Muzzles on dogs often evoke unfair stereotypical reactions. The dog may not be wearing the muzzle because it is aggressive and, even if it is, it doesn't mean the dog is "bad" — just that the owner is responsible. As long as you have the right muzzle for your dog, guided by your veterinarian, a muzzle could be a practical choice.
Why Might a Dog Wear a Muzzle?
History of Aggressive Behavior
If a dog has a history of aggression, with other dogs or people, using a muzzle as a management tool can minimize the risk in certain situations.
Some dogs may always need muzzled, but it may be possible to teach your dog to offer an alternative, more desirable behavior and to help them feel more relaxed and safe, often with the support of a qualified Canine Behaviorist.
In Sudden Frightening/Painful Situations
Some dogs may not usually be aggressive, but if they are in a very uncomfortable situation, and their warning signs are ignored (often in the vets or groomers), they may feel they have no choice but to snap or bite. If your dog is in pain, they may react in a way that is out of character. If they have had a severe injury, a muzzle may be needed while moving them.
Breed Specific Legislation (BSL)
Sadly, some states have legislation that mandates particular breeds are muzzled when in public places. While BSL does not provide a solution for the real problem of irresponsible dog ownership and it is discriminatory towards dogs that are often extremely gentle, to avoid your dog being seized, these rules should be followed.
High Prey Drive
Some dogs have an instinctual high prey drive and, while it is better not to have them off-leash where they could give chase, they may try to snatch smaller animals even when they are on the leash, and a muzzle could prevent injury or fatality.
Some dogs are notorious scavengers on walks, and they can end up with serious gastric upsets or blockages. While a muzzle is not a foolproof solution, it can help minimize what your dog may ingest. Working on strong "leave it" and "drop it" commands is also recommended.
Traveling on Public Transport
In certain countries and on certain modes of public transport, dogs may be allowed to travel but only if they wear a muzzle.
Which Muzzle is Best?
There are a variety of muzzles on the market. Many favor aesthetics over practicality, and it is crucial that you choose a well-fitting muzzle that allows your dog to pant freely, take treats and drink water. Also, take guidance from your veterinarian whenever possible.
The basket muzzle, is generally the best choice, but people veer away from it as it tends to be the most noticeable. A well-fitting basket muzzle is effective while still allowing your dog the opportunity to pant easily.
This softer style muzzle is often popular as it is the least obtrusive. To allow it to be effective, it needs to be pretty tight-fitting, but dogs are at risk for overheating. While it is okay to use for short sessions at the vet or the groomer, it is not suitable for walks or extended periods.
When Is a Muzzle Not the Best Solution?
Sometimes, muzzles are used for the wrong reasons. This can cause pain or discomfort, and it can lead to alternative problem behaviors.
If a dog has not been properly introduced to wearing a muzzle, it can be a frightening—even traumatizing—experience. Some owners will use it as a form of punishment for undesired behavior. Usually, the dog will not associate the two things, so it is not effective long term. It can also erode the bond of trust between you and could cause them to snap when the muzzle appears.
To Stop Barking
Muzzles are sometimes used to try to stop barking. While this may work temporarily (if the dog is terrified of the muzzle), the dog can still bark when wearing one unless it's way too tight. It's much better to use positive training methods with your dog.
To Stop Destructive Behavior
If your dog has been chewing on household items, a muzzle may seem a good solution. However, it is not a good idea to leave a muzzle on for prolonged periods, especially when unsupervised, and you are not addressing the underlying issue. You should establish why your dog is being destructive and work on resolving this. Perhaps they are bored and need more stimulation, or they could be stressed as a result of separation anxiety.
How to Train Your Dog to Accept a Muzzle
Always start by offering a tasty treat every time you bring the muzzle into your dog's view. You want them to associate it with good things. Next, lay it on the ground and reward your dog every time they voluntarily move towards it, working up to them actively touching it.
Then, encourage them to put their snout into the muzzle for just a second. Never force their snout in. Build up the time they have their snout inside gradually. Initially, you could use a treat or doggy-safe peanut butter on the inside of the muzzle. Once they are relaxed with this stage, move on to fastening it around their ears. The length of time it is fastened should be built up over several sessions.
Always introduce the training sessions in a low-stress, familiar environment, and make sure that you keep the training sessions short (five minutes maximum), use high-value rewards, and don't try to go too fast or skip any steps.