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The Ins and Outs of Dog Muzzles

Learn how to choose a muzzle, and how to make it easier for your dog and family to tolerate.

Last week, I shared the personal experience that convinced me all dogs should be taught to wear a muzzle comfortably during times when you’d never dream of the day your dog might need to wear one.

On occasion in my dog training work, I actually do have to recommend to a student that they have their dog wear a muzzle in certain situations. This might be to protect a dog from itself, as in the case of dogs that have developed the habit of eating items that then need to be surgically removed. When we are not actively supervising such a dog (ready to use our “leave it” and “drop it” cues, as well as to pay the dog every time it considers picking up a forbidden item but voluntarily leaves it alone), something like an Italian basket muzzle can prevent the dog from swallowing dangerous objects.

Or we might have a dog wear a muzzle to prevent a bite when we are working with a dog that has been displaying serious aggressive behaviors. A muzzle protects everyone in such a case. It protects others from being bitten, it protects the dog’s owner from liability issues and it protects the dog from learning that biting is a sure way to get the distance it wants from scary things.

Although our goal in such training is to never put the dog in a situation that is beyond its skill level at that point in time (so that it never has a reason to bite) as we gradually work our way up through increasingly difficult scenarios, sometimes we make a mistake or sometimes “life just happens,” thrusting the dog into a situation out of our control and beyond the dog’s threshold despite our best efforts.

I like basket muzzles like the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle because it’s easy to feed the dog food rewards through this type of muzzle. I also like the JAFCO (clear) Muzzle, especially if you drill a bigger hole in the front for easier treat delivery, as one of my enterprising students once did. However, with a little more creative treat delivery technique, a traditional Italian basket muzzle can also be used.

I generally prefer basket muzzles over the mesh or cloth variety because dogs need to pant in order to regulate their temperature, but most mesh or cloth muzzles need to fit snugly in order to be effective, thus preventing a dog from panting freely. Basket muzzles allow dogs to open their mouths to chew, pant and even drink water while wearing them. Still, cloth and mesh muzzles are quick and easy to put on. They’re also easy to carry in a pet first aid kit. For quick tasks that may cause certain dogs to bite (including nail trims or veterinary checkups), or for emergency use, you may want to have one of these on hand even if you also have a basket muzzle for your dog.

Most people are initially reluctant when I suggest that their dog should sometimes wear a muzzle. They worry that muzzles will look scary to other humans, causing people to judge them and their dog and they worry that their dog will feel miserable wearing one.

To make a muzzle seem less scary looking, you might choose a colored or patterned muzzle like the cloth Happy Dog Muzzle or a brightly colored Birdwell Enterprise basket muzzle. Or you can adorn any muzzle of your choice to give it a cheerier appearance. You could sew bright patches onto a cloth muzzle or wrap portions of a basket muzzle with colorful cloth ribbon and then stitch the ends. Keep in mind that your dog’s muzzle may get pretty dirty at times, so choose materials accordingly.

To help your dog learn to feel comfortable while wearing a muzzle of any kind, I suggest planning on doing the following exercises over the course of about a week or two for a few minutes several times a day. Move on to the next step in the process only when the current step is easy for your dog to tolerate. This means that your dog should be thinking “yippee” not “oh, no” when it sees the muzzle appear.

  1. Let the muzzle dangle casually over your wrist while you do things your dog looks forward to. You might wear it while you prepare and present your dog’s meals, whenever you pick up your dog’s leash (assuming your dog loves to see the leash come out), or even just as you play with your dog.
  2. For basket muzzles, put a treat into the muzzle and hold it up so that your dog can eat the treat out of it as if it were just a deep dog dish. For cloth or mesh muzzles, hold the muzzle open on the ground, nose down, and put the treat on the ground inside the snout of the muzzle for your dog to eat.
  3. When your dog loves the game in step two, begin to hold the straps of the muzzle up behind your dog’s ears without clipping the clasp closed yet, letting your dog eat the treat then back out of the muzzle if desired.
  4. Assuming your dog is no longer feeling spooked when you hold the straps of the muzzle up in this way, actually clip the clasp shut and get ready to feed, feed, feed your dog treats through the muzzle. You should have treats pre-cut into strips that fit easily through the openings in the muzzle. Dried duck jerky seems to work particularly well with many basket muzzles. You may prefer to have a gooey treat you can let your dog lick off your fingertip (like peanut butter) for mesh or cloth muzzles which won’t give your dog as much room to chew. Take the muzzle off and be boring at a point when your dog isn’t trying to paw it off.
  5. Gradually build up to having your dog wear the muzzle for longer and longer periods. While the muzzle is on, it’s time for fun and games. When the muzzle comes off, be your boring old self again.
  6. Once your dog is comfortable wearing the muzzle, put it on now and again during fun times rather than only using it when there may be trouble. If you don’t do this, your dog may get the idea that the muzzle coming out actually signals that trouble is on the horizon.

