Muzzle Training Your Dog
Muzzles are used to reduce the risk a dog poses to people and other animals by restricting the dog's ability to bite. They are commonly used by veterinarians and animal care staff concerned with handling or treating frightened, injured or distressed dogs, as well as anyone managing - or introducing - dogs that may be aggressive to people or other animals. Some municipal bylaws or provincial legislation, such as Ontario's Dog Owners' Liability Act, may require your dog to be muzzled when off your property, or on your property in an unsecured area.
Below are some tips to help guide you as you select a muzzle and present it to your pet. How you introduce a muzzle to your dog can have a significant impact on how quickly he is able to accept wearing it calmly. If your dog is already struggling with wearing a muzzle try incorporating some of the training pointers to help him learn to adjust.
What type of muzzle should I buy for my dog?
It is important to purchase a muzzle that allows for normal breathing, panting and drinking. Basket style muzzles, such as the one pictured below, are recommended by the Ontario SPCA because they allow your pet to be comfortable during regular outdoor activity - however, no muzzle should be worn for a long period of time. The Ontario SPCA does not regard alternative styles of muzzles as appropriate because they restrict the dog's ability to pant, trapping heat inside the dog's body, and prevent the dog from being able to drink water - increasing the dog's vulnerability to overheating and heatstroke.
Where can I buy basket muzzles?
Basket style muzzles are available from most pet supply stores, although you may need to request that your retailer stock or order the item. Plastic or plastic-coated wire basket muzzles are preferred, as uncoated wire baskets can injure your dog in hot or cold weather.
How do I know if the muzzle fits my dog properly?
Basket style muzzles are available in different sizes designed to fit a wide range of dog breeds. You can use size guides from the manufacturer as a general guideline, but you will need to place the muzzle on your dog to determine whether a particular size properly fits your dog's head. A properly fitted basket muzzle should have a strap that sits snugly against your dog's neck. The strap needs to be tight enough to hold the muzzle in place and prevent your dog from pawing the muzzle off, but there should be space for about two fingers to slip between the strap and your dog's neck. The length of the muzzle's "basket" needs to be appropriate for the length of your dog's nose. There should be about 1.25 cm (0.5 in.) of space between the end of your dog's nose and the front of the muzzle's interior.
Once you've found a muzzle that fits your dog properly, it's important to routinely check for any signs that your dog is experiencing discomfort. Although it is natural for your dog to be somewhat uncomfortable wearing the muzzle initially, there should be no signs of chafing, skin irritation or similar injury. You should also check the fit of the muzzle regularly as the muzzle strap may stretch and require adjustment.
How can I help my dog adjust to wearing a muzzle?
Below are four steps to help your dog learn to accept wearing a muzzle. Be patient, and work at a rate that is comfortable for your pet. Most dogs will adjust to the muzzle within a few days to a few weeks.
- Try to make your dog's first experience with the muzzle positive.
Show your dog the muzzle. While she's investigating it give her a treat. After feeding the treat put the muzzle away or out of sight. Repeat this sequence several times, or until your dog looks at you for a treat as soon as you show the muzzle. Your dog's introduction to the muzzle should not be in a fearful or stressful situation.
- Encourage your dog to place his head in the muzzle by luring with treats.
With the muzzle facing your dog, hold or place treats on the inside rim and encourage your dog to take them. If your dog readily takes the treats, start holding or placing the treats further inside the muzzle so that your dog must stick his head deeper into the muzzle to retrieve the treats.
- Increase the time your dog wears the muzzle without fastening it.
Place the muzzle on your dog's head for a couple seconds and feed a treat while the muzzle is still on. Slowly increase the time your dog is wearing it from several seconds to several minutes while rewarding your dog with treats. Remove the muzzle when your dog is calm and quiet.
- Try fastening the muzzle and increase the time worn.
When your dog calmly accepts the muzzle you can try fastening it for increasing lengths of time until she will comfortably wear it for fifteen or twenty minutes. To help your dog adjust to the muzzle more quickly reward her with play, affection, treats, belly rubs or walks - activities your dog enjoys - while she is wearing the muzzle. This will distract your dog and help her associate wearing the muzzle with activities she finds fun or relaxing.
Try to remove the muzzle when your dog is calm. Taking off the muzzle when your dog is struggling to remove it will encourage her to repeat the behavior because she may think it will get the muzzle removed. You can encourage her to leave it alone temporarily by distracting her (for example, clapping your hands, squeaking a squeaky toy, bouncing a ball or giving the leash a gentle tug). Take note that you may be expecting too much too soon. Go back a step and take it slower.