Have you ever seen a dog walking by in your neighborhood with a muzzle on and thought, “That must be a vicious dog!,” or even “That poor dog, it can’t breathe!”
In reality, probably neither is true. Muzzles, just like harnesses, collars, and leashes, are perfectly safe tools to help dogs lead more fulfilled lives. If they’re fitted right, they shouldn’t interfere with dogs’ breathing at all! Just like the masks that we are all wearing to protect ourselves and others during the pandemic, muzzles keep the dog wearing them and others around them safe. In this post, we’ll break down why muzzle training can be useful, and how to get started with your muzzle journey.
Reasons a dog may need a muzzle
Muzzles are sometimes stigmatized, but they’re a great training tool for so many situations! There are many reasons that dogs might wear muzzles. Some dogs need muzzles for the vet or grooming because they get anxious when handled (and in an emergency situation, even the friendliest dog might need to be muzzled for safety). Some people muzzle train their dog just in case they ever need it at the vet.
Other dogs use muzzles because they are reactive and need space, or to allow them to interact safely with other dogs if they have a nippy play style. Muzzles can be great for helping dogs who are a little rough in play to learn to socialize, and for introducing new dogs into a household.
Muzzles are also a useful tool for “opportunistic snackers” who eat off of the ground and might get sick from ingesting toxic items. Some dogs even eat non-food materials, like wood or rocks, and need to be muzzled to keep them safe. Vet bills for foreign bodies in dogs’ stomachs are expensive! As a precautionary note, if your dog chews things when left home alone, crating is safer than muzzling; muzzles should only be used while your dog is supervised for safety.
Lastly, of course, some dogs need to be muzzled because they are a “bite risk” and might bite a person or another animal. It’s important to remember that these dogs are not bad dogs, even though they are often seen that way. Muzzles just allow dogs who struggle with aggression for whatever reason (often fear), to enjoy life safely. Muzzles might give them the freedom to go for hikes or long walks without their person fearing that they could hurt someone. At the end of the day, muzzles keep everyone safe, including the dogs wearing them.
Proper sizing of muzzles
A well-fitted muzzle should be comfortable for your dog, and they can learn to love wearing them. Some muzzles, often called “grooming muzzles”, hold dogs’ mouths shut with a strip of fabric. These muzzles are not safe for wearing more than a few minutes, because they don’t allow your dog to pant which is how they regulate temperature. The safest muzzles for long-term wear are basket muzzles, which allow your dog to open their mouths fully, drink water, and eat treats.
Some common basket muzzle brands include JAFCO by Leerburg (clear or black vinyl muzzles), Baskerville (affordable silicone muzzles that can be molded to your dog’s face by boiling and reshaping them), Dean & Tyler (wire basket muzzles), and Khaos Kollars (custom-made BioThane muzzles). The best way to make sure your dog will have room to pant in their muzzle is proper measurement. You can start by putting a tennis ball in their mouth and measuring around their snout, and also get measurements for the length of their snout and around their head. Many muzzle brand size guides are inaccurate because they aren’t based on sizing for room to pant. You can read a full guide to fitting your dog for a muzzle from the Muzzle Up Project, which is a wonderful resource for muzzle information!
Not all muzzles are fully bite-proof. A determined dog could bite through a BioThane or silicone basket muzzle like a Baskerville, so if you think your dog would be undeterred by a softer muzzle, you should go with a wire muzzle or a JAFCO.
Some dogs with sensitive skin might get some irritation on their snout from their muzzle. You can fix that by adding some soft fabric or vet wrap (like an Ace bandage for dogs) around the top of the muzzle to make it more comfortable.
How to condition your dog to a muzzle
Slow and steady is the name of the game with muzzle-training. My dog, Layla, is muzzle-conditioned because she has a habit of eating things off of the ground on our walks, and I was tired of having to be constantly vigilant about what she might find on the sidewalk (hello, chicken bones!). While we are of course working on “Leave It”, muzzling gives us a little extra security.
When we started our muzzle-training journey, I took our muzzle (we use a soft silicone muzzle similar to a Baskerville) out and placed it in front of Layla. When she looked at it, I marked and rewarded her. We did a few reps of this, and then I started placing the muzzle in front of her and having her place her nose in it. As soon as her snout was in the muzzle, she got a treat. We did that for a handful of short training sessions over a few days and then worked up to fastening the straps of the muzzle. We worked up the duration of time wearing the muzzle and now, Layla will happily wear her muzzle on walks when it’s needed (and can’t eat goose poop). She associates the muzzle with fun things, like walks and treats (Kono’s Kitchen treats are easy to feed through a muzzle!).
It might take time, but any dog can learn to love their muzzle, and even if they never need one, it’s a good thing for them to be accustomed to. Take things at your dog’s pace, and if they’re struggling, take a step back and try again tomorrow. You can do it!
Muzzle training is part of being a responsible pet owner
Just like training your dog to walk on a leash or wear a collar or harness, muzzle-training allows your dog to comfortably use a tool that can keep them safe. Muzzles can allow you to train your dog in new situations while maintaining safety, just like a leash or long line.
If your dog is wearing a muzzle, you can choose to educate others about muzzles and why they’re used—or not. After all, you could use the stigma to your advantage! We’re still in a pandemic, so why not keep others six feet away from you and your dog? The most important thing to remember is to do what’s right for your pup, no matter what others think. Muzzled dogs aren’t bad dogs—they’re dogs with loving owners who are giving them the chance to live their best lives.
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