Teaching your dog to be comfortable wearing a muzzle is a good idea for a number of reasons. One of them is safety on a hike: if you don't trust your dog 100% around dogs, critters, people etc., having her wear a muzzle will help you relax. If your dog doesn't like strange dogs invading her personal space, but you would like to take her hiking in places where you will occasionally encounter off-leash dogs, having her in a muzzle keeps everyone safe. (Having her on a leash doesn't do that, because strange dogs may still run up to her.)
When I have Grit off leash in an area where we might encounter dogs or people, I usually have her wear a muzzle. She is good with dogs who keep out of her way or greet her politely, but she is not the kind of dog who appreciates rambunctious dogs who come barreling up to her.
Knowing that on a walk, we will occasionally encounter such dogs - along with owners who won't be able to recall them - Grit wears a muzzle just to be safe. This ensures I won't be stressed out by these encounters - I don't need to worry that my dog could hurt the strange dog. This makes a big difference for my own peace of mind. If Grit didn't wear a muzzle, I'd probably be angry at other owners for letting their dogs run up to her, and the encounter might well ruin the rest of my walk.
Wearing a muzzle doesn't reduce Grit's enjoyment of the walk. She is used to it and forgets she's even wearing it - it's like me wearing my glasses.
Do you worry your dog might hurt another dog (or anyone or anything else)? Or do you worry your dog is going to eat things on a hike that you rather she wouldn't eat? Train her to wear a muzzle, and gain some peace of mind!
How to Teach Your Dog to Wear A Muzzle
Smear a little bit of peanut butter or cream cheese on the inside of the bottom of the muzzle. Offer it to your dog like a bowl you are holding. Do not move the muzzle towards your dog, but wait for her to stick her nose in! Let her lick her treat, then remove the muzzle. Refill and repeat. Stay at this step until your dog will immediately and without hesitation put her nose into the muzzle as soon as you present it!
Muzzle step 1 (puppy Hadley)
Again, put peanut butter or cream cheese into the muzzle and offer it to your dog. Move the muzzle away from your dog as she sticks her nose in. Keep moving it around your body so she has to make an effort to chase it and keep her nose in!
Muzzle step 2 (puppy Hadley)
Present the muzzle without peanut butter. Wait for your dog to stick her nose in. Feed through the muzzle; then remove it before she has a chance to withdraw her nose.
Repeat until your dog looks happy anytime you bring out the muzzle, and puts in her nose without hesitation!
Like step 3 - only that now, we are rewarding her for keeping her nose in the muzzle! Present the muzzle. Wait for her to stick her head in. Feed several times in a row while she keeps her nose in the muzzle, then remove the muzzle before she has a chance to pull back.
Like step 3 - and this time, you put the strap behind her ears and hold it in place (don't close it just yet) while feeding. If your dog is uncomfortable with this step, put the strap behind her ears very briefly, remove immediately, and keep feeding.
Once your dog is comfortable with step 5, close the strap behind her ears, feed a few treats in a row, open the strap, and remove the muzzle.
Is it going well? Try offering a treat at a little distance from her nose so she has to take a few steps while wearing the muzzle!
Offer her the muzzle right before going on a walk, close the strap, feed a cookie, walk for up to 2 minutes (occasionally feeding a cookie), and then remove the muzzle while continuing your walk.
In step 7, it is the muzzle that predicts going for a walk - we are making it the predictor of fun! Gradually extend the time your dog is wearing it, and reduce the amount of cookies you feed.
Most dogs will stop thinking about the muzzle once they are out and about, being too busy sniffing and exploring. It's not a big deal if your dog occasionally rubs her nose on the ground when she remembers her muzzle and feels itchy - as long as this doesn't last more than a few seconds, it's just like me readjusting my glasses on my nose.
Enjoy your walk!
Looking for more tips, tricks, and advanced behaviors in relation to walking and hiking with your dog? Check out Out and About, Chrissi's April class at FDSA!