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You’ve probably seen a dog wearing a muzzle at some point, but you might be confused as to what exactly the purpose of muzzles is, and whether it’s humane for a dog to wear them. When and why should a dog wear a muzzle?
There is a fair amount of stigma around muzzles, as they have gained an (unearned) association with “aggressive” dogs. But muzzles should never be used to punish a dog or as a means of dealing with reactive behavior. Let’s dive into what muzzles are, and when they should be used.
What is a muzzle?
A muzzle is a device that goes over the mouth of a dog (as well as other animals) that prevents them from biting or from opening their mouth. There are several types of muzzles, with basket muzzles generally being the most prevalent. A basket muzzle looks essentially like a basket strapped to your dog’s mouth. They allow for better air circulation than solid muzzles, and most styles of basket muzzle allow the dog to open their mouth enough to pant, eat and drink. You can also slip treats through a basket muzzle to reward your dog for good behavior.
When should you use a muzzle?
Muzzles are a great tool that dog parents can use to prevent harmful behavior, while keeping in mind that they are not a solution in and of themselves. There are several situations in which a muzzle is a good idea:
Emergencies: A frightened dog is more likely to bite. In an emergency, it’s a good idea to have a muzzle around (along with a muzzle-trained dog). This is especially true if the dog requires emergency treatment, as they may bite veterinary staff.
Dogs with a history of biting: If your dog has bitten a person, or another dog, in the past, or if you think they might (e.g. they tend to lunge at other dogs when on leash), a muzzle is a tool that can provide safety and peace of mind on walks. As the AKC notes, it’s important to remember that the muzzle is not a solution in and of itself; it simply provides safety while you work on the behavior with your dog and a trainer. The muzzle in this case should be seen as a temporary aid to your ultimate goal of behavior modification.
A “scary” situation: As we noted above, dogs are much more likely to bite if they feel threatened. This can happen in many situations, such as going to the vet or groomer. If your dog is scared of these situations, especially if they require interaction with humans, a muzzle is a good idea. However, just like with dogs that have a history of biting, the muzzle should be used as a temporary tool while you work on behavior modification.
When breed-specific legislation requires it: Unfortunately, some places still have breed-specific legislation (sometimes called “breed bans”) in place, despite mounting evidence that it is ineffective and only serves to punish responsible dog owners. Some breed-specific legislation requires certain breeds to wear muzzles in public, regardless of their history or the situation.
When shouldn’t you use a muzzle?
You should never use a muzzle:
- To prevent “problem” behaviors, like barking or chewing on things. Some retailers may sell “anti bark muzzles” or similarly worded products, but that is a misnomer (and a red flag for that retailer). A muzzle should always be used as a temporary tool, and is not a solution by itself. Excessive barking or chewing are behaviors that need to be worked on with a trainer, and they will not be fixed by having your dog wear a muzzle.
- To put your dog in an unnecessarily stressful situation—the AKC uses the example of a dog who can’t handle a dog park. If you feel that your dog can’t handle a certain situation or setting, don’t use a muzzle to try and put them in that situation, simply avoid it.
- As a form of punishment in any way: it will not fix the underlying behavior issue, and will only give your dog negative associations with the muzzle. You want to be able to put a muzzle on your dog in an emergency, and negative associations make this infinitely more difficult.
Benefits of muzzle training
Training your dog to accept a muzzle is beneficial to both you and your dog because it makes stressful situations more manageable and less dangerous for all involved. A dog that likes their muzzle needs less “manhandling” at the vet, which is a better situation for the dog and all humans. Similarly, if your dog is ever in pain and in need of emergency treatment, being able to put a muzzle on them will prevent them from potentially biting you or veterinary staff. Ultimately, you want to be able to help your dog when they are frightened, ill, or in pain, and muzzle training means that all those situations will be made easier.
How to use a muzzle
Finding the right muzzle: There are two main types of dog muzzles, plus the third option that you can use a homemade muzzle in a pinch. K9 of Mine offers some options for making a homemade muzzle, but remember that homemade one should be a last resort in an absolute emergency. It’s better to just keep a store-bought muzzle in your emergency kit.
Here are the two main types of muzzles:
Basket muzzles: These are the most common, and most people agree they are the most humane. Though the bars of a basket muzzle may look threatening, this type of muzzle is generally the most comfortable for dogs, because it allows them to open their mouth to eat, drink water, or pant. These, not soft muzzles, are the type of dog muzzles that allow drinking. You can also slip treats through the bars to aid with training. In most cases, you will want to opt for a basket muzzle.
Soft muzzles: Soft muzzles are usually made from fabric like mesh or nylon. A soft muzzle wraps around your dog’s mouth, holding the mouth completely closed. As you can imagine, this type of muzzle is a lot less comfortable for the dog, and has the potential to be dangerous because it prevents your dog from panting, which is a necessary behavior to keep your dog’s body from overheating. For this reason, you should only use a soft muzzle for a very short period of time, and never in hot weather. Soft muzzles also prevent dogs from barking, drinking or eating. This also makes it difficult to use treats for muzzle training. In general, soft muzzles are not as desirable a choice as basket muzzles. They are much more restrictive, less comfortable, and more dangerous. Opt for a basket muzzle if at all possible.
Muzzle training: Introduce your dog to the muzzle slowly, and provide lots of treats and praise along the way. Here’s what to do (over a period of 2-3 days):
- Introduce your dog to the muzzle by letting them sniff it. Give them a treat just for sniffing the muzzle.
- Touch your dog’s nose with the muzzle, and give them a treat for letting you do it. Repeat this a few times until your dog seems interested in the muzzle.
- Hold the muzzle in one hand, and hold a treat with your other hand, in a way that the dog needs to put their nose inside the muzzle to get the treat. Repeat as many times as needed, until your dog does this happily.
- Allow the dog to put their nose into the muzzle again and this time have them leave it there for a slightly longer period of time, then give the treat. Remove the muzzle right away. Again, repeat until your dog is comfortable with this step. Do not place the muzzle on the dog, but instead let them always choose to put their nose in it.
- Gradually let the dog keep their nose in the muzzle for longer periods of time, and treat continuously when the muzzle is on.
- Once your dog seems very comfortable with their nose in the muzzle, attempt to fasten the buckle, and give them a treat. Remove the muzzle right away. Repeat until the dog is comfortable.
- With your dog’s nose in the muzzle, fasten the buckle again, and count to five, then treat. Then, remove the muzzle. (If you want to slow this step down, you can try just counting to two or three first, then moving up to counting to five.) Repeat until the dog is comfortable.
- Every time you put the muzzle on, gradually increase the amount of time it’s left on, and give treats promptly. Repeat until the muzzle is no big deal.
Dog’s Day Out has a list of detailed muzzle training instructions and is a great resource.
Make sure you go slowly and do this process over a number of days. You want your dog to have only positive associations with the muzzle, and the best way to do that is to only move on to the next step when they’re ready!
Muzzles are a great safety tool, and muzzle training your dog is a smart way to ensure that you’re prepared for emergency situations. If you train your dog to like the muzzle, and use your dog’s muzzle properly, it can enhance their quality of life and strengthen the bond between you.
Trainer Review of this Article
There is so much misinformation out there, we want to make sure we only provide the highest quality information to our community. We have all of our articles reviewed by qualified, positive-only trainers.
This is the trainer that reviewed this article:
Owner – Dog’s Day Out, Ballard, WA
Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT-KA)
Licensed AKC CGC Evaluator
NW Coordinator, Doggone Safe