Muzzle Training a Dog with Positive Dog Training

By: David Codr

Published Date: September 25, 2017

For this Omaha dog training session we worked with Rocky, a 5 year-old German Shepherd who needed to be training him to use a muzzle due to some dog aggression problems; barking, lunging and biting or nipping people he doesn’t know who come into his home.

As you could see in the above video, Rocky was very upset to have new people in his home. Because he was worked up and clearly under some stress and anxiety, the guardians put him into his kennel so I could chat with them about the dog behavior problems and how I could help them.

I learned that Rocky had a bite history, few rules and boundaries and was able to tell the humans when to pet him. This is a dangerous combination when you have a large breed dog who is acting aggressive towards people. But when you have a dog who is biting members of the family, its much more so the case.

In our discussion, I learned that Rocky is rarely completely free. Since he jumps the fence, he is weathered in the home if he isn’t in his kennel. Many states (including Nebraska) make it illegal to have a dog tethered longer that 15 minutes alone as it causes frustration.

When you have a high every dog and its not able to unload all that pent up energy, its going to affect its behavior and that clearly was the case here. I stressed that Rocky simply cannot be restrained this way, this often. Dogs are great athletes with a lot of energy. They need to be able to run free and get plenty of exercise; otherwise they can easily develop dog behavior problems like Rocky has.

I strongly suggested that the guardians dramatically reduce the time he spends tethered or in his kennel while increasing his daily exercise. I also shared a tip on securing the backyard to prevent his jumping. This is important as it will allow him to run free, sans teether. It will also prevent him from jumping the fence and nipping someone passing by or what the dog perceives as too close.

Since he knows how to fetch, I suggested that the guardians start using that as a supplemental way to drain his excess energy. Any time he is being ornery or displays signs of having too much pent up energy, a 10 -15 minutes game of fetch will do the trick. They may want to keep an exercise journal for the next few weeks playing with the repetitions, lengths of walks, etc until they find the right combination that meets Rocky’s exercise needs.

I knew I needed to come up with a way for the dog to be free while simultaneously keeping all of the family members to stay safe. After suggesting a number of rules and ways to add in structure, I decided that a dog muzzle would be the best option for this dog aggression problem.

Muzzles look pretty intense and many people avoid using them as a result. But a muzzle can be a very helpful tool when introduced the right way. Unfortunately many people simply throw the muzzle on then expose the dog to something that is fearful, anxious, nervous or reactive to. That creates a negative association with the muzzle which usually makes matters worse and trains the dog to dislike the muzzle.

To make sure this dog likes the muzzle, I went over how to introduce a muzzle in a good light using positive dog training. You can get this free dog training tip by watching the video below.

If the guardians take their time and practice using a muzzle to Rocky this way, he will see it as a good and positive thing. This is important as dogs learn through association, repetition and good timing. If the dog develops a bad association to the muzzle, then that can transfer over to the thing the dog is reacting to in the future.

This is why its important to go slow when introducing the muzzle to a dog and to practice having the muzzle on in calm, non threatening situations. This way the dog doesn’t associate the muzzle as being on with something stressful about to happen. Going slow and using lots of treats is the best way to go with muzzle training.

Earlier I mentioned showing the guardians ways to add structure to Rocky’s daily life, but I didn’t stress how important it will be in his case. Rocky has almost zero foundation of respect for his humans as authority figures. This has led him to mistakenly believe that he needs to protect or possess them. But because he was not trained to be a guard dog, he often acts out when they don’t want him to.

Also as the bite on one of the children illustrates, when a dog sees itself as a leader, then its appropriate for the dog to correct members of the pack who break rules or get out of line.

The other problem here is that Rocky feels like he is constantly on duty when at home or in the back yard. When there are no challenges such as guests visiting, he can relax somewhat. But the rest of the time he is on alert.

Just like humans, dogs can suffer from PTSD is they are in a constant state of high alert. Its going to be crucially important for EVERYONE in the home to start EXCLUSIVELY Petting Rocky with a purpose and use Passive Training to reward him when do engages in any desired actions or behaviors.

When you want to do some behavior modification in dogs, the first step MUST be to ensure the dog has a healthy respect for the humans as authority figures. Otherwise they usually try to fill what they see as a leadership void.

I like to use delayed gratification as a way to help a dog start developing self control. This can be accomplished in many ways, having to sit and wait before the human throws the ball, wait for permission to eat food waiting in a bowl, etc.

Another great way to help a dog develop self control is by only releasing it from the kennel when it is completely calm and relaxed. You can get this free dog training tip by watching the video below.

Now this exercise should only be conducted by members of the family who are confident and have not been challenged by the dog until the dog has mastered the exercise and lays down right away unprompted any time someone approached the kennel door. At that point, the other members can start practicing this exercise but only when supervised by a higher ranking authority member and only if the person doing the exercise is calm and confident.

Once the dog starts laying down right away, the humans can use even more delayed gratification by asking the dog to wait for progressively longer and longer periods of time before giving it permission to exit the kennel. AT first only 3-5 seconds. Then 10, 15, 30, 45 seconds for each successive release from the kennel. Then they should go by one minute increments until the dog can stay in the kennel with the door wide open for 15 minutes or longer until it gets permission to exit the kennel.

Because Rocky was so anxious and worked up, he remained in the kennel for the majority of the session. I was able to work with him a bit and may have been able to bring him out without incident, but that was not certain so I elected to focus on educating the family and giving them as many skills and dog behavior tricks as possible.

The family described some behavior from Rocky that could be identified as resource guarding. But due to how little structure was in place, its very possible this is simply the case of a dog reacting or using dog communication to disagree instead of a full blown case of Resource Guarding. But it case it is, I wanted to share some dog training tips that will help. You can check them out in the video below.

The Resource Guarding tips in the video below should only be attempted when Rocky has had plenty of exercise and is feeling good. But frankly, his dog obedience foundation was so feeble that the humans will be much better served to focus on the kennel exercise, petting with a purpose and passive training.

Speaking of focus, I promised the family I would add a link to a Focus exercise I like to teach my clients. This is the next exercise the humans should start with the dog once they feel good about the progress with the kennel and Rocky is starting to sit to ask for attention.

Generally speaking, the more reactive a dog is, the more insecure it is. Insecurity can come from a number of different things, but one common trait is a lower self esteem. Because dogs feel a sense of pride when mastering a new skill, I recommended that the humans in the home start teaching him some new tricks or commands.

One command that will really help is training a dog to stay. Because the dog is doing the work, it has not choice but to develop some self control. It also is obeying the human and looking to them for guidance and leadership. Here is a link to a dog training video I made for another client who wanted to train a dog to stay.

Its going to take some time and lots of practice by the humans to develop new ways of interacting with the dog. I hate saying its wrong to pet a dog, but petting a dog who is acting out or overexcited is rewarding those behaviors. Its going to take a group effort to stop petting and rewarding unwanted behaviors before Rocky starts to change his behavior. He is going to test the resolve of his humans, and whoever blinks first is going to loose.

By adding structure, petting with a purpose, developing self control through delayed gratification, teaching Rocky to stay, focus and other skills and commands, his family will be able to change the leader follower dynamic and start his journey toward becoming a happy, obedient and well mannered dog.

Once Rocky is comfortable wearing a muzzle and the fence to the back yard is raised, Rocky’s guardians will have tools and a work space that will allow him to start feeling less constricted. This will have a HUGE impact on his mental well being and make rehabilitating him much, much easier.

We wrapped up the session by shooting a roadmap to success video covering all the highlights I shared in the session.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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