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Muzzle training your dog without stress

Early in my career working as a veterinary technician, I witnessed countless dogs and owners stressed about their appointment. In many cases, owners are nervous because their dogs generally show aggression when being handled or are typically suspicious about people outside their pack. The dogs are nervous because strangers are going to be handling them and in certain cases, putting a strange thing on their nose.

It is necessary for your veterinarian to take precautions for their safety and the safety of their staff. If a dog is a risk for a bite, they use a muzzle for protection. It also prevents your dog from learning that their bite will stop human interaction. Each bite your dog delivers to humans, gives them more courage to do it again; it did after all stop the human from touching them in their mind. It is unfortunately, an everyday occurrence at some practices that deal with pets that are not socialized properly.

If you have a dog that is muzzled regularly at your veterinarian or are nervous they will be muzzled, I would recommend starting a program to help reduce that stress. If you condition them to see a muzzle as a reward and not a stressful experience, your vet visit will be less stressful for all involved.

There are different types of muzzles on the market. I prefer owners use wire or plastic cage muzzles. They allow your dog to open their mouths and provide adequate airflow while completely protecting anyone handling them. When a dog is stressed, they pant. Without the ability to pant, they lose oxygen making them dizzy or faint, causing more panic and their defense drive to kick in. You can purchase an inexpensive plastic cage muzzle at most pet stores or online. I do notrecommend nylon, cloth, or leather muzzles. These types restrict airflow and you can still be bitten. You may not suffer a puncture, but they can still pinch you with their front teeth, which can have some nasty effects too.

All dogs hate to wear a muzzle in the beginning. They tend to thrash around or paw at it to remove it from their noses. If you follow this program, you can condition them to accept a muzzle without stress and sometimes they even look forward to it.

The first step in muzzle training is to place high value treats in the bottom. By high value, I mean if your dog never gets chicken then use it only for muzzle training. If you use the same treats you use for all other training, it becomes less exciting. Have the dog sit near you and place your high value treat at the front of the cage muzzle. When your dog puts their nose in to get the treat, mark with a verbal “yes”, you do not have to touch your dog when praising them. Repeat this for 4-5 times then put the muzzle away. The next day repeat this exercise with the same high value treat again 4-5 times. I recommend you practice this for a full week, at least once daily. Again, only use a high value treat for muzzle training! After a week, your dog will see the muzzle as a special treat.

The next step is to put a leash on your dog and repeat the above step while holding the leash. When your dog is eating the high value treat out of the muzzle, fasten it behind his ears. Have more treats ready and if he accepts the muzzle being fastened, slip a piece of chicken in through the cage (Another reason I like this type) and mark with a “yes”. If he fights to get it off, give a calm but forceful verbal correction followed by a leash correction. The level of your leash correction must be enough to redirect the dog’s focus to you. When they stop fighting it, mark it with a “yes” and reward with the treat. Never take the muzzle off if they are fighting, always wait until they calm down. Work on this for another week, your dog should have no problem wearing a muzzle after this. This exercise should be practiced randomly throughout the year so they remember that they only get that high value treat when that cage covers their nose.

Muzzle training must be done prior to use; they must feel comfortable wearing it around the house before you expect them to be comfortable in public. If you cannot get your dog to stop fighting when the muzzle is fastened, you need to regain leadership in your pack. I would recommend contacting a professional to help you.

Tara, Brandie & The “pack”

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