There may be times in your dog’s life when you need to use a muzzle. Teaching your dog to like wearing a muzzle is something every dog owner should do, not necessarily just for aggression problems, but in case you need to muzzle the dog in an emergency situation. God forbid, if your dog was injured in an automobile accident, or if another dog attacked him, he might not allow someone else to pick him up or move him to the vet’s office for treatment. So, be prepared for this by desensitizing the dog to wearing a muzzle. Here’s how to do it:
Generally, I prefer using the basket style muzzle; it has wire openings that are large enough on the sides to feed the dog treats, and the dog still has the ability to pant and to drink water. Sometimes these muzzles are available in Petsmart or other large retail pet supply stores; but, you can also get one directly online at: http://www.morrco.com/wirbasdogmuz.html Be sure you get the correct size for your dog. You’ll see a page that will help you decide which size is best.
When you finally have the muzzle, show it to your dog, and keep your voice very happy and upbeat. Let the dog sniff it, and praise him to the skies for any positive attention he shows to the item. Next, place his favorite dry treat at the bottom of the muzzle, and let your dog put his nose inside of it to retrieve the treat. Praise him and encourage him to do this. Feed him some treats a few more times, and then put the muzzle away. While he’s wearing the muzzle, you keep praising him, BUT…when you take the muzzle off – ignore him for at least 3 minutes each time you work on this! That will help him associate good attention while wearing/working with the muzzle, vs. things getting kinda boring when you take it off and put it away.
Next day’s session, you’ll want to repeat this procedure again. Offer him treats that take a little longer to chew, and attempt to hold the muzzle up on his nose for a bit longer than the prior day’s lesson. Praise him, and keep adding a treat at a time while holding the muzzle on his nose for a longer period of time. Tell your dog how great he is for being so cooperative. ONLY when you’re satisfied that the dog seems very comfortable when he sees you bring out the muzzle, and he readily eats from it, you’ll be ready for the next step. Stay on this level of training for a day and practice at least 2 to 3 times for no longer than 3 minutes each time. Remember to keep things a little boring right after you put the muzzle away.
To prepare yourself for the next lesson, practice feeding slivers of treats through the side wires of the basket, but not while the muzzle is on the dog. You want to do this because it takes a couple of times to get this right. I know it was very awkward when I first started trying to feed my dog treats and fit them through fast so he could eat them.
Now, for the most important segment of muzzle training: Be prepared with about 20 treats, but instead of using the dry treat, use a much higher level of food; i.e., use bits of chicken, cheese, liver, roast beef, hot dog slices or steak.
On this 3rd day, always start out with a review of the last day’s level of training, and of course, don’t forget to praise him. Then, place the treat at the bottom of the muzzle, allow him to chew it, and then fasten the strap behind his head. IMMEDIATELY, start feeding him the soft meaty or cheese treat THROUGH THE SIDE WIRES. Continuously feed the dog one treat right after the other, and praise him like crazy in a very happy voice. FEED, FEED, FEED! Then unhook the strap, STOP FEEDING, and DO NOT PRAISE HIM once the muzzle is removed. Keep him at this last level of training for about 2 days and work on getting him used to wearing the muzzle for longer and longer periods of time.
When you see your dog wag his tail every time you bring out the muzzle, you know you’ve accomplished your desensitization work. However, don’t stop training. You’ll need to remind him once in awhile that wearing the muzzle is always a good thing. If you stop working on it, and you don’t use the muzzle for a very long time, you’ll only have to go back and work on it again from scratch. You want your dog to be prepared at any time to have a muzzle placed on his nose. With any training of any behavior, dogs are like we are…if they don’t use it – they’ll lose it!
One last thing: never put your dog’s muzzle on him when you’re showing any anger or frustration. The muzzle ALWAYS has to be associated with your being happy about giving it to him to wear.