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How to Train Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle

We LOVE muzzles. But let’s be honest: most dogs don’t see a muzzle for the first time and think “yay, this is my new party hat!”Don’t worry- we can get there.


This post is all about how to train your dog to wear a muzzle.


*NOTE: If you’re training your dog to wear a muzzle as part of a behavior modification process, especially for safety reasons, please seek the support of a certified behavior consultant! If you’d like to work with Every Dog, we’re happy to help


Looking for something else about muzzles?


Want to watch the whole webinar about muzzles? Check it out!



Training Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle

We’re going to break this down into a bunch of steps. Why? Because most people seem to get stuck somewhere in the middle. Many of our clients get to the stage where their dog will gladly eat food out of the muzzle, but have no idea how to actually get to clipping straps!


Another note: everyone has a different body and a different situation, so the ways we recommend muzzle training may not work for you. Our training strategies will use the knees to hold the muzzle in place: but that’s NOT the only way to do this! I’ll try to list some alternative methods here, but a behavior consultant can help you strategize the best way to muzzle train in a way that works for you.


Muzzle training is a process that can’t easily be rushed: take your time, or you risk causing a negative association to the muzzle and having to start over!



 

Step 1: Introducing Your Dog to a Muzzle


Rule 1 of muzzle training: make your dog LOVE their muzzle! This new object should become their favorite thing, and something they’re incredibly excited to wear. We’re going to start by using Classical Conditioning to help your dog associate this new object with YAY, TREATS!


Wait, what the heck is Classical Conditioning? 

If you’re interested in the science behind how we’re going to make your dog love their muzzle, it all comes back to Pavlov: he rang a bell before feeding his laboratory dogs, and found that the dogs began to salivate when he rang the bell: associating the bell with food. Classical conditioning is the act of pairing a new/unknown thing (like the muzzle) with something your dog already has a positive response to (food). By pairing these things, the muzzle becomes associated with food! Note: we aren’t reinforcing anything here or asking our dog for anything: we’re just making the connection that muzzle = food.


How do we know if classical conditioning is working? We should see a Conditioned Emotional Response! If your dog wiggles and wags and drools when you take out a bunch of hot dogs, we want to see a similar response when you take out the muzzle. Once they see the muzzle and show YAY behaviors, we know the muzzle has taken on the positive association from the food.


Ok, back to part 1. All you’re going to do is expose your dog to the muzzle with lots of treats. This could involve putting the muzzle on the ground with a bunch of treats for your dog to explore, or presenting the muzzle in your hand while you feed your dog treats. Do this a few times (maybe 10-20 repetitions) and then put the muzzle away. Repeat, until your dog gets excited when you bring out the muzzle!


Teaching A Dog To Wear A Muzzle (Muzzle Training) (This whole video is excellent! I teach muzzle training in a different order/method, but the first 1:30 of this video aligns with Step 1: introducing your dog to the muzzle). Chirag holds out the muzzle, then drops treats.

*If at any point your dog looks nervous about the muzzle, slow down. Wait until you see that happy conditioned emotional response before moving to the next step!


 

Step 2: Getting Your Dog to Eat Food From the Muzzle


Muzzle Up! Video Training Series: Troubleshooting (I recommend starting around 2:40, and you can see Maureen uses the floor and soft food like cheese to get the dog putting its face into the muzzle)

Muzzle Training: How To Get Your Dog To Love The Muzzle(I recommend starting this video at 11:40 where you can see Sarah is feeding the dog directly through the muzzle. Later she describes muzzle fit, and while the baskerville is too long for the dog, the pant room under the chin is actually a great fit in my opinion!)


Basket Muzzle Training - Flash class (I recommend starting at 2:10 where Debbie describes ways of getting the dog to eat treats through the muzzle. I love the creativity in food types!)


Muzzle Acclimation(You’ll note that Mike actually uses the muzzle’s box to make it easy for the dog to shove their face into the muzzle (without hands). This can be a great option for a dog who’s suspicious of the muzzle if you hold it, in particular)



 

Step 3: Putting Their Face In The Muzzle WITHOUT Food There


Ok, so this is the part where folks often get stuck.


The dog will gladly shove their face in the muzzle as long as they see snacks held at the end, but then how can we clip straps if we have to hold treats the whole time??


