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Muzzle Conditioning

dog in muzzle

Muzzle conditioning is not limited to dogs with aggression issues. There are many benefits to muzzle conditioning your dog. If your dog is highly destructive and likes to eat everything they can find, they can put themselves in danger. An obstruction surgery can cost up to $8,000, so if you have such a dog or puppy, you should never leave them unattended outside of a crate unless they are leashed or muzzle-trained.

For instance, I once had a client, an old lady, who had a bird dog puppy that kept eating her beloved birds. She asked me to muzzle train the puppy, and I have also muzzle conditioned puppies who love eating rocks when outside. I have also trained reactive dogs that had no aggression, but the muzzle helped the owner gain confidence to work on the reactivity. There are many benefits to muzzle conditioning your dog.

If your dog snaps when getting their nails done, a muzzle can help keep them and others safe. One of the reasons I muzzle-trained my dog was for vet visits. As she got older and started showing signs of pain, she became snappy at vets and groomers. This was never an issue before until I saw her snap at the vet's office when they were trying to take blood.

Muzzle training takes time, usually weeks, to do properly, and it should never be strapped on in a time of need. When the vet asked to muzzle her, I politely declined and said that I would come back for the blood test when she was properly conditioned to the muzzle. I am so glad I did because it worked out perfectly! If you take your time to build value around the muzzle, your dog will be excited to see it. Below are the steps I follow when muzzle conditioning a dog, so if you are interested in muzzle conditioning, follow along.

A dog's nose is the most sensitive part of their body. While humans have 5 million olfactory receptors, dogs have 300 million. So, take it slow and go at your dog's pace. Have fun with it!

Dog getting kissed by his human mom

To properly condition the muzzle, you need to find the right one for your dog. I highly recommend the Basket muzzle by Baskerville, as it is the safest option for long-term use and allows your dog to drink, eat, and pant. Avoid mesh muzzles as they can only be used for short periods of time and do not allow your dog to perform essential functions such as drinking, eating, and panting. Additionally, mesh muzzles can still allow your dog to bite, albeit with a limited range of motion.

To condition your dog to the muzzle, you should never force it onto your dog. This will make it very difficult to counter-condition the muzzle later on. It is important to get your dog to love the muzzle, as it is not natural for them to have something on their nose. However, it is not impossible to get your dog to love their muzzle. I have had clients whose dogs start jumping with glee when they see the muzzle, so follow these instructions and your dog will hopefully become neutral or even love their muzzle.

To start conditioning your dog, begin by building their drive with the sight of the muzzle. Place the muzzle on the ground in the middle of the floor, and reward your dog anytime they look at it on their own terms. Throw the reward toward the muzzle so that your dog interacts with it. You can also pick up the muzzle and toss it, and reward your dog if they go up to it.

Teaching your dog to accept a muzzle can be done through playing the Touch game with them. You can start by having them touch the muzzle for a treat, and once they get comfortable with this, you can move to the next step of having them eat out of it. To do this, you can wrap the muzzle in tin foil or plastic wrap, fill it with wet food or yogurt, and freeze it. Once it's ready, you can hang it up in your dog's crate. This will help your dog have a positive interaction with the muzzle before using it.

Dog getting muzzled

To teach your dog the Muzzle cue, you can use high-value treats like hot dogs and put the muzzle over the food in your hand. You can then present the muzzle to your dog, but don't add the cue until they can easily put their nose in the muzzle consistently. It's recommended to do several repetitions for about three days before moving to the next step.

Once your dog is comfortable putting their nose in the muzzle, you can say “Muzzle” and see if they can hold it in without feeding. Start with a couple of seconds and slowly build up the duration to 50 seconds. When your dog manages to hold the muzzle in for the desired duration, say "Yes" and reward them.

To make the muzzle more rewarding, you can use it to feed all rewards during training. Have your dog sit, walk away, call them, and feed them from the muzzle. This will create great value around the muzzle.

When your dog is willing to put their nose in the muzzle without treats present, you can use affection as the reward instead of food. Say “Good dog” and give them a nice massage behind the ear. Repeat this several times before putting on the strap.

Once the muzzle is clipped on, do short fun sessions and avoid freaking out your dog by redirecting their attention to fun training lessons such as touches, sits, and downs. Reward them often and say "leave it" if they fixate on the muzzle. Keep the sessions short, around 5-10 minutes, and wait until your dog is relaxed before taking off the muzzle. Repeat this process as many times as possible, slowly increasing the duration of the sessions.

It's important to normalize the muzzle by using it during a variety of activities such as cuddling on the couch, going for a walk, letting your dog eat and drink, and even taking a nap in the crate. This will help your dog get used to wearing the muzzle in different situations.

If your dog has reactivity or aggression issues, avoid forcing them into stressful situations when they have the muzzle on. Instead, try to avoid their triggers and continue building drive for the muzzle by having fun with it.


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