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Teach your dog to wear a muzzle

As well enabling you to feel more relaxed and keeping everyone safe, muzzle training has the potential added benefit of helping your dog avoid situations that may worry them, as people are less likely to approach!

It is very important that although your dog has a muzzle on, you should still try to avoid situations they are uncomfortable in, as being exposed to scary situations could make their behaviour worse in the long term. Dogs can learn to feel comfortable wearing muzzles just in the same way that they learn to accept wearing their collar, and by taking your time to introduce them in a positive and fun way means your dog shouldn’t see them as anything untoward to worry about.

Dog lying on a rug looking at the camera
  1. Choose a muzzle that your dog can eat, drink and pant through, and that fits comfortably without obscuring their vision or digging into their skin. Basket-type muzzles are useful because you should be able to push small treats through these, so you can treat your dog while they’re wearing their muzzle. Aim for as much comfort as possible while ensuring security. You can wrap soft, non-irritant fabric around the nose-piece to prevent it rubbing if necessary.

  2. Treat the muzzle as though it is a small bowl for your dog to eat their treats out of. Cup the muzzle in your hand and drop a treat into it, so that your hand prevents it from falling out. Allow your dog to put their face into the muzzle to take the treat. Repeat this several times – your dog will be learning to really love putting their face inside the muzzle with every go!

    You could even feed your dog their meal from the muzzle in this way, but at this stage always make sure your dog is free to remove their face from the muzzle whenever they wish.

  3. Coat the inside of the muzzle with something appetising that will take your dog some time to lick off – squeezy-cheese or meat-paste should be a tasty and thoroughly enjoyable reward for them. Repeat this regularly while they’re learning so that every time they see the muzzle they’ll start to anticipate getting such an exciting treat and always feel positive about the muzzle.

    You can also add treats into the muzzle while your dog has their face inside it by squeezing meat or cheese paste or pushing treats through it to reward them.

  4. First of all, make sure your dog is comfortable with the noise of the clip being done up, as this will eventually be right behind their ears. Scatter some treats onto the floor and while your dog is eating them simply do up and undo the clip nearby, so they’ll associate this sound with tasty treats. As long as they’re comfortable with this, continue encouraging your dog to eat treats or lick food-paste out of the muzzle and once they are comfortably keeping their face inside for some time start to gently touch and move the straps around.

    It helps to extend the straps beforehand, so they are at their longest and therefore loosest possible state at this stage of your training. Gradually build up to draping the straps loosely over your dog’s neck, then just let them go so they slip gently off. There’s no need to rush into doing up the strap completely – by going at your dog’s pace you’ll ensure they’re relaxed every step of the way.

  5. When your dog is happy keeping their nose in the muzzle with you holding the straps, begin to fiddle with the clips. Start by moving the straps around behind your dog’s ears as though you are going to do it up, however don’t actually do it up yet - just get them used to the feeling of the straps tightening first!

    By going this slowly you are really building up a positive association with the muzzle staying on their face, without them needing to become worried at all. Once your dog is able to keep their face in the muzzle while you fiddle with the straps you can progress to clipping it up – but be quick to undo it straight away to start with and always give your dog treats right away.

  6. Now that your dog can wear the muzzle, and have it done up, gradually leave the muzzle on for increasing periods of time. Start with just a few seconds, and then increase in very small steps up to 1 minute and so on. 

    Keep your dog distracted while they are wearing the muzzle to begin with by either pushing more treats or squeezing the cheese/meat-paste through the muzzle to reward them. You could also encourage them to follow you around the house for just a few seconds to begin with as getting them moving can be a good distraction. Then remove the muzzle and let them relax. This can be a difficult stage for dogs as they’ll need to get used to not being able to back out of the muzzle should they wish.

    If they start scrabbling at the muzzle or rubbing it in an attempt to remove it don’t worry, just go back a stage and carry on there for a little while longer to build their confidence before trying to progress again. Going at your dog’s pace is important, as trying to progress quicker than they’re ready for might be counter-productive longer-term.

  7. As your dog gets used to the muzzle being on for longer, and moving around with it on, start to leave it on while you do brief jobs around the house. Start to introduce occasional short sessions where your dog is not getting rewarded whilst wearing it – again just for a few seconds to begin with then gradually build up this time.

    By now your dog should see the muzzle as really nothing to worry about at all. Continue building up the time your dog spends with the muzzle on gradually, starting to use it for short periods when you’re going out for walks.

    Always have the squeezy-cheese or meat-paste available for your dog to continue licking, even while they’re walking along wearing the muzzle, as you can squeeze this into the muzzle for them as an extra reward!

  8. If you need to muzzle your dog for any reason during their training, for example at the vet practice, then use a completely different style of muzzle (vet practices might have a selection available) for this short intervention to minimise disruption to training with your dog’s own muzzle.

  9. If your dog growls, snarls or tries to protect food by standing over it or hiding away when they have food, or if they aren’t at all interested in food, then it’s best to follow the advice of an accredited behaviourist.

    Likewise, professional guidance should be sought if your dog appears to become very worried about seeing the muzzle or being near it in the first instance. It’s well worth taking the necessary time your dog needs to feel differently about the muzzle and you should find doing so helps in other areas of your dog’s life too!