The muzzle – for many dogs (and their owners) is an object from hell. Often put on by force and without prior preparation, it can make every trip with the dog a real torment. But don’t worry – there are ways to „disenchant” the muzzle and make it be associated with something positive. Step-by-step instructions are ready!
STAGE 0 – CHANGE OF ASSOCIATION
This stage is especially important for dogs that already have some unpleasant experiences with muzzles. If at the sight of the muzzle the dog curls its ears and runs away to its bed, it means that it’s necessary to work hard on its associations with this object. Where to start? To begin with, you will need treats and a muzzle. Show your dog that you have something delicious, but don’t give him anything yet. Hold the muzzle in one hand and the treats in the other and extend both hands towards your dog at the same time. When the pooch eats the treats, take the muzzle away. The end. We repeat the activity several / a dozen times and then we hide the muzzle.
At this stage, we do not require your dog to eat anything except the treats when the muzzle appears in its sight. This way, the sight of the muzzle in your hand will start to be associated with something pleasant for the dog and he will be ready to continue. How do you know you can move on to the next step? Your dog will tell you himself – by wagging his tail and the joy on his muzzle the moment you take the muzzle in your hand. It is usually a good idea to do a few so-called sessions a day (e.g. practice 5 minutes doing a few repetitions in this time) for a couple of consecutive days.
STAGE 1 – TREAT MACHINE
At this stage, the main goal is to get the dog to voluntarily start touching the muzzle with its mouth to receive a reward in return. We hold the muzzle in one hand and the treats in the other. We show the muzzle to the dog (we can hide it for a moment behind the back) and as soon as its nose touches the muzzle or at least bends its head towards it – we praise it effusively and reward it with a treat. It is not important which part of the muzzle the dog touches. The purpose of this exercise is to build an association that the muzzle can be a source of pleasure.
Repeat the exercise several times and then take away the muzzle and the reward. If you use a clicker, it is a good idea to mark the moment when the dog touches the muzzle with its sound. The same can be worked out without the clicker, but it usually takes more time.
STAGE 2 – PUTTING THE DOG MUZZLE TO THE MUZZLE BY ITSELF
When your dog eagerly touches the muzzle in exchange for treats you can begin to position the muzzle so that its opening is facing your dog’s mouth. A dog wanting to earn rewards will inevitably put its nose in the muzzle hole several times, even if by accident. At each such moment, praise your dog effusively (or mark with a clicker) and give a treat. You can see it much better in the video below. 🙂
STAGE 3 – PROLONGING THE TIME WHEN THE MUZZLE IS ON
It is only from this stage that we begin to actively encourage your dog to put his muzzle on. Put your hand with the treats to the front of the muzzle and encourage your dog to eat them through the rungs. When he has eaten all the treats, allow your dog to move his mouth freely and take the muzzle away for a moment. After a while, repeat this action. In this way, the dog gets used to the fact that the metal/plastic monster embraces his mouth – and (surprisingly!) nothing happens 🙂 Nothing, apart from the opportunity to eat some delicious treats.
STAGE 4 – FASTENING THE MUZZLE
For this stage, we will need a helper. We start as in the previous exercise, but when the dog is busy eating the treats, the helper fastens the muzzle on the dog’s head. Before the dog has eaten all the treats, the helper unfastens the muzzle and the dog is free to slide its muzzle out of the muzzle. This helps the dog get used to having something attached to its head while distracting it with treats. By removing the muzzle after a while we do not cause a panic attack. Repeat this stage at least a dozen times, rewarding less frequently with time – e.g. in the first repetition we give treats one after the other, in subsequent repetitions e.g. every second. Raise requirements in a non-linear manner – e.g. in one repetition we give a treat after 1 second, then after 3, after 2, 4, 1, 5, etc. This way the dog never expects when the reward will come and it will be easier for him to endure increasingly higher demands. Before the last treat is given, the muzzle should be unfastened so that the dog is free to remove its mouth.
Depending on the model of the muzzle (some can be fastened quite easily and smoothly, others require more practice), after the stage with the helper, do the same exercises on your own. Remember to keep the training short and to unfasten the muzzle before the dog gets bored or tries to pull it off by itself.
STEP 5 – WORKING ON THE MOVE
A muzzle on a sitting dog and a muzzle on a dog that is walking is, despite appearances, two completely different situations that need to be practised further. Once you have worked through step 4, encourage your dog to follow you when muzzled. While stepping back, call your dog to you and reward him generously with treats as he walks toward you. After a few or more repetitions, remove the muzzle.
We did it! 🙂
Repeat this step quite often, change places where you practice, and gradually increase the time when the dog is muzzled. After some time you will be able to put the muzzle on your dog without having to feed him treats all the time, but now and then, to consolidate the positive association, it is worth rewarding him.
– Attractive treats – if the treats you offer your dog are not attractive to him, he is unlikely to want to cooperate. For these exercises, it is worth choosing something extra – tiny bits of sausage, yellow cheese, pate – something that is a special reward for your dog.
– Don’t rush – move on to the next stage when you see that your dog is having fun and is eager to cooperate. Some dogs only need a few sessions in one day, for others, it’s worth breaking up work on one stage over several days.
– A step back is sometimes 2 steps forward – nobody is perfect and it is easy to make mistakes during training, e.g. by moving on to the next stage too quickly. It is worth going back to easier repetitions, working them over and starting the next stage when the dog is ready for it.
– It is very possible that at some point in stage 1 or 2 the dog will get confused – he will look at you without knowing what is going on, or he will look at something else – you can help him by hiding the muzzle for a moment behind your back and showing it again – in 99% the dog will be interested in the object that suddenly appears and will pull his head towards it – this is the right moment for praise (click) and reward.
– Many people intuitively start with stage 3. Stages 0-2 are an important part of building positive associations with the muzzle and should not be omitted as they will make further work easier.
– If despite thorough work through all stages, the dog tries to get rid of the muzzle at all costs, it may mean that it is ill-fitting and simply muzzles the dog.