to wearing the muzzle for longer periods of time and in a variety of circumstances and locations.
When to Get Help
If you have any trouble following the steps outlined above, if you’re afraid of your dog or if your dog shows any signs of aggression during the muzzle training process, you should seek guidance from a Certified Applied Animal Behaviorist (CAAB or ACAAB) or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist (Dip ACVB). Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate one of these experts in your area. If you can’t find a behaviorist, you can seek help from a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), but be sure the trainer is qualified to help you. Determine whether she or he has education and experience in treating aggression, since this expertise is not required for CPDT certification.