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Happy muzzled dogsWhat is it with muzzles that gets people upset? If I suggest to a client that we get their dog comfortable with wearing a muzzle, it is almost always met with resistance. There is such a stigma with a dog wearing a muzzle. Immediately people think that your dog must be aggressive. To the uninformed, even a dog wearing a head harness can lead a person to think that dog must be aggressive.

As a trainer, I know that there are situations where a muzzle could be necessary. I have three dogs. These dogs range from being super comfortable with being handled to tolerating it. And that’s handling by me. If they were being handled by someone they were less comfortable with such as our vet or a groomer, could their response be different? You bet! What if they were in pain? Of course, and would you blame them. It is not like they can say ‘ouch that hurts’. So, they may snap or growl. It’s how they communicate. Now if they were injured it is not like you can just ignore that, so the vet will need to muzzle them. It is a safety issue. In the interests of treating the injury, the dog would be restrained and a muzzle would be put on them. This is not how I want my dogs to be introduced to the muzzle. This would add another stressor to an already scary and stressful situation. It certainly won’t help them with the association with the vet for future visits.

So, I muzzle train them.

I want them to see the muzzle and immediately think that the good times are about to roll. Here comes the muzzle which means they are about to get squeezy cheese.

It is obvious to most people to see how a muzzle can be a benefit in a veterinary or grooming situation. But a muzzle is also a great tool for other situations.  The dog that ingests objects (Pica) and ends up having surgery to remove items. Or the dog that loves eating poop (Coprophagia). A muzzle is now a management tool. It prevents the dog from rehearsing a behaviour we want to change.  While we work on behaviour modification the dog is still getting out and about and getting the exercise and enrichment they need to live a good quality of life. Ditto for aggression. If a dog is aggressive, the risk is the dog becomes sequestered in the home or backyard. This becomes a welfare issue with the result being that the dog’s behaviour is likely to get worse.

If a dog is habituated to the muzzle, it gives the dog freedom. These dogs, the pica dogs, the poop-eating dogs and even the aggressive dogs are now getting out and about. Combined with a well thought out behaviour modification training plan, we can work on changing their behaviour. And guess what, their people can now relax knowing that their dog is not going to ingest something they shouldn’t or hurt another dog or person.

What do you do with the looks of other people? Well...there really isn’t a lot you can do. Having a dog that lunges and barks at other dogs I am all too familiar with those looks. The judgy looks. I know why my girl does what she does. I use the opportunity to work on her skills with other dogs in the vicinity. I have learnt to ignore other people. They don’t know me or my dog. Some people will stop and ask in which case I will use the opportunity to educate but for the most part, I just keep walking knowing that my dog is happy.

There are some great resources online to help with muzzle training your dog in a positive way. Training your dog to like muzzles isn’t difficult. However, like many behaviours we train our dogs, it falls into the category of preventative training. It is not flashy like trick training or a perfect heel, but I would argue that it is more important. There are a few skills that I think are essential for our dogs to know. A strong leave it cue, a rock-solid recall, being able to walk nicely on leash, a wait before rushing through a door or jumping out of the car ..... and muzzle training. So do your dog a favour and teach them to love a muzzle. You never know when you might need it.

Muzzle training resources online:
The recommended muzzle is a Baskerville model or similar. This type of muzzle allows the dog to breathe and pant normally, take treats and drink water. For resources on how to muzzle training your dog can be found at the following links or if you want some help, reach out to a qualified trainer.

Chirag Patel – Domesticated Manners
Michael Shikashio – Aggressive Dog
Lori Nanan - currently not available

 

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There are some perfect dogs out there.  You may have seen them.  Walking politely on leash, checking in with their handler or stopping what they are doing and immediately coming when called.  In some cases, genetics may play a role.  Lucky owner if that is the case.  For the most part, that perfect dog is the result of an incredible investment in time, effort and dedication in building the relationship and investing in the training to make the perfection seem effortless.  Just like the smoothness of a duck gliding across the water belies the effort happening below the surface.

So many things go into the 'Perfect Dog'.  There are no short cuts.  Hard work, training and practice.  So much practice in lots of different places.  Persistence to work through those inevitable plateaus.

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Dog pulling rope 000012673488 Medium copyThis is a question I get a lot. My answer is always a resounding ‘Yes’, but there must be rules for the game. One of my dogs loves a good game of tug. She is also very vocal. She will growl and bark, all in the spirit of the game. This just adds to her enjoyment. She has her special tug toy which she runs and gets if she thinks we are up for the game. If she gets a bit over aroused the game stops, so she learns to keep things in check. Tug is an excellent impulse control game. I don’t recommend playing tug with puppies for two reasons. Firstly, they haven’t got their adult teeth yet so we don’t want to hurt their mouth and secondly, they are still working on impulse control so they won’t understand the rules until they are a bit older. 

Don't believe me, check out this excerpt from Pat Miller's book "Play with Your Dog".
"The game of Tug has an undeserved bad rap in some training circles, while others, most notably the Agility world, have fully embraced it as an excellent activity to create focus and high arousal. Those two extremes aside, it's a great game just because it's fun, many dogs adore it, it's the perfect play activity for human family members who might otherwise want to get in appropriately physical with the dog and it's a terrific energy-burner.

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pexels photo 156961Suzanne Clothier has this great quote, “If you are hanging on to your dog’s body, it’s because you’ve lost his mind”.  I love this quote because it is transferrable to so many aspects of dog training.  Can you say that your dog is well-trained if they only listen to you when they are attached to you?  If they sit when you tug on their leash or put pressure on their hind end or get them to stop pulling because you give them a leash correction.  Are they trained or are they complying because they want to avoid the pain of a correction?  You might argue that they are trained because they are doing what you ask of them and you may be right.  The real test is when there is no leash or when your dog is too far away to physically correct.  Then what?  Are they still trained?  It is more difficult to argue that they are in this scenario.

For me, the sign of a well-trained dog is a dog that listens to me.  He doesn’t have to be engaged with me all the time, but when I say his name he looks to me seeking further instructions.  This can only come through training that builds a relationship.  I don’t want or need my dogs to be perfect.  I love my dogs for who they are and want them to be dogs.  That doesn’t mean that there aren’t rules and boundaries.  Instead of being a dictator, I prefer to be the benevolent leader.  Coaching and guiding them.  If my dogs aren’t responding to me, it is not their fault.  The fault resides with me. 

 

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Calgary dog training Hanging With Hounds Dog Parks Off-leash parksCalgarians love their dog parks and we are lucky to have lots of them in the city.  No question that time at the dog park can provide your pup with unadulterated joy, lots of exercise and a chance to romp unencumbered by leashes with their doggie friends.  As a trainer, I have mixed feelings about off-leash parks.  Following are my ‘Top 10’ recommendations for a fun time at the dog park.

1. Different dogs have different play styles.  We all know the dog that likes to body slam, or the one that will play fetch for hours and some dogs are just happy to enjoy a stroll in the park with you and barely acknowledge other dogs.  Different play styles are normal.  Dogs with similar play styles will have a blast, but if your dog prefers a stroll and the other dog wants to wrestle, it is not going to be a fun experience.  Watch the interactions between dogs.  When they take a break, if both dogs go back into play, it is usually okay.  However, if one dog wants to get away, it is an indicator that the other dog is not his ideal playmate.

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