5 Benefits of Muzzle Training You Might Not Know About

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I love muzzles. I think they are great. I heard Veterinary Behaviorist Dr. Chris Pachel refer to them as a portable baby gate on Drinking From The Toilet and I thought that was so clever. 

Muzzles, at least here in the United States, tend to carry a lot of stigma. It’s so unfortunate, because they are as important as a harness or a leash. Over the past few years, thanks to diligent dog trainers, and the wonderful community the Muzzle Up! Project built, we have made a ton of progress. You can find gorgeous custom made muzzles that will allow your pup to reap the benefits of a muzzle in comfort AND style. Trainers, like the wonderful team at Summit Dog Training, have paved the way to help clients navigate the stigma of their dog wearing a muzzle

You can find lots of great articles on the benefits of wearing muzzles, like this one from Synergy Behavior Solutions.

Now, enough fluff.

Hot Take: All dogs should be muzzle trained.  

Now, as I type this, I can feel the flinching, the gasps, the defensiveness that my prior statement will cause. But bear with me. I don’t use words like “all” and “should” lightly. Muzzle training can really improve your dog’s welfare and help us to meet their needs. 

 

I want to focus on 5 benefits of muzzle training you may not know about.

 

1. It is great mental exercise for our pup… and us.

Muzzle training puts our pup’s brain to work! When I say “muzzle training”, I don’t mean, buy a muzzle, strap it on my dog, and ABRA CADABRA! Dog is muzzle trained. 

Muzzle training, when done correctly, is a slow, beautiful process. It involves teaching our dogs to be active, engaged participants within the procedure. When we are moving through the training plan, we are looking for happy body language from our pups. And by “happy” I mean, loose, wiggly, body language, with quick responses and engagement (see Griffey’s “happy” here!). In my dogs, it’s the same body language as when I pull out dinner or get home. We want the sight of the muzzle to work like the world’s BEST recall. 

Because we are working so hard to keep the muzzle meaning “all good things”, we are also going to work our brains. Watching our pup’s body language, modifying our training, and tracking our progress is going to give us a mental work out too.

2. Relationship Building

We are so careful to make muzzle training fun for our pup, which means our pup is having fun with us. We strive to be predictable, so we don’t push or surprise our pup with too much too soon. It’s an excellent way to bolster our relationship with our dog. Having a fun activity to do together is super important. It’s 3-5 minutes of your day where you and your dog get to connect, work cooperatively, and enjoy each other.

As you progress through the training protocol, you can start to pair the muzzle with other fun stuff like sniff strolls or even foraging enrichment opportunities. You can also start using the “shove my muzzle into things” behavior for other fun tricks. We do sock muzzles in our house.

3. It’s a great way to hone your skills.

Want to practice your training mechanics? Muzzle training is the way to go. Being able to read our dog’s body language is critical when we are trying to condition a positive association with something. My goal is that with the muzzle in my lap, my dog will insert his nose, and remain in the muzzle while I clasp it behind his head.

Muzzle training is really about letting your dog control the session. Imagine sitting still on the couch and letting your pup do the work. Do you know where you would start? How would you progress? Do you know how to proof a behavior (video part 1 and part 2)? Have you ever taught a start button procedure? When we let our dog do the work, we get to park on the couch and focus on our own skills: reading your dog’s body language, your timing, your treat delivery, how you are raising criteria, and your ability to provide your dog agency.

4. It’s a great opportunity to practice providing your dog agency

I bet you can guess my next sentence by now. Muzzle training is about our dog being in control of their outcomes. It is the perfect situation to practice providing your dog with complete control over their outcomes. This is a great exercise for teaching your dog to say “no, thank you”, and for you to practice listening.

5. You, and your dog, will be so relieved.

Training, conditioning and practicing wearing a muzzle can create a wonderful sense of relief if and/or when we need to use them.

I remember a DVM (I wish I could remember who it was!) that shared a story during a muzzle training seminar I attended. They had a dog come in with something fairly catastrophic, I think it was a broken leg. It was a dog everyone knew. By all measures, this dog was “not a bite risk”. Except for this moment. The dog was in pain, people were trying to help, but he didn’t know that. For safety reasons, the dog needed to be muzzled. 

The vet pulled out the muzzle, and immediately saw the dog relax. The muzzle was well conditioned and well trained. This pup’s hooman put in the work to teach the muzzle before it was needed, and now everyone, the dog, the hooman, and the vet staff were able to feel more safe and secure EVEN during a traumatic incident. 

6. And one more benefit for good measure: the end result of muzzle training is a dog who can comfortably, cooperatively, wear a muzzle.

We have a saying in animal care that “all things with a mouth can bite”. This includes our dogs. All dogs. We do our darndest to keep them safe, prevent any bad things from happening, but we can’t control everything. Training, conditioning and practicing wearing a muzzle can, not only prevent additional aversives during times of distress, but also provide comfort like in the dog mentioned above. It allows for our dog to “wear a muzzle” (opt in) instead of “being muzzled” (having something done to them).

That’s a very important distinction.

