If you were like me and grew up watching Disney movies like Lady and the Tramp then you may think that muzzles are for aggressive dogs only. Muzzles have this innate ability to make people afraid of the dog wearing them. This negative energy from people may make the dog more anxious and confused, and therefore more reactive. The truth though, is that muzzles don’t have to have a negative association. When used properly, they are effective, safe and beneficial to both dogs and humans.
When To Use a Dog Muzzle
There are many uses for muzzles that don’t involve dogs that are normally aggressive – they’re even a great training tool!
You can use them:
- to prevent bites in general
- for shy dogs around new people
- for fearful dogs in situations that scare them
- for dogs in pain due to injury or sickness
- for trips to the vet
- for trips to the groomer
- for emergencies
- to introduce other species (cats, hamsters, horses, kids/babies!)
The reality is that once a dog learns that a bite is the most effective way of communicating their anxiousness or fearfulness or whatever is making them uncomfortable, it is very hard to teach them not to bite. Making them comfortable wearing the muzzle, however, and then slowly introducing them to things that make them fearful will keep everyone involved safe.
Does my dog have to live with a muzzle on her for her whole life?
No! Don’t worry, this is not a lifetime jail sentence for your dog. This is a training tool to help keep you at ease so you can focus on training and desensitizing your dog to whatever makes her anxious. Once they get used to the situation or stimuli, you can work on introducing them to the muzzle in similar situations.
When Not To Use a Dog Muzzle
While dog muzzles do have multiple valid uses, there are still times where you won’t want to use a muzzle.
You don’t want to use a muzzle on your dog for:
- extended periods of time
- stopping barking
- punishment for something
You don’t want to use muzzles for extended periods of time because it does affect the dog’s ability to pant, drink and eat. This is especially true on hot days.
You don’t want to use muzzles for barking because it won’t fix the underlying behaviour.
Using the muzzle as a tool for punishment is also a bad idea because it will make your dog associate the muzzle with something bad. When you need to use the muzzle for safety, in an emergency, or for training, you’ll then be fighting with your dog’s negative association, which can cause the dog to become anxious and possible act out. You want to build healthy associations for your dog with muzzles by using them at the right time.
How To Treat Dogs With Muzzles On
When you use muzzles for the right reasons, you’ll be helping others realize that dogs in muzzles don’t need to be scary. You can also help improve that stigma by making a conscious effort to change the way you react to seeing other dogs wearing muzzles when you’re out.
Your goal should be to act relaxed, move in a natural, controlled manner and not project any anxiousness or negative energy yourself – dogs are great at picking up on all the emotions we feel.
Next time you are at the dog park or walking your dog and you see a dog with a muzzle, I challenge you to stop and talk to the owner about why he/she chose to protect their dog with a muzzle. Just like dogs, the more we experience things with positive outcomes, the more we will feel comfortable and the more we will understand! Now give yourself a cookie (and your dog one too!)
How to Train Your Dog To Wear A Muzzle
So, now that you understand when to use a muzzle, and when not to, it’s time to dive into how you actually go about using one with your dog.
Here’s a step by step process to help your dog love their muzzle. For the best chance of success, go at your pups pace, moving onto the next step when they are comfortable with the first. Here’s a great poster on dogs body language to help you tell if your dog is feeling uncomfortable or anxious. Slow is best and will create a positive association with the muzzle. This may mean it could take an hour, a day, a week or more depending on the confidence of your pup; you know them best!
Step One – Choose the Right Muzzle
Choose a muzzle that is right for your dog. Here is a great website that COMPARES DIFFERENT TYPES OF MUZZLES for you to learn more about which is best for your dog. My favorite is the BASKERVILLE Ultra Muzzle because the dog can take treats through it, it washes easily and most importantly, the dogs can still pant, which keeps them cool and safe!
Step Two – Introduce the Muzzle
Introduce the muzzle to your dog by just having it on the ground beside them and give a high-value treat* when they acknowledge it. This includes them looking at it, smelling it, picking it up or stepping on it. Remember to have positive energy and tone of voice when praising and use your finger to point it out to them as opposed to forcing them to acknowledge it.
*Use high value treats like chicken, freeze-dried liver, or whatever makes your dog excited to work. My dog loves eggs, so we scramble some up when we are training (making sure to let them cool before feeding them to her).
Step Three – Holding The Muzzle
Pick the muzzle up and repeat step two with the muzzle in your hands. This way your dog will get used to you picking it up and see it as an extension of you; which should be a great thing.
Step Four – Voluntary Nose Placement
Put a high-value treat in the muzzle or hold the treat on the outside of the muzzle. Allow your dog to voluntarily put their nose into the muzzle and eat a treat while they feel the tool on their skin. If they aren’t interested in doing that, go back to step three and try with treats close to the muzzle. Make sure that your dog is doing the moving towards the muzzle and you aren’t pushing the muzzle onto their snout.
Step Five – Name The Action
Once your dog is comfortable putting their nose in the muzzle, you can start adding a word or words to use to let them know that you’d like them to put on the muzzle. You can use this during step six as well.
Step Six – Buckle The Muzzle
Now you can start buckling up the muzzle and giving a treat at the sound of the click, then taking it off. This may be a quick step if your dog is used to the sound of the click that their collar or harness makes. You can also name this before the noise so, they learn to anticipate it. I use “snap” just before I click it, but feel free to use whatever you want.
Step Seven – Wear It Longer
Of course, you want your dog to be comfortable wearing the muzzle for longer periods of time, so keep increasing the length of time the muzzle is on. Treat your dog when they remain calm and don’t try to paw it off. If they start to get agitated, you may have to go back a few steps and build up to a longer time.
Step Eight – Keep It Fresh
Continue creating a positive experience every time you need to use the muzzle. Treats, treats, treats! If you plan to use only in emergencies, I would suggest making a monthly reminder on your calendar to keep up training the positive association.
If you use all these steps then I believe you will have a dog that loves their muzzle!
As with any training, patience is key. If you feel yourself getting frustrated, take a step back and try again later that day or the next. Try to be consistent in training every day, small 10 minute bursts of training work better than working an hour once a week. Good luck and have fun with it, breaking up training with a little play will increase the bond you have with your dog, help build trust, and in turn will make it easier to train!