You can’t hide your dog away from the world. It isn’t fair on them nor you. It took me a while to realize this (I can be a slow learner sometimes). That’s why muzzle training can be vital.
Table of Contents
- 1 Muzzles can help you and your dog live out in the world.
- 2 A whole new world opens up
- 3 So how do I muzzle train my dog?!
Muzzles can help you and your dog live out in the world.
Dylan is highly reactive and fear aggressive. And this is hard to admit but I was scared of him and what he might do. Before I fully committed to training and rehabilitating Dylan, I just avoided as many triggers as possible. He is fearful and doesn’t trust strangers. When he gets scared, he does not run away, he barks and lunges at whatever is scaring him. This could be a person, another animal, a lawn decoration, or a tree trunk. And while Dylan wants to play with dogs and have a good time—he has made some great dog friends—I just could never relax when he was playing with other dogs. This is because certain dogs would trigger him.
Dogs feed off of their owner’s energy. I didn’t trust my dog. I was scared of my dog. And I was nervous with him around new people and in new situations. So, a lot of times, he would act negatively but I really believe it’s because of me. He gets defensive and protective because I make him feel like he has to take control. I was so scared of not knowing what to do and having something bad happen, that I just hid us both away. I stopped inviting people over so I could avoid him lunging and potentially biting someone. Vets were changed several times because it was always a horrible experience. Dylan got walked at weird hours so we didn’t run into any people or animals. It wasn’t a fun life.
Don’t get the wrong idea, Dylan is a great dog. He’s goofy and super smart. And when he likes someone, he cuddles and loves getting massages. He has dog friends and loves his sister, Rainey. He just had a really bad start in life and he has trust issues. And he’s fearful.
I decided that Dylan and I needed a fresh start and so we moved from NJ to NC. And when we adopted Rainey, I committed to understanding and trying to correct his behavioral issues. Rainey is such a social butterfly that it was time to stop hiding.
A whole new world opens up
I had a trainer come to the house, and she introduced the idea of muzzle training using a basket muzzle. Basket muzzles are great because they aren’t restrictive. Dylan can still eat and drink with it on. But he just can’t bite anyone.
If I am so terrified about what Dylan might do that I avoid all situations—why don’t I just remove the possibility of him hurting anyone?! Duh!! Why didn’t I think of that? To be fair, I always thought muzzles looked cruel and the dogs wearing them were vicious. But that’s just not true. I suppose it can be but not always. Dylan was reacting negatively because I was holding his leash and I was being negative. If I could get him used to a muzzle then I wouldn’t be so stressed about what could happen, and work on making positive experiences. Muzzle training has been the best thing for me (and Dylan too).
I now invite people over and If I think I may be nervous for him to meet someone, I just have him wear his muzzle. I can send Dylan and Rainey to “camp” so they can socialize with other dogs, Dylan just wears his muzzle. And I now take Dylan to the vet with very little stress. Those are just some of the positive things that have come from muzzle training. And that one thing has opened the door to helping with Dylan’s other issues.
It’s okay to seek help for your dog. You want to give them the best life possible. But it’s important to find people and places that take the time to listen. And who understand and support dogs with behavioral issues. We are so lucky that we found the Charlotte Dog Wizard. They go beyond just teaching basic commands. They were instrumental in training Dylan (and more importantly me) and giving him the tools to better overcome his reactivity. And they ensure that Dylan & Rainey always have a safe environment to play and socialize with other dogs.
The Charlotte Dog Wizard also introduced us to our wonderful vet, Dr. Deller, at Long Animal Hospital in Charlotte. She is the first vet that has been able to draw blood from Dylan and not the other way around. She regularly sees us for “mock” visits where she just gives Dylan treats and walks him around. And she accommodates his needs and knows that we can’t be in an exam room, for instance. She realizes that because he’s smart, every time we do an exam, we have to switch up the process as he will not let us repeat the same process. But he still lets her near him. This didn’t happen overnight but has been a long process. And it all started with muzzle training so that I wasn’t scared of him biting the vet.
So how do I muzzle train my dog?!
Muzzle training isn’t any different than any other training, you have to break it down into baby steps and move to each new step slowly. How quickly you move to the next step depends on your dog but you can’t rush it. I suggest you invest in a good quality basket muzzle and make sure it’s sized properly. And get over the fact that people may stare and potentially comment on the fact that your dog is wearing a muzzle. People can be jerks.
Step 1: Hello Muzzle
In this step, you are just going to show your dog the muzzle and give them a treat. You are not going to put the muzzle on your dog. Have them sit and just show it to them and give a reward. Do this over a few days or weeks (it all depends on your dog). You just need to do this a few times at each training session.