 

Remember when I said “all dogs should be muzzle trained”? 

You should do “Whatever works for you, your family, your situation and keeps the animal and others happy, safe, and physically, mentally, and behaviorally healthy.” (see our blog on getting rid of “should”)

Muzzle training can accomplish all these things and more. The return on investment for muzzle training is so high, that I really do think it’s worth it for everyone. 

 

Now What?

  • If I’ve convinced you to embark on a muzzle training journey, you’re going to need a muzzle! (Disclosure: the muzzle links are affiliate links. We receive a small commission for purchases made through these links at no extra cost to you. This helps us continue to put out free content to help you and your pets live more harmoniously!) We usually recommend the Baskerville Ultra as a good starting muzzle or the Leather Bros for dogs with longer faces. 
  • If you have a muzzle, but don’t know where to start, check out the muzzle training plan from The Muzzle Up! Project.
  • If you have done some muzzle training with your dog, share a video or picture of your dog on our Facebook, or tag us @PetHarmony on instagram! We want to see those happy pups!
  • If you are considering muzzle training because you have a safety concern, I suggest seeking professional behavior consultant support. We offer services worldwide! Email us at [email protected] to schedule your first consultation

The Human Side of Animal Behavior

 

The past couple of weeks I’ve been talking about warning signs, like growling. I’ve been talking about warning signs from the perspective of our pets and why we should be respectful– not punishing– of those body language signals. But one thing that I’ve left out of the previous posts is all of the human emotions that happen as a result of those particular behaviors. That’s what today’s post is for. 

When I meet a new client and they start telling me about their pet’s behavior, I often hear things like:

 

They’re really quite sweet. I just want everyone to see that, too.

They’re sweet 95% of the time. 

They’re a good pet, just scared.

I’ve been telling you all of the bad things about them. Let me tell you some good things, too. 

 

I chuckle internally when people tell me these things. I know that they’re trying to convince me to not judge their pet, or them, too harshly. That they don’t have a “bad” pet. But here’s the secret: I know that! We as humans are the ones who attach morals (I.E. good or bad) to certain behaviors. Our pets aren’t thinking about if something is right or wrong. They’re thinking about if a behavior works for them or not: what the outcome of that behavior is.

It’s a false dichotomy to say that someone is all good or all bad. Individuals, including our pets, live in a grey area. That’s why good pets can sometimes do bad things and why bad people can sometimes do good things. I don’t need to be convinced that a pet who’s biting is also sweet. My job is working with good pets who sometimes do bad things. 

 

The less-lighthearted part 

I try to keep our blog posts relatively lighthearted and optimistic. That style is what I enjoy writing and what I enjoy reading. However, I’d be remiss if I didn’t touch on the less-lighthearted parts of human emotions in relation to pet behavior. 

The animal behavior consulting field is incredibly emotional. On a daily basis folks reach out to our team, often on the verge of tears, because they’re scared of their pet’s behavior. It’s easy for me to say in a post that all behavior just is and that we’re the ones who attach morals to them. The water muddies when those behaviors are at the expense of mental health (for both the pet and the human) and/or safety of others. There very much are “bad” behaviors– as deemed by our society– that result in the euthanasia of animals. 

Now, this post is not about the many sides of behavioral euthanasia. That’s an enormous discussion and one that I don’t currently have the bandwidth to write in a way that does the topic justice. One day I’ll tackle it, but not today. This post is specifically about human emotions, like:

 

I’m scared they’re going to hurt someone. 

I feel like a prisoner in my own house because of their behavior. 

It’s really difficult to live with this. I don’t know how much longer I can do this. 

It’s embarrassing when they’re reactive on walks. 

 

Embarrassment. Frustration. Helplessness. Shame. Defeat. Regret. Remorse. Fear. A whole lot of fear. There are a lot of really big emotions that come into play when you have a pet with maladaptive behaviors. And, yes, it’s our duty to help the animal we chose to bring into our home and we should be doing our best to meet their needs but that doesn’t negate the human element, either. 

Your feelings are also valid. 

I think the human side of animal behavior consulting is often swept to the side. We put such a large emphasis on animal emotional states and making sure they’re comfortable, but can sometimes forget to tell people that it’s okay to be feeling however they’re feeling about their pet’s behavior. Sometimes good pets do bad things and that’s scary. We’re allowed to be scared by that. But the good thing is that you don’t have to be alone. That’s what behavior consultants are for. 

 

Now what?

  • Have you stopped to truly take stock about how you’re feeling in relation to your pet’s behavior? Take a moment to do so. 
  • Are there certain aspects of your pet’s behavior that are taking a larger toll on you? Focus on tweaking your management plan for those behaviors so they’re less likely to happen (like putting up a baby gate around the front door to lessen the chances of door dashing.)
  • Not sure where to start? Check out our Setting Yourself Up for Success: Behavior Modification Basics course to take the first steps in your pet’s behavior modification plan.
  • Get help from a professional. You don’t need to do this alone. Our team works with people all over the world. Email us at [email protected] to schedule your first appointment.

Happy training!

Allie