My advice to every dog owner is to go out and get a muzzle now (if you haven’t already). Start getting yourself and your dog used to it right away, even if it seems like you’ll never need to use it. Prepare for the worst and hope for the best, as the old saying goes. Then, if ever there is the need for a muzzle, you’ll be able to use it as a management tool in whatever crisis arises without causing your dog any additional stress.

Drew July 14, 2012 at 02:32 PM
The author brought up some valid and logical points in her seemingly never ending article but the bottom line is that all dogs do need to be muzzled AND on a leash, at least at certain times. After all they are animals and as animals they are unpredictible and could attack or bite when one would least expect it, contrary to the fact that many clueless and in denial dog owners will say differently. We are all painfully aware of all the incidents where unmuzzled and off leash pitbulls and other breeds have frequently mortally wounded helpless victims while their owners are standing by so utterly "suprised" or are blaming the victim somehow! It is not the dogs, of course because they are just animals who live by instinct and need. It is the airhead owners who fail to maintain and control them properly and ultimately the dog and victim are the ones who pay the price rather than the owner who just buys another dog--or at least in some cases will go to jail.
Paul July 14, 2012 at 05:44 PM
I must take issue with the terrible comments posted this morning. Our dogs are members of our families! To say that all our lovely little pets and companions are PIT BULLS is just untrue. My Yorkie , Pooskie, would never snap, snarl nor bit ANYONE! When I fell in my apartment last year, it was Pooskie who came to my rescue and licked my face until I came to and pushed my emergency calling button. I for one disagree heartily with the practice of muzzles. People who are not used to dogs should cross the street! I'm sorry for being so upset and showing it but these dog HATERS do upset me.
Bette Yip July 18, 2012 at 04:40 PM
Hi Rhonda Mae, Thank you so much for taking the time to read my "seemingly never ending article." I assure you that it was just as long as it needed to be to get across the critical information I wanted to share. I appreciate that you agree that on occasion, some dogs MIGHT need to be muzzled. I never said that all dogs DO need to be muzzled. I advise all dog owners to teach their dogs to be comfortable wearing a muzzle JUST IN CASE the need for one ever arises, so that putting a muzzle on the dog in that situation doesn't cause the dog any additional stress. The notion that dogs could bite or attack when you least expect it, in my opinion, is only true for people who are uneducated in reading canine body language and/or uninformed about the types of situations that dog could be frightened enough or stressed enough to bite. The bite I suffered which I describe in my previous Weekly Yip was entirely predictable. It was my own error that allowed that to happen when my dog was in such sever pain that he shrieked all the way to the emergency vet. That I got my wits about me and fashioned an impromptu muzzle for him just in case he might reflexively bite again protected others from the possibility of a bite that night.
Bette Yip July 18, 2012 at 04:50 PM
As for Rhonda Mae's comment that dogs "have frequently mortally wounded helpless victims"... Please cut and paste this link to view the full article from which the following introduction was taken: http://www.lifewithdogs.tv/2012/01/reality-vs-perception-dog-bite-related-fatalities-in-2011/ "Dog bite-related fatalities have always been exceedingly rare, yet they can attract the kind of publicity that creates an impression they are more prevalent than they actually are. NCRC is currently investigating 31 incidents in a dog population of over 78 million that occurred during 2011 that may qualify as dog bite-related fatalities. A final tally is subject to change as a result of NCRC investigations.* A number of cases have very little information available as they remain the subject of ongoing investigations. While 10 fatalities have already resulted in criminal indictments, several others are still under investigation by authorities. This report is preliminary to the final report which will be available in the first week of 2013."
Bette Yip July 18, 2012 at 04:51 PM
Please read the article at: http://www.lifewithdogs.tv/2012/01/reality-vs-perception-dog-bite-related-fatalities-in-2011/
Bette Yip July 18, 2012 at 05:02 PM
