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Muzzle Conditioning – Getting a Behavior and Adding a Cue

Let me tell you, what I have right now is NOT a Happy Dog! Ros, my 4 year old Corgi is suffering from some front end injury that has put her on crate rest for two weeks. This does not make her a happy camper! Even worse, we will be using acupuncture, in conjunction with other treatments, to help heal her and get her back into obedience shape! This does not make Ros happy. Ros is not a fan of needles in the first place and sometimes the acu hits a tender spot, making it not her favorite thing ever.

In order to protect our brave vet, I’ve ordered a basket muzzle that actually fits Ros (our other one was for a much larger foster Corgi) and am working on conditioning her to it. While Ros will tolerate the muzzle without any special conditioning, this was a good exercise for me, and give her some training opportunity which she hasn’t had. It also helps condition her to like it better, rather than associating it with the acu procedure.

This video is the entire training session. Ros has not seen this muzzle before and has not been conditioned to a muzzle before, but has worn a different style basket muzzle than in the video without conditioning.

At the start of the video in the segment you can’t see well, I clicked Ros for resting the tip of her nose in the muzzle. I started out by clicking for Ros putting her nose in the muzzle and then feeding her. You can see she wants to take her head out of the muzzle to get her reward, but I wait her out and the power of food is greater, and she sticks her face in the muzzle to get it. Soon after this I dropped the clicker, it was going to end up too close to her face to deal with the mechanics of the clicker, which she doesn’t like near her head, plus the food, plus holding the muzzle. I switched to yes as a marker word. After feeding her a few times through the muzzle for just a small part of her nose going in, I upped my criteria and asked her to stick more of her face into the muzzle. By feeding through the bottom of the muzzle, I’m encouraging her to push into it, thus I can get away with asking for a bit more. Ros offered a fuller muzzle push right away after withholding treats for giving me less of her muzzle. You can see Ros trying to come out of the muzzle again to get her reward, but I feed through the bottom. I quickly start delaying the marker to get some duration to this behavior.

Starting at around the 1:50 mark, you can see me start to add the cue. Ros goes through some thinking here. I want her to use the word muzzle to put on her muzzle. I don’t really need the cue, the muzzle will never be present at her level without me asking her to put it on, but it’s a good brain game for her, so we’ll put it on cue. I let her offer the behavior a few times, and when Ros waits for the cue, I give it to her. She didn’t shove her face all the way into it like she had been before, but I’m ok with relaxing my criteria a bit to reward this first time on cue. From now on, she knows the game, I want her to stick her face in there! At 2:27 you see something important – Ros sits while she sticks her face in. This will become important later. At 3:04, Ros gives me a partial nose stick. At this point, I haven’t reinforced this on cue very much and I DID reward the partial nose! She’s working out my criteria. Finally Ros gives me the criteria I’m looking for, and I’m able to buckle the muzzle around her face partially, I reward here, and then finish the buckling and continue to reward. We’re still working on the mechanics of feeding through the muzzle!

As the video continues, you can see me working through fastening the muzzle, rewarding throughout the process. The mechanics are still getting in our way. I need to figure out a better way to feed her for while we’re using this with the vet. I’m also using a TON of reward. I want this to be a good experience for her! Remember, this is her first time in the muzzle, so I want to make a good impression.

Now, remember the 2:27 marker? Ros sits while putting her muzzle on? After I rewarded that, the muzzle behavior also always included a sit behavior. I’ve lumped them together! Ros thinks she needs to both sit and put her face in the muzzle for reward. This isn’t important in this case. It may go away with time, it may not, it’s not something that matters. She can sit for her muzzle or stand, what her back end is doing isn’t an issue, but if I cared, says this was for an obedience behavior; I should keep an eye on it and reward her only putting her muzzle in while she’s standing to get rid of the sit behavior.

Ros and I will keep working on this skill before her next acu appointment, making it safer for her vet, and more tolerable for Ros.

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