You might wonder why you should condition your sweet, people-loving golden retriever to a muzzle. After all, Max loves everyone–human and canine.
But you never know when something will happen.
There are many reasons why even the sweetest dog should be used to wearing a muzzle.
Sometimes dogs are injured and may unexpectedly bite out of pain. And there are other reasons too.
But wearing a muzzle should never be a substitute for training.
If a dog chews on your couch or barks too much, muzzling him isn’t the answer. Training, exercise, and enrichment activities are.
Today we’re going to cover how to muzzle train a dog, when a dog should be conditioned to a muzzle, and how to do it.
How To Muzzle Train A Dog
Let’s get started with the ins and outs of muzzle training your dog. Beginning with…
Why Dogs Should Be Conditioned To Wear a Muzzle
There are a number of reasons why dogs should be conditioned to a muzzle. And it’s much easier to start when he’s a puppy.
But you can teach an older dog to accept wearing a muzzle if it’s done properly.
Of course if a dog has a behavioral issue such as aggression, it may be necessary for him to wear a muzzle while working with him.
It’s advisable to work with a behavior specialist if a dog is so aggressive he needs a muzzle for everyone to be safe.
But some dogs will pick up everything in their reach, eating even stones and sticks. And they can break teeth and even have intestinal blockages because of this bad habit.
A muzzle can come in handy when training your pup to leave items on the ground.
Of course you don’t want him to wear a muzzle all the time. Wearing it doesn’t replace the need to train a “leave it” command.
Some dogs need to be muzzled while at the veterinarian.
Teaching a dog to be handled can help avoid the need for a muzzle. But some dogs may, out of fear or pain, need to be muzzled for his and the vet’s safety.
One of my rescues, a formerly abused adult Lhasa apso Mikey, wasn’t good with handling when I got him. I worked with him to accept–and even enjoy–normal handling and petting.
But he knew that being at the veterinarian was different. And that things could happen to him there that could hurt. So all bets were off.
Instead of having the vet techs have to muzzle him thereby making his vet visits very stressful, I conditioned him to a muzzle.
I would put the muzzle on him before entering the vet’s facility and the visit would go fine.
This really helped years later when Mikey had to go to a specialty vet to treat cancer he developed on his leg.
He just accepted the procedures because we had worked successfully on my muzzling him. It was no big deal to him anymore.
You also never know when an emergency will occur. Sometimes unexpected injuries occur.
A dog may get cut or pull something while chasing a ball or jumping. And even the sweetest dog may bite out of pain or fear.
So, if your pup has been conditioned to a muzzle, getting him to the proper treatment and a veterinarian treating him will be less stressful than just forcing a muzzle on him.
There are also some states or areas where certain types of dogs such as those classified as pit bulls are required to wear a muzzle when outside.
Even if you never need to use a muzzle, conditioning him to it will help him accept other new things in a positive manner.
Types of Muzzles
There are many types of muzzles. Of course, no muzzle should be left on a dog for a prolonged period of time.
It’s just a tool to use for a short period of time, such as on a walk or at a vet visit.
It should never be left on a dog who is not supervised.
A muzzle should fit snugly, but not be tight. A dog shouldn’t be able to pull a properly-fitted muzzle off his head.
The most popular type for a variety of uses is a basket muzzle.
They are usually made out of plastic, plastic and wire, leather and wire, or leather.
A dog should be able to partially open his mouth while wearing this type of muzzle and can eat and drink water with it on.
A basket-type muzzle is best used if it has to be left for more than a few minutes, such as on a walk.
It allows the dog to breathe but also prevents bites if fitted properly.
Soft mesh or nylon muzzles are often used at the vet.
They can be put on a dog quickly. And they can easily be transported because they’re light and they fold in half.
But they don’t allow a dog to breathe properly or to drink or eat. So they are alright only when used for a short period of time.
There are also solid muzzles made of leather which are similar in function to the nylon ones. They are just more conical and solid and should only be used for short periods of time, such as a vet visits.
Each manufacturer has guidelines regarding how to fit the muzzle to your dog.
Bring your dog into a store to fit it in person or buy on-line where you can return it if it doesn’t fit.
How To Condition Your Dog to a Muzzle
The important things to remember when conditioning your pup to a muzzle are to make the experience a positive one and to take it slowly and have a lot of patience.
Of course, each dog is an individual. So how long it takes for your dog to happily accept a muzzle will vary.
Generally it will take less time to condition a puppy than it will an adult dog who’s never worn one or who had one suddenly placed on him, such as would occur at a vet visit.
I’ll break the steps down. Make sure that your pup is comfortable at the current step before moving on.
It’s important that your dog be relaxed before you conduct these training sessions. So make sure that he’s had enough exercise to take the edge off but not so much that he’s overly tired.
Also, the environment in which you’ll work with him should be quiet and distraction-free. You want your dog to be relaxed.
Eventually you want your dog to willingly place his face in the muzzle.
Remember: your dog may have had a bad association with a muzzle in the past. Maybe a vet needed to quickly put one on him in order to work on him. So, have patience.
Also, a different type of muzzle–like a basket muzzle–may not be as scary to him as a nylon or leather one a vet may have used.
