There’s an unfortunate stigma surrounding muzzles that always conjures up images of aggressive dogs. In truth, a properly muzzled dog should be a sign of a responsible pet owner who takes the safety of their dog and the public seriously. There are many situations when muzzling is beneficial, but you need to know how to use it properly to minimize the stress on your dog.
When to Keep Your Dog Muzzled
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Whether or not your dog has a history of biting, consider using a muzzle during the following circumstances:
In uncomfortable situations.
Even the most docile dog can bite when they feel scared or threatened. It could even be a response to something you normally do but they apparently hate. But generally, dogs feel uncomfortable during vet visits and grooming sessions, where they’re exposed to unfamiliar people and subjected to strange and sometimes painful procedures. If you eliminate the threat of dog bites by simply using a muzzle, vets and groomers can do their jobs more effectively.
When facing new experiences.
If they’re visiting new places or meeting new animals and people for the first time, it’s a good idea to use a muzzle. Even if they’re properly socialized, dogs can bite as a reaction to something new and unpleasant. Always observe for signs of fear and stress, and remove them from the situation if they’re too uncomfortable. That should prevent your dog from reacting aggressively. Nevertheless, keeping your dog muzzled in cases like this will give you ample protection from physical harm and liability.
If your dog gets hurt, pain and fear might lead them to exhibit some aggressive behaviors. The same is true during high-tension or stressful situations like when someone else in the household is having a medical emergency. In such circumstances, you’ll benefit from the peace of mind you’ll get from using a muzzle. You’ll also be better able to attend to the emergency at hand.
During behavior modification training.
When a dog already has aggressive tendencies and a history of biting, it’s a good idea to use a muzzle during training. Even if you’ve already developed a good rapport with the dog, eliminating the risk of a bite will help you handle them more confidently and, consequently, more effectively. It also allows you to expose them to more situations you wouldn’t otherwise attempt for fear of putting other people or animals at risk.
To follow breed-specific legislation.
In some places, owners of specific breeds are legally required to keep their dogs in muzzles outside their homes. Despite the highly controversial nature of breed-specific legislation, there are some mandatory muzzling laws on pit bulls and pit bull mixes in several American cities.
Types of Muzzles for Dogs
All muzzles function the same way. But, choosing the right one is crucial to your dog’s comfort. Generally, there are three types of muzzles to choose from.
Photo by Maja Dumat. (CC BY 2.0)
The basket muzzle, also referred to as the Baskerville muzzle, is a rigid structure that’s secured using straps that go behind the ears. Put simply, these are specially shaped baskets that enclose the dog’s mouth, but don’t touch it. So, the dog has enough space for necessary functions like barking and panting. Depending on the design, some make it possible for dogs to drink water and pick up treats while muzzled. This type is ideal for most situations.
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Sleeve muzzles, also known as tube muzzles, are made of soft materials and go around the snout without covering the nose. This type is not a good option for keeping your dog comfortably muzzled because it prevents them from opening their mouths, which makes even panting difficult. However, because they are easy to put on, they’re ideal for emergencies. These are also often used by groomers who keep them on only for short periods of time.
Photo by Wilfredor.
Brachycephalic muzzles are made for dogs with short snouts and so wouldn’t fit your typical basket or sleeve muzzle. These muzzles are typically made of nylon mesh and resemble masks that cover the entire head. The mesh allows for good vision, but some models don’t cover the eyes at all, so your dog can see properly. Breeds that need this type of muzzle include bulldogs, boxers, and pugs.
There are many other types of muzzles, but most are hybrids or derivatives of the main types listed above.
Choosing the Correct Muzzle Size for Your Dog
Photo by Jan Jablunka. (CC BY 2.0)
Using an ill-fitting muzzle is not only unsafe but also cruel. Finding the right size is crucial to using this tool effectively while keeping your dog comfortable. Although most muzzles come with convenient breed-based sizing charts, it’s always best to double-check the fit before making a purchase.
When trying on a basket muzzle, make sure that the length is flush against your dog’s nose but not pressing down on it. A muzzle that’s longer than your dog’s snout will affect their line of sight, so it’s a good idea to size down. The circumference, on the other hand, should at least be an inch larger than your dog’s snout. That way, they’re still able to pant and bark.
Sleeve muzzles are easier to size because they’re flush against the dog’s snout. You just need to make sure they’re not too tight as to cause any pain. On the other hand, brachycephalic muzzles should cover a dog’s face loosely but not enough to move around.
Training Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle
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It’s crucial that you teach your dog to use a muzzle even before you need one. Otherwise, they might become fearful and even more aggressive when they finally wear one. For proper muzzle conditioning, start them young and take the following steps:
Step 1: Familiarization
Your dog will naturally be curious, and maybe even suspicious, of anything new. When you get a muzzle, allow them to examine it first. Let them sniff, lick, and play with it until they’re comfortable with its presence. Before then, don’t even attempt to put it on.
Step 2: Positive Association
Hold the muzzle against their face, but don’t secure it. Feed them treats through it and praise them in order to teach your dog to enjoy the muzzle and have positive associations with it. You can even coat the tip with peanut butter and let them lick it before putting it down.
Step 3: Trial
When they no longer resist it, it’s time to put the muzzle on. At first, keep it on only for short periods and lengthen the time as they get more comfortable. Then, try it in different environments. This is the longest, most tedious part of the process, but it’s important to condition them to use it in a variety of situations. Throughout that time, don’t forget the treats and the praises. Also, remove the muzzle whenever your dog shows any signs of distress.
Step 4: Use
Once your dog wears the muzzle, they shouldn’t resist it or try to take it off. When you get to that point in their conditioning and can keep it on for more extended periods, you can start using it during your walks or whenever the situation calls for it.
Conditioning your dog to feel comfortable wearing a muzzle will prove to be useful throughout their life. Many times, you will find yourself in situations your dog might find strange, terrifying, or unpleasant. In those instances, a muzzle is your best tool for keeping everyone, including your dog, safe.