Hi Peggy, Thank you for reading my column, and I'm so glad that Pooskie was there to help you in your time of need. How lucky you are to have him in your life! To be sure, dogs help those who love them in so many ways, and if you read my column from time to time, you can see how much I adore them. However, in case you missed last weeks installment, please read that one to see why I came to the opinion that all dogs should proactively be taught to tolerate a muzzle NOW when we can't even imagine them ever needing one, so that if an emergency does come up, the muzzle doesn't cause them any additional stress. I'll emphasize that my dog never needed a muzzle before that night, and has never needed one since--still, I put his "party hat" (euphemism for muzzle) on him and give him treats from time to time just to keep his association with it positive, JUST IN CASE another emergency ever does arise. At the end of the day, I'm realistic about the fact that he IS a dog, and if terrified or in mind-numbing pain, he could bite--that's a natural, reflexive response for a dog under such dire circumstances, and it's the rare dog that would NEVER bite under any circumstance whatsoever. To me, muzzle training is just one more step in emergency preparedness. http://arlington.patch.com/articles/all-dogs-should-learn-to-wear-a-muzzle
Drew July 19, 2012 at 06:04 PM
When are you going to get it through your head, "Bette", that ONE fatal dog bite fatality is too much? I really would like an answer instead of pages and pages of your boring computer generated "research" rhetoric. Ask the mother who's infant daughter was eaten alive by a pit bull. Is this too "unsettling" for you to read? Try living it. In my opinion, you are a dog addict, plain and simple and there is no reasoning with you. I just pray that some day one of your dogs doesn't turn on you.
jmdrb July 19, 2012 at 06:47 PM
Err... yes. It's very sad if a child was eaten alive by a dog. It's very sad if a baby dies from taking a prescription medicine and has a bad reaction. It's very sad if a baby dies in a car accident. All of these things can be prevented I guess. So muzzle all dogs. Don't give babies any prescription medication at all. Don't take babies in a car.
Wes Beal July 19, 2012 at 07:05 PM
Thanks for keeping all of us "dog addicts" in your prayers, Drew. We'll keep muddling through. I assume you also consider one automobile fatality one too many, one gunshot fatality one too many, one death from obesity related diseases one too many, one accidental drowning death one too many, and etc. Ask the mother's of any of those victim's, and I'm sure they'll agree its tragic. I for one like to live my life with a little common sense and not near so much fear. I assume you're equally afraid of all of those (far more likely) potential tragedies, and don't suffer from an irrational fear of dogs. If the latter is true, please, get some help.
Bette Yip July 19, 2012 at 08:10 PM
Hi "Drew", You said, "I really would like an answer instead of pages and pages of your boring..." The answer is: OF COURSE one fatal dog attack is one too many. THAT IS WHY I have centered my company, Picture Perfect Pets, and my career as a dog trainer around: * teaching humans how to raise well-adjusted dogs that are highly unlikely to bite under any ordinary circumstances (although, as you can see from this week's and last week's articles, I also advise students to teach their dogs to wear a muzzle in case an emergency does ever arise) * teaching humans to have be realistic about their dog's limitations and avoid putting them in situations where they might possibly bite * teaching humans to read the rich and nuanced body language of dogs to better anticipate when they might possibly be about to become stressed or aroused enough to bite, so that they can play referee and intervene before it ever comes to that * In fact, I offer a special program for dog owners about to have their first human child enter their family, teaching them how to prepare and keep all family members safe once their child arrives. Interestingly, I just recently set up an appointment for a couple seeking guidance as they prepare to adopt two children into a home where the dog has been their only "baby" until now. And I take no offense at you calling me a "dog addict" although you clearly meant it as a put down. I'll wear that title proudly.
Bette Yip July 19, 2012 at 08:23 PM
