There can be many reasons why you might want to muzzle your dog, there is a proper way to go about it to ensure you do not have a lifelong battle every time you want to put it on and you and more importantly the dog doesn’t get anxious and stressed leading to further behaviour problems. Do not expect your dog just to accept a muzzle being put straight on. All the following advice is assuming your dog has never worn a muzzle before. The younger they are introduced to a muzzle, the more successful the acceptance will be.
The muzzle can be necessary in a number of cases.
Certain breeds are required by law to wear a muzzle
Some behavioural modification or training procedures may require it
When introducing a new puppy or other animal into the family
In some cases of pain related aggression
What type of muzzle?
There are two types of muzzles available, a nylon (groomers muzzle) and a basket muzzle. The nylon muzzle is a strip of nylon that keeps your dog’s mouth virtually shut and is not too obvious that they are wearing it. The basket muzzle is the “Hannibal Lector” muzzle, a big basket that goes over their nose and is very obvious. For short term use, such as a trip to get the nails trimmed, a nylon muzzle is often suitable, but almost always for medium to long term use, a basket muzzle is best, as a dog can open their mouth to pant and to drink while wearing it, however, the basket muzzle can cause harm if it is used to jab another dog or a person.
At the vets they often use nylon muzzle, however dogs cannot open their mouths well to pant, which they do when they are stressed and the vets is often a stressful situation, especially if they are being made to wear a muzzle and are not used to it.
When is muzzling appropriate?
Some dogs snap when they are being groomed, having their nails clipped or being examined, in this case, a nylon muzzle is the most appropriate so that the handler is not injured by the jab of the basket muzzle as long as the dog is not too stressed and it is a nice cool environment. Muzzles may also be used in training if the dog has behavioural issues for the trainers safety. If dogs are on a group walk and they have a slight history of dog aggression, but nothing serious they may be muzzled so they can socialise with the other dogs not at risk of being bitten.
How to teach your dog to wear a muzzle
Planning is the name of the game here. Remember, a muzzle is a precautionary measure, not a torture devise.. Start by teaching your dog that their muzzle is fun. A treat filled delight. As with most things, being prepared in advance of the training session will improve success. The aim of the training is for your dog to be as pleased to see the muzzle as most dogs are when they see a lead.
Regardless of which type of muzzle is used, the dog should be familiarised with it before use. This can easily be accomplished by pairing food with the muzzle. Choose a time when the dog is relaxed but not tired and there is very little distractions. For the nylon muzzle, stick a small treat through the bottom and let the dog place his nose into the muzzle to take the treat. For the basket muzzle, place a treat into the basket and let the dog take it, while their nose is in the muzzle to reach the treats, gently pull the muzzle away before they get a chance to back out of it.
Repeat a few times, and as the dog becomes more comfortable, progressively begin to place the muzzle on the dog, using incremental steps, Squeezy cheese or dog meat paste can be smeered inside the muzzle to take longer for them to lick it out. For example, dog takes the treat, release, then dog take s the treat and hold for five second, release; as dog becomes comfortable, dog takes treat, move muzzle back over dog’s muzzle, release; next step, bring straps up behind ears, release; eventually, as dog becomes comfortable, attach straps, feed through muzzle, release.
Then begin to practice with the muzzle in different places, but expect to have to revert back to treats inside
If your dog pulls backwards out of muzzle during a training session, remember you need to remove the muzzle from their nose before they moves backwards. Use a soft suitable food to encourage them to lick for longer and take the muzzle away before they have finished eating. Dogs will often try to follow the muzzle and push their nose inside it as it is withdrawn, which is exactly what you want to happen.
If your dog tries to rub the muzzle off with a paw or by sliding their nose along the floor then distract them by calling their in a joyful tone of voice, making a kissing sound or using the lead to gently encourage them to move. Do not draw attention to what they are doing. When they have stopped trying to remove the muzzle then keep the muzzle on for a few seconds longer, feeding treats through it as necessary, then remove it. Go back a few stages in the training and build up the time again. Do not remove the muzzle while your dog is trying to take it off as this will teach him that pawing gets the muzzle removed.
Your dog is not interested in food / treats so use the muzzle as their food bowl, feeding all meals from the muzzle while you hold it in your hands. Alternatively do training sessions immediately before they are fed. If your dog has constant access to dry food in a bowl then switch to meal feeding for the duration of the training.
If your dog is already frightened of the muzzle, then either buy a new one that looks different or leave the muzzle lying around somewhere your dog can see it but isn’t scared by it. Do not draw attention to it, and move it every few days until they no longer reacts when they see it. At this point pick up the muzzle when they are around and if he no longer reacts then throw them a treat. Repeat several times and then follow the rest of training.
Please note: Muzzling an aggressive dog can be a good management solution in a particular situation, but a muzzle should not be used as a substitute for behaviour modification if you are using the muzzle as you fear the dog may bite, you should ask “ can I prevent them from feeling this?” If your dog has aggression issues, contact a knowledgeable trainer for assistance. Aggressive behaviour is often motivated by fear, frustration or predation and can be changed through the use of appropriate desensitisation and counter conditioning techniques. Never try to match aggressive behaviour from your dog with aggressive behaviour of your own.