Do you know that not all dogs who wear muzzles are aggressive?
If you see a muzzled dog and assume he’s dangerous, then think again. Some dogs need to wear a muzzle to protect them from themselves, like the scavenger addicted to eating things he shouldn’t.
Why Dogs Wear Muzzles
Some dogs are serial golf ball swallowers and have had so many repeat bowel surgeries to remove objects that their veterinarian jokes about putting in a zipper. But truly this is no laughing matter because gut operations carry a higher risk of complications than many other sorts of surgery.
Indeed, some dogs are muzzled because they are frightened. If you’re scratching your head wondering how that works, these are the dogs that came from puppy mills and were poorly socialized in younger life. They never learnt how to read dog body language and as a result had a bad experience with a black dog (for example), which means they now have an abiding fear of such dogs.
The problem is when these fearful dogs go for a walk, they are so frightened that their “fight or flight” reflex cuts in, and their body screams at them to fight to stay safe. When they see a black dog they strain at the leash, snarling and snapping, seemingly eager to taste blood…whereas inside their head they’re a terrified puppy who never learnt the social skills needed to get along with other dogs.
Then there are dogs that are aggressive, for a myriad of reasons that result in potentially dangerous displays of growling and gnashing teeth. For these dogs, wearing a muzzle is a responsible thing to do as it protects canine cousins and pet parents alike from being hurt.
What Types of Muzzles are There?
If you are thinking that it might be best for your dog to wear a muzzle, it helps to know what’s available and the features to look for.
Muzzle types can be broadly divided into two types: Groomers’ muzzles (made from nylon) and basket muzzles. Each have different features, so decide which is best for your dog.
These are popular because they are lightweight and are more discrete that a basket muzzle. They are made from a wide strip of nylon that wraps around the mouth and are held in place with straps behind the ears.
On the plus side:
- They are inexpensive to buy and are washable
- They fit conveniently in a pocket, ready to pop on the dog when needed
- They give some protection against bites
- The dog can accept small treats whilst wearing (good for training purposes)
- The dog can lap water whilst wearing
- They’re good to wear for short periods of time, such as when being groomed
On the minus side:
- When tight enough to prevent biting, they can inhibit panting, which leads to overheating
- Not ideal for dogs to wear whilst exercising (for the above reason)
- They aren’t 100% effective if a dog is determined to bite (more suited to the occasional snap)
- Never use a groomer’s muzzle to prevent barking
These are much more effective than groomer’s muzzles but can make a dog look super scary, the main reason some people dislike them. They take the form of a basket made of plastic or wire, which loosely encloses the muzzle, and is held in place with straps.
On the plus side:
- The basket design allows the dog to pant, and the muzzle is cooler
- The design favored by veterinary behaviorists for the above reason
- Good security against bites as the entire mouth is enclosed
- Some models are designed to allow you to feed treats through the basket
On the minus side:
- More expensive and bulky than groomer’s muzzles
- Can make a dog look fearsome
- Not all designs facilitate giving treats (for training purposes)
- Dogs can still “muzzle punch” or use the muzzle as a weapon to bludgeon people or other dogs.
How Do I Train my Dog to Like a Muzzle?
You have a dog with “issues” and decide a muzzle is the way to go. However, when you tried to put the muzzle on him, he went bonkers and you couldn’t get it on.
OK, simply muzzling your dog and expecting him to be happy about it is a bit like being put in a straight-jacket and expecting to break out in a grin. Instead, approach things in steps and help the dog to build positive associations with the muzzle.
To do this, leave it in his toy box for a few days so he gets used to the sight and smell of it. If he sniffs at it to investigate, be sure to tell him he’s a good boy and give a treat. This lets him start to see the muzzle as a means of earning rewards. Then reward him for sniffing the muzzle when it’s in your hand. To make it extra appealing, try dropping a treat inside. If he reaches inside for the treat, praise him.
Once he’s happy fishing for treats inside the muzzle, start popping the muzzle on for the few seconds it takes him to eat the treat. Then, you got it, praise and reward him when you take it off. Gradually extend the amount of time he’s wearing the muzzle, and keep building those positive associations. And once he happily keeps the muzzle on for longer periods of time, offer treats through the muzzle.
So there we have it: a muzzle trained dog.
If you are a pet parent, know that muzzling your dog if he has “issues” is the responsible thing to do. If you are a fellow dog walker, know that not all dogs in muzzles are aggressive. Some are simply too greedy for their own good – or terribly frightened.