Do not thrust the muzzle in their face in a scary fashion. Just put it up to them. The goal here is to slowly move the muzzle closer to your dog’s face. But again, you are not putting it on your dog. If you get the muzzle too close and your dog gets up to move or averts their head, you know that you need to increase the distance. If you can have the muzzle almost to the point where you can put it on them for a few days, then congrats and move to step 2.
Step 2: Peanut Butter Time
Hopefully, your dog likes peanut butter. But any kind of treat that you can spread onto a spoon will work. Get a spoonful of peanut butter and put it through the end of the muzzle and as far as it will reach towards the opening (where your dog sticks its face in). While your dog is in a sit, hold the muzzle up close to your dog’s face with the spoon as far as you can reach through the muzzle. Do not force the muzzle onto your dog. Wait for your dog to reach in and lick the spoon.
The goal of these sessions is to slowly let your dog get further into the muzzle while licking the spoon. Again don’t force or rush your dog. If they move out of the muzzle, you have pulled the spoon too far back and next time keep it closer to the muzzle entrance. You want your dog to voluntarily put its face inside of the muzzle repeatedly for a few days. Once they seem comfortable, we can move on.
Step 3: Things Are About to Get Messy
Now we are going to work on duration. You want to spread some of the peanut butter on the end of the muzzle (warned you it was going to get messy). Your dog should go into the muzzle with ease. Let them have a few licks and take the muzzle off. You are not going to close the straps yet. You just want to get the dog used to being in the muzzle while giving them the option of getting out when they are ready. However, you do want to increase the duration of this to maybe a couple of minutes.
Step 4: Things Start Getting Closed
Again with peanut butter smeared on the muzzle (or you can still just use a spoon if you are coordinated enough) you are going to slowly get your dog used to having the muzzle closed on them. Once again, we are going to break this down into baby steps. Initially, you are not going to close the straps. Have them move into the muzzle and just put 1 of the straps over their neck and then remove everything. You are going to slowly build up to just both straps over their neck but don’t attach the buckles.
When they are comfortable with having the straps over their neck, you can start to slowly close the buckles. Again, start slowly, by making it very loose and then slowly tighten it to where it should be. Always take it at your dog’s pace and give plenty of rewards. Don’t worry about duration just yet, you just want to make sure that they are comfortable with it being closed. Basically, put on, then close, let them lick the peanut butter a little bit, then remove. You want them to be able to be comfortable with it on in the closed position for a couple of minutes. Let them finish up the peanut butter and wait a minute or so. But you aren’t working on duration.
Step 5: Now the Fun Begins
We are finally ready to start duration work. In the previous step, you are working towards being able to fully close the muzzle on your dog. You aren’t concerned with how long your dog wears it but want to make sure that you have a foundation of calmness when they see it. Now we want to get your dog to love their muzzle. Think about something that your dog loves. In my case, I am lucky Dylan LOVES playing in the sprinkler.
But maybe it’s a ball. Or a good belly rub. But you need to figure out something that your dog just loves because that’s how you are going to work on duration.
Again start slow. And don’t fret if they start fighting to get it off. It just means you are going too quickly and you need to take a step back.
Dylan loves playing with the lawn sprinkler. So, I only allowed him to play in the water while wearing the muzzle. We started slowly and we only played for a couple of minutes every day. He was having so much fun that he didn’t realize that the thing was on him. Some days he did fight it, so I took it off, gave him a treat, and called it a wrap.
Step 6: I Love My Muzzle
Once they can keep the muzzle on for an hour or two while playing with their favorite thing. You are going to work towards the same thing but without the rewards. The goal is to eventually have them keep it on happily while just being their doggy self. Start slowly and reward often. But slowly start having them wear their muzzle when you are taking them for a walk or brushing them or playing with them. Whatever you normally do with them, do it with the muzzle. This may be a struggle a bit because you may think that they succeeded with all the other steps, why are they fighting it now?
You may need to breakdown the training again in different situations. If your dog is nervous on the leash, they may not be happy with the muzzle on. So, just break it down. Do muzzle work at home with the leash on and slowly work up to being outside. Your dog will get it. The muzzle doesn’t hurt (assuming you have the right size) and while it’s probably a little annoying, it shouldn’t negatively impact any activities.
If, like me, you are anxious about your dog’s (potential) behavior, please give muzzle training a try. It really is one of the best things that I ever did. While it keeps Dylan and those around him safe, it really is a tool for me. It makes me more confident and relaxed going into unknown situations and that only benefits Dylan. Also it makes the people he meets less anxious as well. Muzzle training really is a win-win.
Here is a video (sorry I’m not a professional) that I put together of Dylan and Rainey playing. And a big thank you to the Charlotte Dog Wizard who took some video of Dylan at “camp” meeting some new dogs. They understand Dylan and his needs (and aren’t scared of socializing muzzled dogs). You can see that Dylan is comfortable with his muzzle and it isn’t stopping him from living his best life. Muzzle training will open up new experiences for both you and your dog!!