If you follow us on social media, you know that we recently took in a foster puppy!
Tikaani “Kaani” is an 8-month-old Great Pyrenees who ended up in the wrong hands. I don’t know too much, but here’s what I know:
- He was rejected by his mom and had to be bottle fed.
- He was picked up by a service dog trainer and was doing amazing with training.
- They decided he was too shy to be a service dog.
- He was adopted out to a family with no pyr experience.
- His fear progressed until the couple felt they could no longer handle him.
But I’d put money that there were more things going on than just this watered-down version of his story.
I ended up driving 5 hours across the state of Washington to meet the couple and pick him up. I knew I was in for more than just a “shy dog” when they wouldn’t even take him out of the car.
What was I getting myself in to?
After chatting for a few minutes, they pulled a terrified puppy out of their car. He immediately started barking and lunging at me. I avoided eye contact to try and let him check me out, but he was still extremely upset.
I even got a little tooth mark on my leg.
Every person that walked within 25 feet of him was met with growling, barking, and lunging.
After about 20 minutes, the couple said their goodbyes and handed me the leash. How was I supposed to take this dog on a 5 hour road trip when he can’t even relax around me?
We walked around for a bit to try and build a little bit of trust, but it was getting late and we needed to hit the road. I opened the door and tried to coax him in, but it wasn’t happening. He flipped around barking and snapping at me.
I figured we would just sit in the parking lot with the car doors open, and I hoped he’d eventually want to check it out. I was even throwing treats in the car and offering them from my hand. He was willing to take them from my hand—as long as we didn’t make eye contact—but he was not at all interested in getting in my car.
It took an hour. And looking back, I’m not 100% sure how I got him in. But I was more than ready to hit the road.
He was amazing on the car ride and slept the majority of the time. We finally pulled into my garage and I was so relieved. I just wanted to get him to take a quick potty break, then put him in his crate to relax and acclimate.
Getting him out of the car was just as difficult as getting him in.
He refused to jump out of the car. I even tried to entice him with treats. After about 15 minutes of trying, we decided to go inside and leave the car door open. Hopefully he would come out on his own.
I just needed to get ahold of his leash, but the leash was right near his face and I knew he’d lunge at me if I tried to grab it. I wondered if he would tolerate me getting back into the driver’s seat.
Thankfully, he did.
After sitting there for longer than I can remember, I was able to grab the leash and coax him out of the car. I felt terrible seeing this poor, terrified puppy struggle. What happened that he lost all trust in people?
He had a quick introduction to Mauja, Atka, and Kiska, then went to his safe retreat in his crate to relax.
I decided to work from home the next day to spend time with him. His crate is in my bedroom, so I figured I would work from the bed and let him do his thing. Every now and then, I’d toss a few treats his way—being sure to avoid eye contact.
Here’s a quick recap of his progress over the first 48 hours with us.
It wasn’t long before he decided I was okay and wanted to be my BFF. The same couldn’t be said for my husband though. Kaani would still get extremely upset when Nick came anywhere near him.
I knew we needed to start working on socialization once he settled in, but it would need to be done safely. I needed to be able to work with him without fear of him biting someone.
So, I decided to start muzzle training.
Choosing a muzzle
There are two main types of muzzles: basket and soft-mesh.
Soft muzzles should only be used for very short periods of time. These muzzles don’t allow your dog to open their mouth and pant. It also makes treat delivery more difficult.
They’re light and can easily be folded up for travel, so they’re ideal for quick vet appointments. Maybe your dog is great at the vet but has an ear infection. Touching the ear causes pain, and you want to be sure everyone stays safe.
Here you can quickly use the soft muzzle to allow the vet to check the ear or apply medication, then remove immediately after.
For longer muzzle use, you’ll want to go for a basket muzzle. They are bulkier, but the design allows your dog to open his mouth and pant, take treats, and drink. This increases your dog’s comfort for longer wear.
They’re typically made from plastic or metal (or a combination) with soft or leather straps. It’s up to you and what your dog finds comfortable.
Kaani has a plastic muzzle from Baskerville. I plan to upgrade him to a wire muzzle, but not until he’s a little older. They’re typically more expensive, and I know he’ll grow out of it quickly since he’s still a puppy.
How to muzzle train
I can’t say this enough: start slow. Don’t rush muzzle training. You want your dog to look forward to wearing his muzzle.
Step 1: Hold the open end of the muzzle toward your dog (pull or fold the straps out of the way).
Step 2: When your dog looks at the muzzle, click and treat. Repeat this several times until looking at the muzzle is no big deal for your dog.
Step 3: Start moving the muzzle closer to your dog’s nose, continuing to click and treat. You want your dog to associate treats with the muzzle. Muzzle = treats, yay!
Step 4: Next, you want your dog to start touching the muzzle. For eager dogs, place a treat on your hand with the muzzle over the treat, so he has to put his head in the muzzle to get the treat. If he’s a little unsure, try using a treat your dog can lick (cream cheese, peanut butter, etc.) off the edge of the muzzle. Gradually move the treat deeper into the muzzle as your dog is comfortable. Remember, slow is fast here and take lots of breaks.
Step 5: Give the muzzle a cue (like muzzle or face), and click and treat when your dog puts his face in the muzzle.
Step 6: Once your dog is completely comfortable and feels the muzzle is no big deal, you can try to fasten the muzzle.
Step 7: It’s important not to worry about the fit at this point. Cue your dog to put his face in the muzzle, then wrap the straps around his head (without fastening). Click and treat. Repeat until comfortable with the feeling of the straps.
Step 8: Try fastening the muzzle. Again, don’t worry about the fit. Loosely fasten; click and treat. Rinse and repeat.
Step 9: Now you can start fitting the muzzle. Only leave on your dog for very short periods of time, continuing to give your dog plenty of treats.
Step 10: Gradually increase the amount of time your dog wears the muzzle. It won’t be long before your dog acts like his spunky self, and gladly wears the muzzle!
I was even more glad that I started muzzle training him when just a few days later we had a trip to the emergency vet. If it wasn’t for the muzzle, they wouldn’t have been able to help him.
We have to advocate for our dogs and set them up for success. Even if your dog is the most social, easy-going dog, muzzle training is never a wasted effort.
Is your dog muzzle trained? What tips do you have?