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Posts Tagged ‘behavioral modification’

Recently a client approached me about training her adult dog to wear a muzzle. We talked about what to do to get started, how to tell if her dog was ready to move on to the next step, and we planned a step-by-step list of the small goals on the path to actually wearing the muzzle.

  Within three hours, the dog was pushing his nose eagerly through the muzzle as if it were his harness! She’d done it! She had the beginnings of a positive conditioned emotional response (CER) to the muzzle. The dog was viewing the muzzle as an indication of wonderful things to come (in this case: salmon treats, chicken and hot dogs) just like the harness is an indication of the wonderful walk to come!

  Within three days, her dog pushed his nose through the muzzle, she could close it, and the dog was relaxed (even sitting down with it on without once being asked to!) and waiting for his treat! Now she pulls the muzzle out and he does the same happy dance that he does for the harness!

  As you’re reading her success story you might be wondering a few things:

1)      Is this time span typical? Not necessarily. It might take longer or shorter, but if you work on it, you can get a CER to a variety of stimuli (brushes, nail clippers, other dogs, trips to the vet, etc.). The possibilities are endless!

2)      Why would I want my dog to wear a muzzle? There are many reasons why you might want to condition your dog or puppy to a muzzle. Take a look at this article in The Whole Dog Journal for a wonderful discussion of why one can be useful, and exactly how to elicit a CER to the muzzle: http://www.whole-dog-journal.com/issues/12_8/features/Comfortable-Dog-Muzzles_16145-1.html  (August 2009).  One of the major reasons might be in case your dog gets injured. From a hurt paw to being hit by a car, any animal in pain may react with a snap or a bite when in pain. Wouldn’t it be handy if your dog was already so used to a muzzle that when you went to put it on when he’s got a deep cut on his paw, it adds NO extra stress? You could have it on in seconds, with no fuss, and then move on to bandaging him, lifting him, whatever you might need to do. If he’s not used to it, the scenario could also play out with him trying to run away, panicking once it’s on or causing further injury to himself in an effort to get it off or to flee.

3)      Does this mean if I have a reactive dog I can just use a muzzle? If my dog snaps at the vet? If my dog bites the groomer? If my dog nips at me when I brush his hair? NO!!!!!!!! Absolutely NOT! A muzzle is a management tool and/or an emergency tool. If you use a muzzle in any of the aforementioned situations without coupling it with behavior modification, you’re applying a band aid. A muzzle is not an excuse NOT to deal with underlying behavioral concerns! If your dog is fearful or reactive, a muzzle might be an additional tool to use as a safeguard while you work through the issues. It will not substitute for behavioral modification! If you only rely on a muzzle, you will have to rely on it forever; it’s not a fix, only a tool.

    Talk to your trainer or behaviorist to find out which type of muzzle is best for your dog in your given situation. Remember, do NOT leave a cloth muzzle on for more than 20 minutes at a time- dogs can’t pant as they normally would with one of those on.

  Ask your trainer or behaviorist how you can teach your dog to love his muzzle if you’re thinking of using a muzzle as a management item while you work through behavioral concerns. You and your dog will be happier for it! Hopefully, you’ll never need a muzzle, but even then teaching her to wear one is just another thing you can work on with your dog as mental stimulation or as a bonding exercise! You could always think of it as a trick to teach.

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