Steps To Make a Positive Association With the Muzzle
Have great treats that your dog loves ready. I recommend using a special treat that’s only used for the muzzle conditioning exercises.
You can have something like the Happy Howie’s meat roll ready. I slice pieces, then cube small pieces. I place sandwich baggies with an amount I’ll use per training session in the freezer. Then, I take the baggie out about a half-hour before I train.
Or small pieces of cheese or meat can work. The reward should be about the size of a pea.
You’re shaping your dog to interact with and eventually put his nose into the muzzle. So take small, “puppy steps.”
Move to the next step only when your dog’s comfortable at the prior step.
Always remember to mark the behavior you want with “YES!” and immediately give your pup the reward treat.
Keep your sessions short: five to 10 minutes at most. And just two or three sessions per day. Always end on a successful note.
This may take days or weeks to get through all the steps successfully.
- Show your dog the muzzle with the opening facing him. Don’t move it towards him; just hold it steady. Have it a few feet away from him. When he looks at the muzzle, say “YES,” and immediately give him a piece of the yummy treat. Do this a few times per session.
- If your dog is fine at step one, try moving the muzzle about a foot closer–still not placing it near him. Again treat and mark when he looks at the muzzle. You want him to think great things happen when the muzzle is around.
- Depending on your dog’s reaction, you can place the treat near–but not inside–the muzzle. Praise and treat when he reaches for the treat touching the muzzle.
- To teach a dog who’s reluctant to touch the muzzle that it’s very rewarding to do so, you can place a little line of a soft, yummy treat on the rim of the outside of the muzzle where he’ll eventually place his face. You can use a little peanut butter, squeeze cheese, or Kong stuffing in a can.
- Praise and mark the behavior when he licks it off the muzzle. This step can also make any dog really associate great things when near and touching the muzzle.
- Once your dog is happily touching the muzzle, it’s time to try his reaching and putting his face into it. You can hold a great treat just outside the front of the muzzle so that he has to put his nose all the way in to get the treat.
- Give him six or seven treats immediately in a row. Then remove the muzzle. Do this several times assuming he’s happily doing so. Always immediately praise and reward each time.
- In all of your training sessions, take short breaks to play and to rest.
- Start adding a cue such as “muzzle” as he puts his face into it. The ultimate goal is after you say your cue, he’ll happily run and put his face into the muzzle. Don’t laugh: it can happen!
- You want your dog to generalize that he has to put his face into the muzzle no matter where it is or where he is. So, after he’s regularly putting his face into the muzzle on cue, move it around–a little high, a little lower, to the sides–so that he’ll gladly put his face into it anywhere.
- Then, go to different rooms and areas of your house, then outside. Make it a game: say “muzzle” and make it a party after he quickly places his face fully into it. “YES!! Good dog!!” and give his great treat reward.
- After having him walk with the muzzle on in your house and yard, take him on short walks with it on. Then, over time, increase the time he has the muzzle on until he wears it during your entire walk. (This is assuming he needs to wear it on his walk.)
Steps in Fastening the Muzzle
Just as you did in teaching your dog to accept putting on the muzzle, you have to also condition him when you fasten it. And take your time to be successful.
In all muzzle training, your dog should be comfortable at a level before moving ahead. This may take between five and 20 successful trials or more–depending on your dog.
This step can be difficult for many dogs–especially those who are touch or sound sensitive.
At each step mark and reward the desired behavior.
- Have the muzzle a distance away from your dog when you fasten the muzzle. Praise and reward when he hears the sound. If he’s sound sensitive, have it far enough away that it doesn’t scare him.
- Don’t rush it. As long as your dog is comfortable, move the muzzle closer and closer as you work with him getting used to the sound of the muzzle being fastened closed.
- Eventually, fasten the muzzle closed near your dog’s ears as long as he’s comfortable with you doing so. At this point, the muzzle is NOT placed on him.
- Once he’s comfortable with the sounds and sights of the muzzle being secured closed near him, you can move ahead. Give him your “muzzle” cue and have him place his face into the muzzle. Give a few treats through the front of the muzzle while marking the behavior.
- Gently fasten the muzzle closed. At this point, don’t worry that it may not be properly secured. After he’s used to you fastening it, you can be more precise that it’s closed securely but not tight.
- Over time, your goal is to get your dog used to wearing the muzzle for longer times. So build time randomly. Sometimes have him put his face in the muzzle and add time to your last successful session. Another time, have him put his face in but don’t fasten it closed. Vary how long he wears it. You get the idea.
What Not To Do
Of course, never rush the training. And, if your dog has aggression issues, get help from a qualified canine behaviorist.
Don’t try to condition your dog to a muzzle if there’s a chance that you may be bitten.
Also, when choosing a muzzle, don’t use a head halter. Although when properly used, head halters can be great training devices for teaching a dog to walk on a loose lead, they don’t function as a muzzle.
It’s important to condition your dog to a muzzle. You may not need to use it regularly. But emergencies occur and your dog will be able to handle them if he accepts a muzzle.
Also, it can help condition your dog to accept new situations which would otherwise be seen as aversive.