The idea of putting a muzzle on your dog can be unsettling. You might wonder if your dog can drink, pant, or even breathe with a muzzle on. And is it painful? Is it cruel? But perhaps you feel a muzzle is the best option for your dog. Is that truly the case? There are certain situations where a muzzle can be quite useful, at times they are even necessary. But there are other times when a muzzle is definitely the wrong choice. How do you know when a muzzle is helpful? And what type do you choose? There are so many questions around this emotionally charged topic. Learn about the when, why, and how of using a dog muzzle.
Dog muzzles may look controversial. After all, they have an unfair association with “aggressive” dogs. But most canine experts agree that at one point or another there may be a situation when an owner needs to use a muzzle. It might be for the safety of the dog, the safety of a person, or both. For example, if your dog is seriously injured, the risk of a bite jumps significantly. While in severe pain, dogs can bite when you try to transport them or treat their wounds. And there’s no way to predict when such a situation might arise. Therefore, even if you never have to rely on one, it’s a good idea to understand why, when, and how you should use a muzzle. You also need to teach your dog how to tolerate one. Every dog should learn to love wearing a muzzle so if the day comes when you need one, you and your dog won’t be stressed even further.
The following situations make the use of a dog muzzle safe and appropriate:
It seems obvious, but muzzles are used to prevent dog bites. They are not for preventing problem behaviors by forcing your dog’s mouth closed. Do not use a dog muzzle for barking, chewing, or other ongoing behavioral problems. There are two important reasons for this:
Also, never use a muzzle to put your dog in an unnecessarily stressful situation. For example, if your dog can’t handle the dog park, but your friends are all taking their dogs, a muzzle isn’t an appropriate way for your dog to join the group. If you know something upsets your dog, work to change that reaction, don’t muzzle your dog to get through the event. In fact, that can even make the situation worse. Your dog will associate the stressful situation with the muzzle, adding more fear and anxiety the next time around.
The same goes for punishment. Never muzzle your dog to teach a lesson. You will do nothing to fix the underlying problem, and once again, your dog will learn to associate the muzzle with the punishment. Now when you try to muzzle your dog in a legitimate situation like an emergency, your dog will be even more scared and nervous.
There are two main types of muzzles and by making sure you get the right style and fit, you will ensure safe and effective use. You can also make a homemade muzzle in an emergency if there is no other choice. Here are the options:
The first time you put a muzzle on your dog should not be the first time you need to put one on. If your dog’s first introduction to wearing a muzzle happens when he is hurt or terrified, it will be much more difficult to get the muzzle on. And nearly impossible to use the muzzle in the future as your dog will have learned to associate the muzzle with the stressful circumstances. Luckily, a dog can be trained to accept a muzzle if he’s introduced to it under low-stress conditions, with a step-by-step process, and with appropriate rewards.
Bartok was terrified of the vet clinic due to a combination of unstable temperament and a series of unfortunate incidents. We needed to muzzle him for everyone’s safety. The clinic staff did their best to be gentle and patient, but Bart was seriously stressing out, and we needed to help him.
Over a period of several days, here’s what we did—using small, soft treats, and making sure he was comfortable with each step before going on to the next.
If we had introduced the muzzle before Bart associated it with scary things, we probably could have gone through these steps in less than a day—possibly a matter of minutes. We’ve done this with each successive dog, including rescue dogs we’ve fostered. If the dog isn’t interested in treats, you can substitute other rewards. I use verbal praise, but this is optional.
The late Dr. Sophia Yin’s website has a terrific step-by-step guide for training your dog to wear a muzzle. And the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has a video showing a dog being introduced to a muzzle for the first time.
The right fit is key to using a muzzle correctly. Too loose and your dog will be able to remove it; too tight and it will inhibit his ability to breathe, pant, or drink and can cause painful chafing. Straps should be fitted so you can just fit one finger between your dog’s head and the strap. It’s best to try on various sizes and get input from a knowledgeable sales associate. You should also take measurements, especially when ordering online. Even flat faced-dogs like Pugs can wear a muzzle, although a custom-fitted option may be the best solution.
No matter the reason for using a muzzle, or which type you select, it’s crucial to recognize that muzzles are not a solution to behavioral issues. Dog experts agree that a dog muzzle cannot replace consistent, positive training.