This tutorial works best with a Baskerville Ultra Muzzle that has been correctly sized for your dog. We recommended bending and flexing the muzzle so it’s flexible and easy to hold. In the beginning, stages, bend the straps back so that they’re not falling forward into the muzzle.
We also recommend using the highest value treats in the beginning stages of this training to create an impactful first impression.
Although we recommend using a “clicker” to mark desired behavior, it can be difficult to handle the muzzle, a clicker, and treats. Therefore we recommend using a simple vocal marker such as “yes” in place of the clicker.
Start by showing the dog the muzzle from a distance. When the dog looks at it or approaches to sniff or investigate, say “YES” and give the dog a treat.
Repeat this sequence a half dozen times or so to build some reinforcement history with the muzzle.
Hold the muzzle in your hand with the opening facing outward with a treat held through the mouth opening. Show the muzzle to the dog, let it sniff and/or eat the treat, and say “YES.” Immediately remove the muzzle and give it another treat.
Repeat this until the dog is eagerly placing his nose inside the muzzle to eat the treat and shows no hesitation doing so.
Fade out using the “bait” piece in the muzzle. Once you have established enough reinforcement history with the muzzle and have built a positive association where the dog shows no hesitation of the muzzle, the dog should place his nose inside the muzzle to sniff for a treat. Once this occurs, even if it is just the tip of the nose, say “YES” and immediately offer a treat through the muzzle so that the dog places his nose in to eat it.
Repeat this step until the dog is firmly placing his nose inside the muzzle without hesitation, anticipating the reward.
Add duration by having the dog place his nose in the muzzle and pausing for a second before bridging and reinforcing. If the dog keeps his nose in the muzzle after eating, mark the behavior again and give him another treat before removing the muzzle.
With each repetition, add only a second or two of duration before bridging and reinforcing the dog. Remember that if the dog leaves his nose in the muzzle after receiving a reward, pause a few seconds and reinforce him again.
Once the dog will voluntarily places his nose in the muzzle for approximately 5 seconds while waiting for the bridge and the reward, it is time to begin desensitizing him to the movement of the fastening straps.
Once the dog places his nose firmly in the muzzle, slightly lift one strap and immediately say “yes” and reinforce the dog with a treat through the muzzle.
With each repetition, move the strap further, but be careful not to make the dog nervous so that he pulls his nose out of the muzzle. The goal is to teach the dog that moving the straps means that earning treats are imminent as long as he keeps his nose in the muzzle.
Once the dog allows you to move the strap a little, begin touching it to the back of the dog’s head to mimic attaching the strap without actually doing so. Bridge the dog and give a treat through the muzzle.
Once again, repeat this approximation until the dog will allow the entire sequence to take place while patiently placing his nose in the muzzle.
Once the dog is comfortable with the straps just touching its head you can then start buckling the straps for just a moment, saying “YES”, giving the dog a treat, and then immediately removing the muzzle.
Go slowly at this stage, and be sure to take the muzzle off immediately after rewarding the dog to prevent an unpleasant experience.
If you are having trouble attaching the straps at this stage, it is perfectly okay to bridge and reward the dog every few seconds as you are working with the straps.
Once the dog is comfortable with the muzzle being put on, buckled, and eating a treat before taking the muzzle back off, you can then start adding duration.
Initially when leaving the muzzle on, use a “high rate of reinforcement” to prevent any negative association with the muzzle and to prevent a preoccupation with the device. This means giving the dog a succession of food rewards with no pause in between.
Once the muzzle is attached, give the dog three rewards, one right after the other, and then immediately remove the muzzle.
Increase the number of rewards until the dog is sitting calmly and eating 5-10 bites before the muzzle is removed.
As you add duration between rewards, do so VERY SLOWLY in the beginning. Starting with buckling the muzzle, pause for 2 seconds, say “YES”, give the dog a treat through the muzzle, and then unbuckle it.
In the next repetition, you’ll add one more second before saying “YES”, giving the dog a treat through the muzzle and then unbuckling it.
If the dog starts pawing at the muzzle that means you are going too fast and need to go back to the time the dog was allowing the muzzle training without hesitation or signs of distress. Remember that repetition builds confidence and positive associations with the muzzle, and go at the dog’s pace.
Continue with this approximation until the dog will sit or lie down for about a minute between rewards and is completely comfortable wearing the muzzle for these short periods.
When increasing the amount of time the dog is wearing the muzzle for more than a minute or two is best done by further associating wearing the muzzle with high-value reinforcers, activities, and mental stimulation. Pair wearing the muzzle with active training sessions, rehearsing easy behaviors such as “sit,” “down,” “stay,” etc. Taking a short walk outside on a leash will also associate wearing the muzzle with a high-point of the dog’s day, with the length of walks gradually extending as the dog succeeds with wearing the muzzle.
It is always preferable that the handler removes the muzzle from the dog rather than the dog. The handler moving the muzzle away teaches the dog to wait patiently for the reinforcer whereas the dog pulling his head out of the muzzle on his own may cause problems. For example, the dog might offer high repetitions of placing his nose in the muzzle but will immediately pull his nose out rather than leaving it in, as he suspects this is the fastest way to earn another treat. Alternatively, he may be pulling back from the muzzle because he doesn’t like the feeling. In this case, it is negative reinforcement at play, which we always try to avoid.
Take a deep breath and relax before training sessions. Remember that there is no rush to train the behavior. Most important is to go at the dog’s pace and slow down if the dog is showing signs of distress.
Do not place the muzzle on the dog; instead, always have the dog place his own nose in the muzzle. The quickest way to put the dog off muzzle training is by chasing his head around with the muzzle in an attempt to slip it on quickly. It should always be the dog’s choice to participate.
If the dog paws at the muzzle once or twice after completing Step 7, do not be distressed. It is often difficult to completely control a dog’s curiosity no matter how skilled the trainer is. Remember to keep the dog occupied while wearing the muzzle by using a high rate of reinforcement and keeping him stimulated. This strategy isn’t based on distracting the dog, but rather preventing unwanted behaviors (pawing at the muzzle) while increasing positive experiences.
Never leave the muzzle on while the dog repeatedly paws at it. If even when using a high rate of reinforcement, if the dog repeatedly paws at the muzzle, remove the muzzle, and continue working on the exercise at another time. In the next session, relax your criteria and build duration more slowly.
If you are having problems, break down your movements and approximations into even smaller parts.
If all else fails and you are having extreme difficulty making any forward progress after following these tips, train your dog BEFORE feeding him. A mild increase in appetite will make the rewards far more valuable to the dog and expedite developing a positive association with the muzzle. For especially difficult dogs, you can even feed the entirety of your dog’s meals during muzzle training sessions.
Check out this video tutorial for more info: https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=L-cABicWilI
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