Muzzles, Crates and Harnesses

Jan 18, 2021   Tracey Aston   Training

Muzzles, crates and harnesses are important tools for both your safety and the safety of your pet. These management safety training tools are to be used in conjunction with training and can keep your pet safe while they are learning.  There are many benefits to a well-trained pet, including safety and more freedom for your pet.


Many pet parents view muzzles as a tool only needed for dogs with aggression issues but any pet can bite, especially when injured or scared.  An injured or sick pet may react out of pain and bite their caretakers, groomer or health care provider.  A frightened pet may feel they have to protect themselves, even if that is not the case and someone is acting in their best interest. Training a pet to wear a muzzle before they need it will help them feel more confident if the need should arise. There are many different types of muzzles, including basket and soft muzzles, which can be made from nylon or leather. Brachycephalic dogs, or dogs with short snouts, should only use mesh muzzles made especially for their facial structure. Using a regular muzzle on a brachycephalic dog could cause them serious respiratory distress.  The first step in muzzle training is to make sure the muzzle is comfortable and properly fitted.  Properly fitted means they can open their mouth and pant freely and accept treats. An uncomfortable muzzle will start a dog out on the wrong foot and it will be uphill battle from there.  Secondly, don't introduce the muzzle when a pet is already in a frightened state. Make sure your pet is relaxed and has a chance to sniff and investigate the muzzle before putting it on. Get them interested in the muzzle, but placing it on the floor and putting treats around it. Second put some treats inside the muzzle, and start to put it over their snout, without actually attaching it around their head. Praise them if they eat the treats and don't react negatively.  Slowly increase the time limit you hold the muzzle around the dogs face and watch for any signs of fear.  If the pet isn't showing signs of fear or trying to paw at their face, you can snap the muzzle in place, feed a few treats, praise and then unsnap the muzzle.  Patience will be essential, as it may take quite a while before your pet feels completely comfortable.  Start with 5 second intervals, then 8 seconds, 10 seconds and slowly work up to 30 seconds. At every stage, treat and praise and watch for signs the pet may be getting fearful or uncomfortable. If at any time the pet starts to resist, go back a step, this means the pet is uncomfortable and needs longer to adjust.  Ultimately, the pet should be attempting to put their face into the muzzle on their own to get at the treats.  After your pet is comfortable wearing the muzzle, you may start doing daily activities while wearing the muzzle, such as walks. Make sure to continue to treat and praise while working on walks, sits, stays or any type of training while the pet is wearing the muzzle. In no time your pet will become accustomed to the muzzle and see it as part of their routine equipment.  For more information on education and training with muzzles, visit The Muzzle Up Project.


Unfortunately, many see crates as tiny jails for their pets but the truth is crates are about safety and security for your pet.  A startling amount of pets are injured or even killed by getting into poisonous substances, chewing wires, suffocating in bags, choking on objects left lying around or rugs, carpets, couches and beds from chewing them.  Pets that door dash or run out the door when it's open could possibly get lost or even worse, hit by a passing vehicle. While pets are working on their door manners, they could benefit from having a safe place when visitors are entering and exiting the home, like holidays, repairmen, etc. In addition to safety, dogs benefit from having a safe and private space of their own, whether to decompress when anxious, stressed or tired, or as a retreat to just relax.  Many dogs are fearful of storms or fireworks and will retreat to the safety of their crate to feel protected and safe.   Crates should always be made a positive place for your pet and never used as a form of punishment. Don't allow kids to interact with a pet while in their crate by banging on the crate or poking the pet through the bars.  Get your pet interested in their crate by making it a cozy and calm place for them. Start by tossing in many treats and allow your pet to enter without closing the door behind them.  If possible, they can even be fed in their crate with the door open.  Bring the crate into rooms where the family gathers and allow the pet to check it out on their own without closing the door. As your pet slowly becomes more comfortable with their crate, you can work on closing the door and increasing the time they are in the crate by small increments. Remember to keep their crate a positive place for them by feeding treats through the side or top of the crate while praising the pet.  The goal is to make a pet feel safe and secure in their crate when they can't be actively supervised or when they need to decompress.  A great way to create a positive association is by making a game of it! Have your pet go to their bed or a certain place they have already associated with a word, then say “crate” and bring them back to their crate, treat and praise, then back to the original spot, etc.  A pet should never associate their crate with punishment but always fun, safety and security.


Improperly fit harnesses can interfere with a pet's movement and can cause injuries to a pet, and this has led many to believe that all harnesses are dangerous for pets. That's an unfortunate rumor because properly fitted harnesses can actually prevent injury. Harnesses are recommended for pets that need a little work on their loose-leash walking. A harness will train your dog to stay by your side without harming your pet. If a pet is pulling, stop walking and the harness will redirect your pet back to you then you can direct them to sit at your side until they are calmer and not pulling.

 Front-attaching harnesses are slipped over your pet's head and designed to clip under your pet's chest area and don't come with the neck and throat risks, or strangulation risks of more traditional collars. For pets that are masters at contortion and somehow find a way to wiggle out of collars or other harnesses, attach the leash to both the harness and a martingale no slip collar.  Proper fit is essential for both safety and comfort while using a harness. Similar to a regular collar, make sure you can fit 2 fingers between the harness and the pet. The harness needs to be tight enough to keep a pet safe, but not so tight that it can cause skin chafing.  The harness shouldn't be laying in the arm pit but a little further back from the arm pit, so the armpit and elbow aren't chaffing and the elbow can't slip out.

When putting on the harness for the first time, praise your pet, give them a treat or something they highly value and take it right back off.  Much like with the muzzle, work slowly and create a positive experience.  Buckle the harness, treat the pet and take the harness back off. Start at several second intervals and work up at longer intervals. Praise them and speak calmly and gently while slipping on the harness. While they are wearing the harness, make sure something wonderful happens for them, a walk, play time, treats or praise, so they associate the harness with positive things. Again, the end result will be a pet associating the harnesses with positive things like treats and walks. In no time, they will look forward to wearing their harness.

When introducing any new training tools, always allow the pet to have time to investigate the tool prior to use.  Part of training with these tools is for them to be accepting of the tool. New things can be scary for everyone, and this is true for pets too. Remember, patience and positive experience when working with any new training tools.  Your pet will thank you later when they are safe, trained and comfortable. 

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