Like many other hot topics in dog training, the use of a muzzle has a lot of stigma around it. For most people, seeing a muzzled dog walking down the street automatically causes feelings of panic as the dog is assumed to be unpredictable. There are many positive uses for a muzzle, and ensuring any dog is properly muzzle trained can be a huge relief should any situation arise where your dog might have to don one of these Hannibal Lecter masks.
First, let’s discuss types of muzzles that are available. Nylon muzzles that wrap around the dog’s mouth and have an opening at the end seem to be increasingly popular as they ‘look nicer’. As with many tools created to have the image of being more kind to a dog, these muzzles can actually cause a dog’s breathing to be inhibited due to the pressure on the nose. It forcibly holds a dog’s mouth shut, and while yes, that may be the perceived ideal effect of a muzzle, it can cause harm to a dog. Really, a muzzle is just meant to keep a dog from biting, it shouldn’t restrict the dog.
That being said, I personally prefer basket muzzles for your average dog and for training purposes. These allow the dog to eat treats, drink water, and breathe without inhibition and do not create unnecessary discomfort. You can also find some heavy duty leather muzzles with closed ends. These are more frequently seen in avenues with sport or police k9s during training, and are a bit of overkill for your average pet dog since they can be quite heavy.
Training a dog to wear a muzzle should be taken slowly and be made to be a very positive experience for a dog. Taking a basket muzzle, hold a high value reward through the opening where the nose will enter. I like to use large chunks of hot dogs or string cheese, so as the dog’s face remains in the muzzle, they can continue to get little nibbles off of the larger piece. Place the muzzle in front of the dog, and lure them to place their face in with the food.
As they go to put their face into the muzzle, mark the behavior with something like ‘muzzle’ so they are anticipating placing their face in the equipment. Once they calmly place their face in the muzzle and receive the reward, remove the muzzle and reward for calmly taking the equipment off as well. As the dog becomes more and more comfortable, increase the amount of time you leave the gear on them and then begin to attach the straps behind their ears.
“As the dog becomes more and more comfortable, increase the amount of time you leave the gear on them and then begin to attach the straps behind their ears.”
When you can comfortably place the muzzle on the dogs face and buckle it, begin teaching your dog to move comfortably without fussing. Holding the treat in the same way, begin walking with your dog, using the food to keep their head up from scratching at the muzzle. Start with constant rewards where they are continually nibbling pieces, and move to sporadic rewards every few steps as their comfort increases. The goal is to keep the dog’s attention on you instead of on the equipment they are wearing.
Muzzles are a very useful tool that every dog should be conditioned to wear. Some dogs need to wear them for vet visits, when traveling, or even for sport work. Conditioning your dog properly to a muzzle before it becomes a necessity for them to wear it is a great precautionary training exercise that makes donning the muzzle itself a positive experience for any dog.
If you enjoyed this post, you should read Dealing With Mange here.
I have had to use a muzzle a time or two-have you? Share the reason below!