Muzzles are extremely useful tools to help in a wide range of situations from vet and groomer visits to working on eating inappropriate items, resource guarding and aggression. You can read more about choosing the right muzzle and when to use one in the post here.
Many dogs will be naturally reluctant to wear a muzzle. However, by systematically introducing it and by creating positive associations, most dogs learn to happily tolerate it.
It is important to take your time, as with almost all training slower is quicker!
Spend a week to a fortnight working through the steps in short 5-10 minutes sessions (although it may take longer, every dog is an individual).
For a printable version of these instructions, click here
Making the sight of the muzzle a good thing.
Whilst your dog is in front of you and paying attention, simply hold up the muzzle so that your dog can see it and then give a handful of treats. Repeat step 1 until your dog responds in a happy, excited when to the sight of the muzzle.
Getting a Little Closer
Play a targeting game with the muzzle. Hold up the muzzle as in step 1, however, this time, wait for your dog to bump or touch the muzzle with their nose before giving the reward. If you have used a marker word or sound (yes, good, ‘click’), mark the moment your dog touches the muzzle and then reward.
Repeat step 2 until your dog bumps the muzzle as soon as you hold it up.
Bumping for a Reward
Repeat step 2, but this time wait until your dog bumps the muzzle 2-3 times before marking rewarding. After several repetitions start to mark and reward the bump that is a little harder or when the contact is for little longer.
The Cup Game.
Use a soft disposable paper cup (like a clean coffee shop cup) that is shallow enough for your dog to just about reach the end. If the cup is too deep, you can cut it down to size. Put a treat at the bottom of the cup so that your dog has to put their snout fully into the cup to get the treat. Repeat several times.
Go back to the muzzle and hold it with the entrance turned towards your dog and repeat steps 2. Again, after several repetitions, start to wait until your dog bumps their nose near the entrance of the muzzle before marking and rewarding. Give a ‘jackpot’ reward if your dog puts their nose into the muzzle!
If after several sessions your dog is reluctant to put their nose just inside the muzzle, try to ‘lure’ the behaviour. Hold a treat at the other end so that the dog must insert his nose to get to it through the tube of the muzzle.
If this still doesn’t work, try putting the muzzle inside the coffee cup, from step 4, so your dog has to put its snout into the muzzle/coffee cup to get the treat at the bottom.
Starting to Wear the Muzzle.
Start the session by repeating step 5 before gradually phasing out the ‘lure’ so that your dog needs to put its snout fully into the muzzle without seeing the reward at the other end. Mark as soon as your dog’s snout is fully in the muzzle, then present the reward. If this doesn’t work go back to step 5.
Once this is working well, very gradually starts to introduce a slight gap between the behaviour, nose into the muzzle, and marking. Keep increasing the gap, one second at a time, until you are at around five seconds. Whilst your dog is waiting for the reward, give lots of praise.
Introducing the Straps
Before you begin the training, adjust the straps to their full length so that they fit extremely loosely.
While your dog is waiting, nose in the muzzle, for the treat, as per step 5, start to momentarily touch the straps.
Once this is going well, start to hold the straps for a little longer before eventually trying to snap the snapper so the muzzle is being worn but with very loose straps. Give lots of praise and a jackpot treat.
If your dog starts to take their snout out of the muzzle when you touch the straps, go back a little and/or touch the straps very, very lightly, again.
Only once step 7 is constantly being achieved, very gradually adjust the straps so they are a little tighter, but not snug. Snap the muzzle on and give extra praise and a jackpot food reward again. Gradually tighten the fit and extend the duration for which your dog wears the muzzle. Reward a lot in the early attempts just for wearing the muzzle.
Keep practising and keep introducing a muzzle at times other than just when you need one for one vet/groomer visits or outside of training.
If you don’t feel like you are making progress, if any of the steps are unclear or if you would just like some advice on using a muzzle correctly, please get in touch.