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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.
That being said, let’s learn a bit about muzzles today, and why these tools could be useful – or not! – for your dog.
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.
The pros behind a slip muzzle include:
Cons for slip muzzles include:
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.
The pros of a basket muzzle include:
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:
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:
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.
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:
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:
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.
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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!