The SHiP experiment is designed to search for very weakly interacting particles beyond the Standard Model which are produced in a 400 GeV/c proton beam dump at the CERN SPS. An essential task for the experiment is to keep the Standard Model background level to less than 0.1 event after 2 x 10(20) protons on target. In the beam dump, around 10(11) muons will be produced per second. The muon rate in the spectrometer has to be reduced by at least four orders of magnitude to avoid muon-induced combinatorial background. A novel active muon shield is used to magnetically deflect the muons out of the acceptance of the spectrometer. This paper describes the basic principle of such a shield, its optimization and its performance.