I recommend moving away from using the food as a lure as quickly as we can, so the dog learns that food WILL COME after they shove their face in (not before).


NOTE: This approach is different from many of the videos online, like the ones I listed for steps above. That’s ok! The videos posted above are excellent, and many folks have muzzle trained their dogs using these techniques. But I like to switch from “eat treats in muzzle” to “put face in muzzle even if you don’t see the treats yet” because I find that it creates a sticking point for so many people and dogs. 


Wait, how the heck do I train my dog to do this?


Previously we talked about Classical Conditioning (or Pavlovian Conditioning), where your dog learns directly by association: muzzle appears, yay food! No behavior required. When it comes to the next set of steps, Classical Conditioning will still be happening in the background (your dog will still be connecting the muzzle to fun and yummy treats). But now we’re going to move into the realm of Positive Reinforcement. With Positive Reinforcement, we’re rewarding the dog for DOING something, which makes them more likely to do that thing in the future. If your dog gets a treat for sitting, they’re likely to try that again! So now we’re asking the dog to DO something to get a reward. 


WHY ON EARTH should I switch to Positive Reinforcement instead of continuing to lure my dog into the muzzle with treats? Well, if you’re using a hand to hold a treat inside the muzzle, you’ve got limited options for strapping. Additionally, it can be hard to manage constantly feeding while strapping, versus your dog being happy to wait a few seconds in order to get their reward.


Ok, so what are we going to do?

In previous steps the treats just existed inside the muzzle. Now, moving forward, we’re going to switch things up to say “once you put your face in, I will reward you right after.”You’ll start by tapping the muzzle, touching it, moving it, or anything else that draws attention to the muzzle. Since your dog has just recently been shoving their face into the muzzle for treats, it’s a good bet that they’ll shove their snoot in. Once they do, mark (use a Yes if you’ve got it, you can also use a clicker but that can be tough with muzzle training!) and give them a treat. At this point, I typically reward OUTSIDE the muzzle. Put your nose in, I say yes and then offer you a treat to the side. Repeat!If the dog won’t put their face into the muzzle, you can try tapping the muzzle with a treat in it and marking any slight movement toward the muzzle. Reward these first few times well, and celebrate them putting their face into the muzzle! 


If the dog tries to paw at your hand or the muzzle instead of putting their face in, you may need to back up a step. If you find that the dog is staring at your treat hand instead of the muzzle, you may need to move your treat hand behind your back or still at your front so it looks less exciting/relevant. If it takes more than a minute or two for your dog to figure out the plan, STOP. It’s easy for dogs to become frustrated at this point if they’re not sure what to do. So if you’re struggling with this step, take a step back! Videoing yourself is a great way to see what might be going wrong.


https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=jzS7T8-hVZI (Here Rachel is holding the muzzle, when I typically use my knees. Sarah also uses a clicker, which I think is amazing but I probably don’t have the coordination for. Pick whichever combination works best for you! You can see Sarah click when the dog moves into the muzzle and then reward the dog outside the muzzle so he has to go back into it!)


 

Step 4: Learning to Hold Their Face In The Muzzle


Ok, so now your dog is happily shoving their face into the muzzle- but removing it just as quickly to get their treat. Now it’s time to build some “duration” and ask your dog to hold their nose in the muzzle.Think of this a bit like a sit and stay: we first need to cue the dog to sit, then practice having them sit for juuuuust a second longer, then two seconds, etc. In this stage, we’ll wait a teeny tiny second before marking (yes, click) our dog for putting their face in. Then slowly wait a bit more and more.


Muzzle Training- Building Duration In The Muzzle (You can see the knees technique here, making the muzzle a perfect height for the dog’s snoot. This is way more duration than you can usually get in your first session. I love that Brie shares the variation in intervals- we sometimes add in an easy/quick repetition instead of just making things constantly harder. Brie also rewards the pup even when they make a mistake and pull out of the muzzle early- sometimes we’re going to get an error, but if our dog is feeling calm and happy, they’re more likely to learn quickly.)


Troubleshooting: what if the dog pops their head right out immediately? Give it just a second! Sometimes if you wait, the dog will put their face back in and hold it briefly (“hey human, I did the muzzle thing, plz reward?). You can also try feeding one treat in the muzzle before rewarding outside again. 



