Zuri happily struts around Manhattan in her custom Bumas muzzle
Unfortunately, I often see a stigma associated with muzzles. Many people think that muzzles go on “bad” dogs. Or they think if people see their dog wearing a muzzle they will think he or she is a bad dog. This is something that always makes me so sad. I know, and work with, lots of great dogs who wear muzzles for various reasons.
Muzzles can help dogs in the following ways:
- During vet visits most dogs will be wearing a muzzle during procedures and/or exams.
- To prevent your dog from eating food and non-food items off the ground.
- If your dog is scared of people or other dogs but likely will not bite a muzzle is a clear sign to strangers to give your dog space.
- As a safety tool to prevent your dog from biting another dog or person.
So, if you ever see a dog wearing a muzzle, give the owner a nice smile. Give them space, but don’t scowl or look at their dog weird. They are doing what is best for their dog and muzzle stigma really should not be a thing.
Wally sporting a Baskerville Ultra muzzle while out on a walk
I actually believe that muzzle training is an important skill that every dog should learn. No matter how sweet and friendly your dog is, there is a high chance that at some point in their life they will need to wear a muzzle for some reason or another. For many dogs, this will come during vet visits, for some it will be to prevent them from eating food off the ground (which can make them sick, and/or cause expensive life-threating surgeries), and for others it may be to safely meet new people or play with other dogs.
Even if your dog goes their entire life without ever needing a muzzle, there is absolutely no harm muzzle training them anyway.
The first (and really only) rule of muzzle training is that it should be fun! Muzzle training does not mean we pull out a muzzle, stick it on your dog, and let them suffer. Muzzle training is a series of games and activities you play with your dog so they learn to wear their muzzle voluntarily, and without any stress.
If you are interested in starting muzzle training with your dog (and you should be!) the first step is choosing the right muzzle. Here are some things to consider when choosing a muzzle, and here are a few that I always feel comfortable recommending.
What to look for in a muzzle:
- Comfortable fit, not too big, not too small
- Your dog can take treats
- You dog can pant
- Your dog can drink water
- Does not allow your dog to bite
Types of Muzzle:
- My favorite is the Baskerville Ultra. It comes in a variety of sizes and comfortably fits most dogs.
- Bumas is a brand that is very customizable. Size, color, you name it, you can make it yours!
- If you have a brachycephalic dog (dog with a flat face) your dog can still wear a muzzle, one of the more comfortable brands around is the Canine Friendly muzzle.
You should avoid having your dog wear one of the fabric grooming muzzles. They can become dangerous as they do not allow your dog to take treats, pant, or drink water.
Instead of creating a step by step muzzle training guide I have compiled videos that demonstrate some of my favorite muzzle training games! Remember this should be fun for your dog!
There is no right order to play these games, start with whatever you think your dog will like the most. Play them for 3-5 minutes at time, once or twice a day and you will begin to see your dog happy and excited when the muzzle comes out.
Take it slow and steady, move at your dog’s pace. This is not a race, this is fun!
Game 1: Licky Sticky
The licky sticky game is first because it is very easy and usually the dog likes it a lot. All you have to do is line the inside of the muzzle with one of your dogs favorite canned spray food product, like canned spray cheese, whipped cream, Kong Stuffn’ Easy, etc, and let your dog lick it out.
Game 2: Dinner Time
This is a simple game you can play with your dog during mealtimes. Just feed your dog their normal meal out of their new muzzle. Below are two examples, one for a smaller muzzle, and one for a larger muzzle. The smaller muzzle does not usually stand up very well in a bowl so a glass is a better option. The paper towel prevents the food from falling to the bottom. A larger muzzle often fits more comfortably into a regular dog bowl.
Game 3: The Cup Game
This game teaches your dog to put their nose into their muzzle on cue. There are a few steps in the process. For the first step start with a cup or a container that is larger than their snout. Hold it out to your dog, when they put their nose anywhere near it say “yes” and give them a treat. When they do this behavior reliably every time you hold out the cup move on to step two.
Step two of this game looks exactly like step one, but instead of holding out a cup to your dog you are holding out their muzzle. The first couple of times you do this I would recommend warming your dog up with a few repetitions with the cup and then switching to the muzzle. The process is the same as step on, hold out the muzzle, say “yes” when your dog puts their nose anywhere near the muzzle, and then give them a treat.
With step three we are building upon the behaviors practiced in step two. But now, we are changing the way in which we deliver the treat to teach your dog to always put their nose into the muzzle. Procedurally, it looks very similar to step 1 and 2. Extend the muzzle, say “yes” when your dog puts their nose near it, and deliver a treat. The only change is going to be your treat delivery. When your dog puts their nose near the muzzle (even if they don’t put their nose into the muzzle), hold the treat at the back of the muzzle so they put their nose into it to get the treat. If your dog is struggling with this part either spend more time on step 2, or play the other games on this list some more before trying again.
Game 4: Chase Me!
The goal of this game is to get your dog even more excited to put their nose into their muzzle. Put some treats into your hand, and place the muzzle on top (but so the treats are accessible). Get your dog excited about the treats and then move the muzzle away so your dog is chasing the muzzle to excitedly put their nose into it and get the treats. Do not make this too difficult, it should not be a never ending, frustrating game for your dog, just have them chase the muzzle a few feet at a time so they are still engaged and having fun.
© Leash and Learn 2019