Muzzles can be a great tool to be used during dog rehabilitation. However, owners commonly force their dogs to wear the muzzle, which can create a negative association with the situation your dog is in. This can make your dog more frustrated and is evident from the shaking of his head and pawing the muzzle off.
Why does your dog hate the muzzle?
The muzzle has not been used for its intended function. Do not use a muzzle to curb barking, chewing, stealing food, other behavioural issues or as a form of punishment. Instead, solve the underlying issues instead of suppressing them. A muzzle should only be used to prevent dog bites for a short period, under supervision.
Negative associations with the muzzle from past situations may cause anticipations of fear. Common situations such as getting your dog’s nail trimmed at a groomer with a muzzle can set up the association of the muzzle with a frightening situation. This causes your dog to act out.
The snout of a dog is one of the sensitive points. Having tension around this area causes some level of discomfort, which can be reduced by having positive associations and repetitions before the actual need for using the muzzle.
Steps to train your dog to accept wearing a muzzle
In general, your dog should approach the muzzle instead of the other way around, preventing the interpretation of being “cornered”.
Having regular repetitions of associating the muzzle positively prior to the actual situation that requires wearing the muzzle is crucial. This allows future experiences to be less of a struggle and your dog should feel more comfortable.
Begin in a calm and quiet environment. This avoids startling your dog if he is skittish or has known fearful triggers, creating a positive first impression of the muzzle.
Encourage your dog’s curiosity of the muzzle by offering treats near the muzzle. Begin by having the muzzle at a distance that your dog is comfortable with and slowly work on reducing the distance until your dog eats treats placed on the muzzle.
Place the treat in the muzzle until your dog is completely comfortable with inserting his snout into the muzzle, then remove the muzzle immediately. As the action is voluntary, your dog is allowing the muzzle to be in contact with his snout and nose. Do not fasten the strap around the head.
Slowly progress to fasten the buckle. Then, remove the muzzle immediately and give your dog a treat. Repeat this step until your dog seems comfortable with the muzzle on.
Progressively increase the time that the muzzle is on your dog, with the buckle on. Always reward the right behaviour by reinforcing with treats.
This step-by-step process can take anywhere between a few minutes to weeks, depending on factors such as the handlers’ confidence and past experiences of your dog. By being patient and guiding your dog to view a muzzle with a positive perspective, the level of frustration caused by the muzzle will be significantly reduced.