When most dog owners think of muzzles, they tend to get a little bit uncomfortable. We’ve grown to think of muzzles as torture devices, or as warnings that a dog is violent. Even those who see the necessity of muzzles in certain situations feel like they are punishing their dog if they use one. The facts about muzzles are buried under this perception, and today on the blog, we’re going to lay some of that to rest.
The truth is that a muzzle is just a tool, just like any other tool. In fact, when used correctly – and I do want to emphasize that they should be used correctly – muzzles are no more or less cruel than a leash. When you see a dog wearing a muzzle who is otherwise well-behaved, it doesn’t mean that they are a vicious dog. It could mean that the owner knows that they are going into an unfamiliar situation, and is trying to be proactive about everyone’s safety. It could mean that the dog and the owner are working on a new training command. It could even mean that the event you are attending requires muzzles on all dogs regardless of temperament. Whatever the reason, don’t automatically assume that a muzzled dog is dangerous.
That being said, let’s learn a bit about muzzles today, and why these tools could be useful – or not! – for your dog.
Types of Muzzles
There are two main types of muzzles, and both have pros and cons. Additionally, both are technically made for different situations, but either may be used depending on the fit for your dog and many other factors.
The first type is a slip muzzle. This is made out of fabric or mesh and has an opening at the end where the dog’s nose pokes through. Think of these as a tube that slips over the dog’s mouth, and has a neck strap keeping them in place. You may see these at a veterinary clinic because they are cheaper and come in a variety of standard sizes. You don’t necessarily have to have the exact size on these muzzles because the fabric will give just a little bit.
If the muzzle is well-fitted, they don’t allow any room for the dog to pant to cool off.
Slip muzzles are really only meant to be used for short periods, no more than 15 minutes or so. You can also find slip muzzles made out of tougher material, such as leather, or you can find adjustable slip muzzles that are more like loops that keep a dog’s mouth closed. Many of the cute, gimmicky muzzles that are out there are technically slip muzzles since they have an opening at the end, such as this duckbill muzzle.
The second type of muzzle is called a basket muzzle. These are stiff muzzles that cage in the mouth completely, and can be made of many materials. Coated wire, plastic, and leather are commonly seen. You most frequently see these at dog events where muzzles are required for everyone’s safety, because they don’t allow for any of a dog’s mouth to be accessible at any time.
Because the basket cages in the mouth and offers more protection, the dog’s mouth can be freer inside the muzzle, allowing him to pant to cool off.
Plastic and wire basket muzzles are easy to clean.
These muzzles are typically the more humane choice if your dog needs to be muzzled for a longer time period.
The cons of basket muzzles include:
They tend to take longer to put on and get fitted correctly.
It can be harder to find basket muzzles that work for short noses.
Basket muzzles are not as forgiving on the size; you really need to measure and get the proper size for these to work as intended.
In absolute emergencies, you can make your own muzzle by looping pet gauze around their snout and tying in a knot, but this should only be done when necessary, such as if a dog is injured and not allowing you to look at the injury. Another worst-case substitute for a muzzle is a leash, looped around your dog’s snout, then crossed under the chin, pulled back behind the head, and tied into a bow.
So now that you know what types of muzzles exist, and why you might choose one or the other, let’s talk about why you might choose to use a muzzle at all. When used correctly, these should not harm a dog. The biggest issue with a muzzle is using it for too long. A slip muzzle should not be used for more than 15 or so minutes; a basket muzzle should only be used for around an hour, max. If your dog must be muzzled for longer than this, it’s a good idea to take him somewhere private and give him a break periodically.
Here are some situations in which a muzzle may be a good training tool:
If your dog does not like getting shots at the vet, a slip muzzle can keep everyone safe while necessary vaccinations are administered.
If your dog is friendly and well-trained but has not been around a lot of children before, you may want to muzzle them if introducing to a child.
If your dog has a history of reacting unpredictably in new situations, you may want to train them to wear a muzzle at the beginning of new situations, till you can judge how they are feeling.
If your dog tends to be shy and needs space to get used to people before warming up, you may want to use a muzzle as a visual signal to people to give your dog space when out in a crowded area.