 

Step 5: Moving the Straps


Now that the dog is happily shoving their face into the muzzle and holding it there, it’s time to start working with the straps. If you just reach back and grab a strap, your dog will probably pull back out of the muzzle and go WHAT THE HECK?! So we’ll start by moving one hand out toward the side of their head, almost like we were reaching for a strap but not quite. Mark and reward! Same thing a few times until you can actually grab the strap. Same on the other side!


Once you’re able to grab a strap, practice moving it around a bit. You can even practice bringing it up to their neck/ear and giving some scratches. You can lay it over their neck and wiggle it. If at any point your dog gets weirded out, take a step back.


If your muzzle has a top/forehead strap, you’ll also want to practice this going up and over the ear.




 


Step 6: Clipping or Buckling the Straps


Now that your dog is happy to put their face in the muzzle and wait while you move the straps around, you need to actually fasten the muzzle. I recommend practicing that movement with the muzzle in front of you (not on the dog) so you feel comfortable with the buckle! This is also a great time to see if your dog cares about the clicking nose: if they do, you can spend some time with Classical Conditioning associating the click with treats.


Note: Some folks recommend trying to clip the muzzle around the dog’s neck like a necklace to get them used to the clip. I find that this is an awkward position for many of us, and can lead to dogs being freaked out by the whole thing. So I prefer to practice clipping sounds separately, and then work toward clipping with the dog’s face in the muzzle. 


If your buckle clips, I recommend doing some fake jostling around with the sides of the buckle before trying to clip it. Just like with moving the straps one by one, we want the dog to get comfortable with the feelings of tightening/loosening and the sounds of the buckle clicking. 



 

Step 7: Wearing the Muzzle for Short Bursts


Once the muzzle is clipped on, we want to feed feed feed and have a great big party for a few seconds and then immediately remove the muzzle. We do not want to wait for the dog to start going “ok, actually this feels weird and I’d like to paw it off my face.” By limiting to super short sessions of a few seconds, we can build up to longer durations. 


Basket Muzzle Training - Flash class (I love that this video mentions having the dog try things like a favorite cue while wearing the muzzle. There’s so much silly stuff we can do for 2-10 seconds before taking the muzzle back off!)



 

Step 8: Wearing the Muzzle for Longer

Make sure to do fun stuff in your muzzle! If the muzzle only goes on right before scary things happen, your dog is going to start avoiding the muzzle. But if 4 out of 5 times it means going for a long walk, playing a game, etc, than your dog is much more likely to love their muzzle.






Tips on Muzzle Training: Troubleshooting!

What if I need my dog to wear a muzzle before they’re finished training?

In this case, I recommend using an old muzzle (or one you don't plan to use regularly). Why? You're doing all this amazing work to help your dog love their special, fancy muzzle. But if they're just learning to love it and then suddenly we associate it with discomfort or stress, there's a good chance we'll have to take a major step back in our training. I'd rather "burn" or "poison" a random muzzle so my dog dislikes that one instead!


What if my dog already hates their muzzle?

I highly recommend starting muzzle training in a brand new one, especially one that looks entirely different from the first!


What if I’m not able to hold the muzzle between my knees or bend to the ground?

Remember, everyone’s body is different and not everyone can use the same process for muzzle training. If you can’t use knees to hold the muzzle, you may be able to use one hand or even wedge the muzzle into the side of a chair next to you. Some folks have built a hanger to hold the muzzle against the wall, or even attach it to a kennel door for shelter dogs.


What if it’s not safe to work directly with the dog this close?

Additionally, some dogs that need muzzle training may not be safe to handle directly without a barrier present. In these situations we would recommend attaching the muzzle to a wall or kennel door and working with a professional to get the set up right. 


What if my dog can still eat things (like poop) through the muzzle?

You may want to consider a muzzle like a Jafco or a vinyl muzzle that doesn’t have big spaces for dogs to pick stuff up. Additionally, you can look into buying or creating a “stool guard” or a plastic insert that covers part of the muzzle to prevent eating… stool.




*NOTE: If you’re training your dog to wear a muzzle as part of a behavior modification process, especially for safety reasons, please seek the support of a certified behavior consultant! If you’d like to work with Every Dog, we’re happy to help


Looking for something else about muzzles?


Want to watch the whole webinar about muzzles? Check it out!

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