Montreal dog trainers urge pit bull owners to start muzzle-training

Pit bull owners who haven't already been preparing their dog to wear a muzzle could be facing an uphill battle once the new bylaw comes into effect Monday, Montreal dog trainers say.

Owners, trainers working to make wearing muzzle 'fun' for dogs in wake of new bylaw

Trainer Ginette Heppelle says owners have to take the time to work on dogs wearing the muzzle. (Ginette Heppelle/Stephanie Volpi)

Pit bull owners who haven't already been preparing their dog to wear a muzzle could be facing an uphill battle once the new bylaw comes into effect Monday, Montreal dog trainers say.

"The longer you wait, the more difficult it's going to be," said Ginette Heppelle, a canine behavioural specialist who runs the company Dogologue.

"Of course the worst thing you can do is take your dog out for a walk and just slap the muzzle on and expect it to be okay."

The bylaw was passed on Tuesday by Montreal's city council.

Heppelle says she has already trained about half a dozen pit bulls to wear muzzles over the past few months.

"You just have to take the time to work on it," she said. 

"To take something that the dog could potentially find stressful and make it fun."

Muzzle parties

Amanda McKernan started training her 10-year-old dog Kristal more than a month ago.

She started slowly by showing Kristal the muzzle and giving her treats, to create a positive association in the dog's mind.

Eventually, she worked her way up to what she calls "surprise muzzle parties." 

"Run in the house, grab the muzzle, make it as exciting as possible," said McKernan. "Run around the house and just keep giving treats along the way." 

"Every time she sees that she wants to see the muzzle because she wants this to happen."

Amanda McKernan feeds 10-year-old dog Kristal a treat through her muzzle to get her used to wearing it. (Sébastien Gauvin/CBC)

Other tricks include feeding the dog a treat through the hole in the muzzle without strapping it onto the pet's head.

"I lathered it in peanut butter on the inside, just to make sure it was the right size when they tried it on the first time," said Sabrina Mignacca, a dog trainer who has muzzle-trained her two dogs since July in preparation for the new bylaw.

After a few days, Milo and Ivy would put their faces into the muzzle voluntarily and tolerate having the straps tightened. 

"Walking in it though has still been a bit difficult. Ivy will try to pull it off," said Mignacca. "So I've been trying to do little games with it so that she can like it more."

While McKernan's dog has gotten used to wearing the muzzle on her walks, some of her favourite activities, including fetch, are now off-limits. 

"To think of her losing her quality of life sucks," McKernan said. "But she's a smart girl and she's enjoying it as much as you can because that's what I'm telling her to do."

Basket muzzle safer than nylon

Both trainers said owners should also opt for a basket muzzle instead of a nylon, tube-shaped muzzle that fits firmly around the snout.

"The dog can't pant with it, it can't open its mouth, it can't drink water, it can restrict breathing," said Heppelle.

Dog trainers say nylon muzzles are dangerous to wear outside for a long period of time. Basket muzzles (pictured) are preferred. (Ainslie MacLellan/CBC)

She added the nylon model is designed for short-term use such as during veterinarian visits.

"So you definitely don't want to be putting those muzzles on your dog for long periods of time outside, especially when it's hot."

Heppelle said owners should measure the size of their dog's head and make sure whatever model they buy fits comfortably, but firmly. It shouldn't be squeezing the face, but it should also not be able to slip off.

Big dogs need training too

Owners of other large dogs should also be training them in wake of the bylaw, according to Heppelle.

Odin, right, is learning to wear a muzzle, because he is part American Staffordshire terrier and considered a pit bull under the new bylaw. (Stephanie Volpi)

Under the new bylaw, owners of dogs that weigh more than 20 kilograms must use a halter or harness when walking their dog. 

"And those kinds of things can also be as stressful as wearing the muzzle," she said. "You see the dogs all the time rubbing their faces on everything that's around: the trees, the people, the grass. They're trying to rub it off."


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