A hot topic at the moment is muzzles! Whether you use a muzzle because you have to, or because you’ve decided it would be the best choice for your dog, it’s important to appreciate how useful they are and the importance of teaching your dog how to accept wearing one.
Why might you need a muzzle?
A muzzle doesn’t mean a dog is aggressive, usually (especially in a veterinary setting) it’s quite the opposite. We really need to move away from this as a stigma. Many people are against the use of muzzles in daily life, or in the vets because they feel it is an accusation of their dog being aggressive or posing a danger. Yes, it is to protect others but also to protect the dog that is wearing the muzzle too!
In the Vets – no one ever goes to the vets expecting a lovely trip out, and that’s the same for your dog! Often, it’s because they’re in pain, or the vet is going to examine something painful or administer medication. Dogs are always more stressed in the vets, they’re busy, there’s smells of other (stressed) animals and the usual time for a chilled out meet and greet with a new person goes straight out of the window.
- Muzzles are a fantastic tool to help protect veterinary staff from a reflex bite! Often the more timid, quieter dogs are the most likely to react in that way, seeming to go from 0-60 without any warning.
- Muzzles make the visit quicker and less stressful for your dog. If the vet can be efficient with no drama and struggle to restrain your dog, it will be much less stressful for them. If followed up with tons of praise and a treat, it’s even better!
Out for walks – you never know what you’re going to come across on a walk. For some dogs it is safer for themselves and others if they have a muzzle on.
- Prey drive – some dogs have a very high prey drive. A Greyhound, for example, may see and run after a small animal hundreds of metres in the distance, once that sets in, recall can disappear and it is important to make sure they don’t cause any injuries in case of an accident. (Please remember that you can never be sure that your dog won’t chase prey animals such as sheep or rabbits, and if chased it can be incredibly traumatising for them.)
- ‘Dog aggression’ – if you know your dog doesn’t like meeting other dogs, overreacts in social situations, or has even had a bad experience in the past then having a muzzle on is always safer.
- Not keen on new people – it may seem like common sense to not rush straight up to a dog you don’t know, but often people do. Children can be unpredictable and have very variable dog knowledge and experience, so if you are ever worried about how your dog reacts around new people it is best to wear a muzzle to prevent any accidents. A yellow ‘nervous’ collar or lead may also be useful.
- Scavengers - it's in a dogs nature to scavenge anything tasty they can get their mouths round but this can cause gut upset or obstructions if they pick up the wrong things! Muzzles can be very useful to prevent this behaviour.
- I don’t have a choice – unfortunately hundreds, if not thousands of dogs and their owners will have received the news yesterday regarding the legislation relating to ‘XL Bullies’. It will be compulsory that these ‘types’ will be required to wear a muzzle in public places. It’s important to start the training now, so that your dog tolerates a muzzle, before the transition period ends.
Baskets are Best…
For most dogs, in most scenarios, basket muzzles are considered better than soft muzzles. This is because of how they must be fitted to be effective.
- Fitting a soft muzzle – a soft muzzle should be fitted so that it is tight around the dog’s nose, meaning that the dog can no longer open their mouth to bite (important due to the open end). These are ok short term, however especially when out walking or if the dog is likely to because excited or stressed it is important that they still have the ability to pant, which is not possible with these muzzles.
- Fitting a basket muzzle – A basket muzzle should fit so that the straps are tight around the dog’s head, meaning the muzzle can no longer be removed. The basket should be large enough to allow the dog to open it’s mouth to pant and exhibit normal behaviours. Because of the basket, this muzzle is still effective at preventing bites when fitted like this.
Learning to Accept a Muzzle
To teach your dog to accept a muzzle time must be taken to train them properly. All you need are small treats (or paste) and a muzzle! Take a look at the bottom of this blog for recommendations.
- Upon meeting their new muzzle for the first time your dog will have no idea what it is. Simple target training techniques are the most effective method for teaching a dog that the muzzle is a good thing!
- Show them the muzzle, not close, when the look at it, give them a treat!
- Move the muzzle around, hide it behind your back, represent the muzzle. Each time they give the muzzle any attention (no matter how small) reward with a treat!
- Don’t even expect your dog to touch the muzzle to begin with, unless they are very brave. For some dogs this will take multiple sessions.
The first touch
- Paste can be used to encourage your dog to touch and explore the muzzle or treats can too. Place them around the outside of the muzzle, not on the inside at this stage.
- Continue target training. Each time your dog touches or shows interest in the muzzle, reward with a small treat. This must be repeated until your dog confidently touches the muzzle.
Into the muzzle
- Once you dog confidently touches and eats from around the muzzle, you can try placing treats or paste within the muzzle. Repeat this until your dog begins to look into the muzzle for the reward.
- If your dog confidently offers to put his nose in to check for a treat, without anything in there, reward immediately after.
- This stage requires a lot of repetition before attempting to add in the straps.
Introducing the straps
- Before attempting to add the straps, it’s important that your dog tolerates the sound of the fastening and adjustment at a distance. Adjust the straps and open and close the fastening without the muzzle being near your dog, each time reward.
- Repeat this closer to your dog, eventually the muzzle will be fastened right behind their ears!
- With their nose in the muzzle start to play with the straps. Move them, then reward. Drape them over their neck, reward. Repeat.
- Only once your dog is happy with all of the above, you can attempt to fasten the muzzle. Do it up on its loosest setting, immediately reward and remove the muzzle.
- Repeat strap adjustments, doing the muzzle up and general adjustments of the muzzle before attempting to fit it correctly. Once you are able to close and adjust the muzzle to fit, reward and remove.
Making it normal
- Continue repeating the above steps until your dog is confident. Once confident the muzzle can start to remain on for longer.
- When keeping the muzzle on for longer use distractions to take their mind off it, a little walk or a game that they enjoy, they’ll soon forget it’s there!
- If your dog struggles at any point, take a step back and build back up.
- It’s important to keep reinforcing the muzzle training over time.
What you need…
We have a few different muzzles on the website, take a look and see what you think would suit your dog best: https://dukeandcopetsupplies.com/search?type=product&q=muzzle
High value but small treats are the best treats for any training. These are our favourites, they are seriously tasty but only small, meaning you don’t have to wait for your dog to finish chewing and they aren’t going to add too many calories to their diet! https://dukeandcopetsupplies.com/search?type=product&q=Lamb+salmon+training+treats
Take a look at this great video from The Dogs Trust, packed with even more information on how to muzzle train your dog.
Ellie Phipps BVSc MRCVS