Q: I am interested in muzzle training my four-year-old dog, as I’ve heard that it can be useful during vet procedures and emergencies. Is it worth teaching him?
A: Muzzle training is great for your dog! Just take a look at The Muzzle Up! Project (www.muzzleupproject.com).
Many people still believe that muzzling is only for aggressive dogs, which is not true. It can be useful in many different situations—you have already mentioned two. Another important time to use the muzzle is when managing dogs that like picking things up during walks. As dog owners, we know there are foods that are toxic to our furkids, and if un-muzzled, these pooches run the risk of eatingsomething bad. Muzzles also come in handy during visits to the groomer.
If you have already tried putting a muzzle on your dog and he shies away from your hand and the muzzle, you need to teach Fido to like the device. We always start off with a systematic desensitisation and counter-conditioning plan: Whenever the muzzle appears, make sure some tasty food appears too. If your dog is too scared to approach the muzzle when you take it out, place it on the floor and let him approach it at his own pace. When he does, reward him near the muzzle. The next step will be to place the muzzle in your hand with the opening facing your dog. This time, you have to wait for the moment your dog puts his snout into the muzzle to reward him. Meanwhile, avoid using the muzzle until he is ready, as doing so may turn it into an unpleasant or scary experience.
The muzzle should not be used as a replacement “solution” for reactive or aggressive behaviours. If your dog is reacting badly to getting handled during vet examinations, you should contact a trainer to guide you along as you work on the problems, and advise you on how the muzzle can aid you in the process.