Originally posted on The Muzzle Up! Project
*This will be one of a broad range of muzzle-related topics that Maureen Backman, MS, CTC will be presenting at the Pet Professional Guild Summit 2015*
The vet can be a scary experience for even the most socialized of dogs. They’re poked, prodded, and touched by strangers with strange-looking implements.
Dogs who are ill or in pain are at higher risk of biting, even if they have previously been desensitized and counterconditoned to being handled at the vet. (This is why one of the first steps in pet first aid is to muzzle the injured dog to prevent injury.)
In a 2001 JAVMA report Dog bites to humans – demography, epidemiology, injury, and risk, Dr. Karen L. Overall and Molly Love write that “…veterinarians should be aware that pain, certain endocrine and neurologic conditions, and many sedative, tranquilizing and anesthetic agents … can make dogs more reactive and less predictable.”
Years ago, I had the experience of having my dog taken “to the back” by a vet tech to do a necessary procedure. In my dog’s case, he had a bee sting, and the stinger was still attached to his paw. Already shy about being handled by strangers, the addition of pain made any attempts to go near his paw impossible. The tech took my dog to another room, where he was restrained with a muzzle so the stinger could be removed. It was an unhappy and stressful experience for us both.
This was before I became a dog trainer, and before I understood the important role muzzles play in a dog owner’s toolbox of preventative tools.
My story is far from unique, and is a common one I hear from my private training clients and through discussions with members of the Muzzle Up! community. When people adopt dogs, or bring a puppy into their home, they come equipped with a checklist of training “musts” to shape a well-adjusted, happy dog: Socialization, housetraining, leash manners, basic obedience, and so on. Now, proactive dog owners are even practicing husbandry exercises so their dogs happily allow them to clip nails, clean ears and brush teeth.
Unfortunately, muzzle training isn’t included often enough on that list of “musts.” Most muzzle training occurs after a dog has bitten another dog or human. Or, a dog is placed on a muzzle without any prior training due to an emergency or invasive veterinary procedure.
How wonderful would it be if dogs were conditioned to love wearing their muzzles early on, so that if they needed to wear one later in life, it would not be an aversive event for them?
When dogs come to the vet for a procedure, it’s not uncommon for them display anxious behavior. They may snap or bite at the staff out of fear, requiring staff to use a muzzle to prevent a bite. At this point, your dog is experiencing trigger stacked upon trigger, rendering him even more anxious and fearful with each added stressor.
As Dr. Jeannine Berger of the SFSPCA wrote in our veterinary behaviorist Q&A series last year, “Unfortunately, since the dog hasn’t been muzzle trained, it gets even worse from here. Your dog might get even more upset and start to resist as they try to place the muzzle. The next step that follows is that the veterinarian now decides in order to complete the nail trim your dog needs to be sedated, adding additional costs to your bill and adding additional trauma to the dog.”
If dog owners prepare their dogs to wear a muzzle by using a muzzle training plan, so the dog associates the muzzle with positive, happy things, they will help reduce their dogs’ anxiety in the event he needs to wear one at the vet. Proactive muzzle training also increases the possibility of vets doing certain procedures without using heavy restraint or anesthesia.
Muzzle Up recommends owners arrive at the vet prepared by bringing their dog’s normal basket muzzle. This way, their dog wears his already well-fitting muzzle used during training.
Muzzle training will help you remove preventable trigger stacking during an unpreventable emergency or vet visit. Reduced fear for your dog, reduced stress for you. What better reason to put muzzle training on your list of training “musts” for your dog or puppy?
– Maureen Backman, MS, CTC