I have a question for you, too, "Drew:: What is your personal experience with dogs? I'd just like to understand a little better why you have such a phobia with regards to dogs. I wonder, what categories of people do you also hate or fear? I find people's irrational phobias (yes, I know that is redundant) really fascinating, and understand that when you have a phobia, it is something out of your control until you get the right professional help, so I'm not judging you--just trying to understand you better. And thank you for keeping me in your prayers, but I know that I'm in far more danger from human beings on a daily basis than I'll ever be from dogs, despite the fact that I actually work fairly frequently with aggression cases. If you want to pray for me, please pray that I don't get killed by a drunk driver or person texting behind the wheel on the long drive I'm about to embark on. And on that note, read tomorrow's Weekly Yip for more boring statistics that will demonstrate to you exactly why I'm MUCH more concerned about the possibility of a loved one or myself or any person in the U.S. being killed by a another human (intentionally, as a matter of fact) than by a dog. But don't worry, I've kept tomorrow's installment short for readers like you and Rhonda Mae who have qualms about wading through a seemingly endless piece.
Drew July 19, 2012 at 09:23 PM
Let's take it down a few notches, ladies and gentlemen, shall we.. with the sarcasm and deep analysis on my psycological stability! Ok?? It's like being attacked by a pack of dogs! LOL! For the record, I do like dogs a lot and come from a family who adores them. We always had dogs growing up and intend to have one or two when I close on my new house here in town next month. With that said, I just like to be super careful around my kids and other people's kids when there are strange and even familiar dogs around because I have winessed too many nips and almost bites inflicted by dogs, especially aroung small kids who's owner's were either airheads or totally oblivious to what was going on and therby not having the control they should have over the dogs and their unpredictibility. I want zero possiblity of a dog incident happening and that's all there is to it. My happy and incident free dogs have always been under my watchful eye and the know it and feel protected because of it. Sometimes muzzels, but totally dependant on the situation and they don't seem to care because they know it's very temporary.
Bette Yip July 20, 2012 at 03:08 AM
"Take it down a few notches with the sarcasm and deep analysis...", you say? Might I remind you that it was you who said, at 2:04 pm on Thursday, July 19, 2012: "When are you going to get it through your head, "Bette", that ONE fatal dog bite fatality is too much? I really would like an answer instead of pages and pages of your boring computer generated "research" rhetoric. Ask the mother who's infant daughter was eaten alive by a pit bull. Is this too "unsettling" for you to read? Try living it. In my opinion, you are a dog addict, plain and simple and there is no reasoning with you. I just pray that some day one of your dogs doesn't turn on you." How about that for sarcasm, insult slinging, rhetoric and deep psychoanalysis of someone you don't even know? I'm glad to see that your view point and mine are really not so far apart as they might have seemed going just by that initial comment you posted, but am a bit dismayed that you'd even make that comment after reading my articles and noting the links therein. The only way I can make sense of it is if you came to the conversation late, read only my reply to Rhonda Mae, meant to point out that such occurences are not "frequent" as she claims, but rather, astoundingly rare (however tragic)--and if you hadn't actually read my articles, advocating that ALL dog owners proactively teach their dogs to wear a muzzle so that it doesn't cause additional stress if 1 day, it's use is warranted immediately for whatever reason.
Bette Yip July 20, 2012 at 03:13 AM
I do have to thank you for the "dog addict" comment, though. I fully intend to co-opt that and make good use of it. Brilliant! Thanks. (And that's not sarcasm. You've given me a great idea.) :)
Drew July 20, 2012 at 03:41 AM
You are entirely welcome, and by the way, my term "dog addict" was never meant to be a "putdown" to begin with as you automatically said it was. It was simply a personal observation made into a term describing a person who loves dogs and is crazy about them. End of our discussion.
Bette Yip July 20, 2012 at 03:59 AM
If you had not followed up that phrase with the next statement, I might not have automatically interpreted it as a putdown. However, this sounds to me, especially in the context of the rest of what you wrote, like a putdown: "In my opinion, you are a dog addict, plain and simple and there is no reasoning with you." I am a reasonable person when people approach me in a reasonable manner, by the way. Either way, I happily wear the label. Now, I'm happy to end our discussion.

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