Using a Muzzle to Groom Your Dog
Dog Muzzles in Grooming
Although the site of a muzzled dog tends to immediately conjure up primal visions of a dangerous animal this it not necessarily the case. The muzzle is in reality nothing more than a tool, a passive restraint device used for a variety of reasons, not just to prevent a dog from lashing out and attacking everything around it. Muzzles are commonly used as required by law in some locales for dogs in public places, regardless of the dogs temperament or disposition. They are also commonly used to provide a way for medical personal to provide treatment for an animal that is injured and afraid, this also applies for groomers that need access to a dogs body for grooming without running the risk of being bitten by a frightened animal.
Muzzles as they relate to grooming are actually a good thing when used in the correct manner. A typical scenario would be a dog that is terrified of having its nails trimmed, the to options available are to physically restrain the animals head while trying to complete the task which creates stress for both the animal and groomer or to simply put a muzzle on the animal which alleviates stress for both parties and makes the task a much quicker one.
Just as a dog becomes excited with anticipation at the site of its leash and collar, the same can be done with a muzzle if conditioned to do so. First we would have to look at the basic reason that a dog becomes excited at the site of their leash and collar, items that in actuality restrict their freedom, and are commonly used correctly or incorrectly to control or correct unwanted behavior. The connection for the dog is that the leash and collar signify an outing, a chance to leave their otherwise monotonous surroundings and explore the outside world while bonding with their owner. Quite simply put for the dog a positive association has been created without the owner ever consciously making any effort to accomplish this.
How a Dog Muzzle Can Make Grooming a Breeze
This ties into home grooming due to the fact that although your dog may be the sweetest most loveable dog in the whole world, it's quite possible that they may have a Jekyll and Hyde side when it comes to being groomed. Ideally if you intend on doing home grooming or as a precautionary measure in the event that your dog becomes injured and needs to be muzzled you should get them comfortable with a muzzle to prevent a potential struggle or undue stress during it’s application or use. When used for grooming a muzzle reduces not only the time that it takes to accomplish the task but it greatly reduces the stress for the human and the dog. Dogs in general are highly attuned to their surroundings not just in the physical sense but in the in the emotional sense as well. Feelings of anxiety and stress present in the owner are picked up by the dog causing it to react in a much more negative way to a given situation; this in turn creates additional stress for the owner which is again picked up by the dog and the cycle continues to amplify itself until the possibility of grooming or working with the dog at home becomes an impossibility.
Now that we have gotten that out of the way let's get into the methods used to actually create a positive association between your dog and the muzzle to make grooming at home a much more pleasant experience for both human and dog.
Selecting a Dog Muzzle
First off we need to understand a little bit about the mistakes that are commonly made while choosing a muzzle for a dog. The majority of individuals will go to the local pet supply store and without research look at the muzzle packaging, select a size by breed and naturally assume that the off the shelf muzzle it the one that they need. This is the first major mistake as 90% of these muzzles are the snug-fitting nylon cone shaped versions that are strictly designed for momentary wear and in actuality can compromise the physical well being of the dog if left on for prolonged periods of time. Although these may prevent the dog from biting they will also prevent the dog from panting or drinking water inhibiting the dogs ability to regulate its own body temperature creating a potentially serious situation in hot environments.
Ideally the proper fitting muzzle should allow the dog to open it's mouth several inches, for panting, and the intake of fluids, it should not ride so high on the face as to create an aggravation for the dog. If this requires that you get a muzzle for a larger breed then so be it, remember that we are trying to create a positive experience when while we muzzle train the dog.
How to Muzzle Train a Dog
The main advantage to training your dog to view the muzzle positively while ignoring the presence of it on his face is that it will eliminate virtually all the stress associated with wearing one. This is a great advantage in that if you have to use one in an emergency situation when your dog is injured or frightened, having been previously accustomed to one will spare your dog the added stress of wearing an unfamiliar restraint.
First off pick a time in cool weather were panting will not become an issue that creates additional stress. Put on a properly fitting muzzle that allows the dogs mouth to open several inches, ensuring that you tighten and snug all the straps, usually a little tighter than you intend on using once the dog has accepted being muzzled. The majority of dogs initially will be quite uncomfortable with the feeling of wearing a muzzle and will make copious efforts to remove it. These may include rubbing there face along walls, along your leg, the ground, rolling around, pawing at it with their feet etc.. on average this lasts 4-5 minutes before they accept that it cannot be removed. Once they have reached a point of acceptance and are no longer making efforts to remove the muzzle wait 3-4 minutes and remove the muzzle. If by chance your dog is exceptionally strong willed you may find it necessary to place them in a sit-stay, and apply correction as you would for any behavior when attempt to remove the muzzle are made. Repeat this drill 4 to 5 times on this day and twice a day for the next week until your dog is comfortable with the muzzle and goes immediately into acceptance and always give plenty of praise.
At this point it would be a good idea to place the muzzle in the same place that you keep your leash, and anytime you use a leash to go for a walk use a muzzle too, anytime you get ready to take your dog for a ride first apply the muzzle. This begins to create a positive association with the muzzle and going out. Once your dog reaches the point that the muzzle is not a negative but associated with a positive experience it will only be necessary to repeat this drill once a week or once every two week so long as your dog remains positive about the experience. Once your dog has learned to accept a particular variety of muzzle he will more readily accept other varieties as well. Always ensure that you never use the type that restricts the dogs mouth from opening for more than a few minutes at a time and ensure that you are always ready to remove the muzzle in a situation where the dogs breathing appears to be effected.
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