In the past, muzzles were most often associated with aggression. For many owners, this negative association can make muzzling a dog unsettling. Owners do not want people to think their dog is mean, dangerous, or untrained. The reality is that there are many different scenarios’s where muzzles are necessary for our dogs; muzzles are not just for aggression.
Dog muzzles may look scary and controversial, but most canine experts agree that at one point or another there will probably be a situation when an owner needs to use a muzzle, for the safety of the dog, a person, or both.
If or when these scenarios arise, it is very helpful if your dog perceives the muzzle as a positive experience. Quite often the dog’s first encounter with a muzzle is in a stressful situation. This could be at the vet when the dog has sustained a painful injury, or when the dog may become reactive or difficult to handle out of fear, or panic. A muzzle may also be necessary for some dogs during grooming or due to breed specific legislation. 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.
Teaching your dog to wear a muzzle isn’t as tough as it seems, but you need to practice patience and consistency and work to make your pup associate it with positive things. Use whatever reward system your pet responds to the most, whether this is treats, a toy, affection or a clicker.
The first step is choosing the appropriate muzzle for your dog, and making sure to get the correct size. There are generally two different types of muzzles: mesh/cloth muzzles (image at beginning of blog), or basket/baskerville muzzles (image below).
Mesh/cloth muzzles are generally the best type to use for muzzle-training purposes as they are soft/flexible, and have a large opening at the end for the dog’s nose. This makes treat-reward training quick and easy. The downfall with these muzzles is that, if fitted properly, they do now allow the dog to open their mouth to pant, and the dog still has the ability to bite with its front teeth. These muzzles should never be used during extensive exercise, or for extended periods of time.
Basket/Baskerville muzzles are generally the best type to use for long term. Its’ open basket weave allows the dog to breathe freely, and drink water, while still being fully enclosed to prevent any chance of biting. These muzzles are usually not as suitable for initial muzzle-training because it can be difficult to feed treats through the smaller holes, and some dogs may find them more intimidating.
The next step is to encourage your dog to accept the muzzle willingly. The key with muzzle training is to go slow and never force the muzzle on your dog. Work at your dogs’ pace to encourage and reward them for showing interest in the muzzle, slowly encouraging your dog to get closer to the muzzle, and eventually put their nose into the muzzle on their own.
Muzzle training, just like any other training, should be fun and relaxed! Take your time, be consistent, and make it a positive experience for both you and your dog!
Written by: Jessica McKay, RVT