Desensitizing Your Pet to a Muzzle

Earlier today, we came across a social-media post from a dog owner who opted to outfit her reactive dog with a muzzle.  It pleased us to learn that most of the responders supported the dog mom’s decision to use a muzzle.

The sight of a dog wearing a muzzle may be upsetting or cause alarm, however, this practice can prevent your dog from injuring someone, damaging your belonging or causing harm to him.

Last month we provided information on different types of muzzles. This month we want to help you train your dog (or cat) to wear a muzzle.  Your pet will not like the muzzle at first.  Desensitizing your pet to the safety equipment will make the transition easier.

Let us begin:

Step One:  We want the dog to place his snout into the muzzle willingly.  Never force your dog’s snout into the muzzle.  This exercise takes patience.

Exercise: Holding the muzzle in front of you, place a high-quality treat in the muzzle and invite your dog to eat the treat.  When he places his snout in the muzzle to retrieve the treat, mark the appropriate behavior by saying “yes”.  Allow the dog to retreat from the muzzle.  Repeat this exercise several times throughout the day.  Refrain from affixing the straps at this time.

Step Two:  Once the dog willingly places his snout into the muzzle, increase the duration.

Exercise:  Place several high-quality treats deep in the muzzle. Invite the dog to retrieve the treats. When he has eaten all of the treats, mark the behavior by saying “yes”.  At this time, the dog may remove his snout from the muzzle.  Repeat this exercise several times throughout the day until the dog is comfortable keeping his snout in the muzzle for the extended period of time.

Step Three:  Introducing/conditioning the dog to the muzzle straps.

Exercise:  Place peanut butter, pumpkin or wet dog food on the basket portion of the muzzle.  Invite the dog to reach his snout inside to eat the food.  While he enjoys the food, place the straps around his head and hold them there. Release the strap when he is finished or at any time he pulls out of the muzzle. You should not fasten the straps at this time; just hold them with your hands.  Repeat this exercise until the dog is comfortable and does not pull out of the muzzle.

Step Four:  Affixing the muzzle to the dog’s head by fastening the straps.

Exercise: Using peanut butter, pumpkin or wet dog food once again, repeat the instructions described in Step Three.  This time, fasten the strap while the dog enjoys the treat.  The dog will most likely paw at the muzzle, rub his face against the ground or shake his head vigorously.  Discourage this negative behavior by issuing a verbal correction such as “no”. When he is calm, mark the behavior by saying “yes” and provide an additional food reward.  Allow good things to happen when the dog wears the muzzle, such as hand feeding him meals or bringing him on a walk.

Muzzle desensitizing exercise video

Troubleshooting Tips:

If the dog refuses to retrieve the treat from the muzzle, increase the quality of the treat (example:  instead of a dog biscuit, use a piece of cheese or boiled chicken).

Do not allow the dog to use his paw to free the treat.  Mark the behavior by saying “no” and momentarily move the muzzle away from the dog before trying again.  Your dog must place his face in the muzzle to recover the prize.

Have patience with your dog during the process.  Rushing can cause aversion to the muzzle.  There is no set time for each exercise.  Your dog must be comfortable with the activity before you move on to the next step.

Refrain from only using the muzzle when guests arrive or just before you leave the dog home alone.  Rather, use the muzzle each day for a short period, such as mealtime or for walks.  This way he relates the muzzle to an enjoyable activity.

We do suggest you choose a basket muzzle for your dog in you intend to keep him muzzled for long periods of time or during vigorous activities.  Cloth muzzles are best for vet or grooming appointments only. For more information on muzzle selection and sizing, read our previous post on choosing the proper muzzle.

Check the muzzle to ensure it is properly fitted each time you use it.

Hold off training your dog until he accepts the muzzle.

Keep in mind that a muzzle will not solve aggression or reactivity. It is merely  tool to use while training.  If your dog exhibits aggressive behavior, you should hire a dog trainer.  Sublime K9 certified dog trainers are here to help.  You can reach us by calling (631) 241-6482.