In any kind of emergency when a dog is injured, it is their instinct to protect their wound, not to let a person examine it. A muzzle can help protect you and the medical help.
If you are at a canine sporting event or show, it may be required to use a muzzle in order to prevent any accidents. With a lot of dogs and a lot of energy in one space, it can be overly stimulating for an otherwise well-behaved dog.
Finally, a muzzle would be worn for a brief time period during a focused training exercise wherein you are teaching your dog to accept a muzzle without complaint.
As you can see, most of the reasons to use a muzzle are for the dog’s comfort and everyone’s safety. Nowhere on the list do you see anything about punishing a dog.
2 Reasons Not to Use a Muzzle
There is never a reason to use a muzzle to correct or prevent behavioral problems. For example, if your dog barks or chews a lot, never use a muzzle to get them to “shut up for a while”! That is inhumane, and it’s what has caused people to think muzzles are bad. There are two main reasons that muzzles should not be used as behavioral correctors:
First, muzzles should only be used for short periods of time. They can prevent a dog from cooling down properly, or from eating and drinking. Never use a muzzle for longer than the time period that a vet or professional trainer recommends.
Second, behavioral issues are not solved by stopping the action itself, but by figuring out the underlying reason and either solving it or training your dog out of the behavior in a positive way. For example, excessive chewing could be the sign of boredom. Give your dog a fun toy instead, or start exercising him more often, to relieve the boredom, and you’ll usually find that the chewing will calm down.
Sometimes after a dog has reacted to a situation poorly, such as biting or snapping at another dog or a person, they will have a muzzle put on them temporarily. You need to know that this is not a punishment for the behavior itself, but rather a way to calm the situation down and keep everyone safe until the situation can be de-escalated. It’s never a good idea to punish a dog with a muzzle because that will only make him fearful. It’s better to solve the problem that caused the bad reaction in the first place.
Now that you know what is and isn’t a good reason to use a muzzle, it’s time to talk about how to get your dog to accept a muzzle in the first place. Obviously it’s not going to be a popular idea at first with your dog – would you want your mouth held shut by something attached to your face? But over time, dogs will learn that they aren’t going to be in the muzzle for long, and that the muzzle doesn’t physically hurt them when used correctly. So here are some training tips:
Start by letting them sniff the muzzle. Don’t do anything else for that training period. You may want to do this a few times.
Spend another few training periods simply touching his nose with the muzzle, and then giving him a treat. You want him to associate the muzzle with good things, like food.
Teach him to reach “through” the muzzle to get the treat. Do this by holding the muzzle up in front of his face, with your other hand holding the treat just behind the muzzle. Do this until he no longer hesitates to reach through the muzzle for the treat. If you are using a basket muzzle, of course you’ll have to feed the treat through the wires or straps.
Next, begin putting the muzzle on him without snapping it closed, and give him a treat right after. Take the muzzle off right after putting it on.
Now you can put the muzzle on, buckle it closed, and then take it right back off. Always treat right after doing this.
Now you can add a count of five before taking the muzzle off. Over each training period, increase the number of seconds that you count before taking the muzzle off. Always hold the dog’s collar when the muzzle is on, and give treats right when the muzzle comes off.
It’s important to do this muzzle training before anything goes wrong. Imagine trying to introduce a dog to a muzzle for the first time when he’s injured! Even if you never plan to be in any unfamiliar situations ever, it’s still a good idea to make sure your dog knows what a muzzle is.
There’s one more very important thing when it comes to muzzles that can make them much more humane to use. Getting the measurement right on a muzzle, or getting the fit right on an adjustable muzzle, is important. If it’s too loose, it won’t do its job. If it’s too tight, your dog will be in pain. Always follow the measuring chart when ordering a muzzle online, or try on various sizes in a store to ensure that you’re getting the right size. If you haven’t introduced your dog to a muzzle yet, and want to get the right size, consider asking your vet to help you measure your dog with their collection of muzzles.
Now that you know the facts about muzzles, it’s pretty easy to see that these are not the cruel torture devices that they are made out to be. But it’s obviously very important to use them correctly, or else they can become bad for dogs. Never use a muzzle to correct a behavioral problem. That won’t solve anything. Only use them in situations where you can’t predict how your dog might act, and want to protect everyone – including your dog!