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The idea of putting a muzzle on your dog can be unsettling. You might wonder if your pet can drink, pant, or even breathe while wearing a dog muzzle. Is a dog muzzle painful or cruel? Perhaps you feel a muzzle is the best option for your dog’s situation, but how do you decide? There are certain situations where a muzzle can be very useful, and at times dog muzzles are even necessary, but there are other scenarios when a dog muzzle is definitely the wrong choice. How do you know when a dog muzzle is helpful? What type of dog muzzle is the correct choice for your dog? There are so many questions around this emotionally charged topic. Learn about the when, why, and how of using a dog muzzle, and always consult a professional dog trainer for advice on your dog’s individual situation.

Why Are Dog Muzzles So Polarizing?

Dog muzzles can look controversial. After all, they have an unfair association with “aggressive” dogs or “attack” dogs. But most canine experts agree that at one point or another in every dog’s lifetime, there may be a situation when an owner needs to use a muzzle. It might be for the safety of the dog, the safety of a person, or both.

For example, if your dog is seriously injured, the risk of a dog bite jumps significantly. While in severe pain, dogs can bite when you try to transport them or treat their wounds. And there’s no way to predict when such a situation might arise. Therefore, even if you never have to rely on a dog muzzle, it’s a good idea to understand why, when, and how you should use a muzzle on your dog. You also need to teach and train your dog how to tolerate and accept wearing a muzzle. Every dog should learn to love wearing a muzzle so if the day comes when they need to wear one, you and your dog won’t be stressed even further.

When Is it Appropriate to Use a Dog Muzzle?

Here are some situations that make the use of a dog muzzle safe and appropriate.

During an Emergency

As mentioned before, an injured or frightened dog is much more likely to bite. Particularly if you need to move or treat the dog in some way. Using a muzzle will keep you and anyone assisting you safe from your dog’s uncharacteristic but understandable behavior.

When There’s a History of or Risk of Biting

If your dog is aggressive and/or has bitten another dog or a person in the past, a muzzle can be used for safety. Even if your dog has no bite history, if you think the risk of a dog bite exists—for example, your dog lunges and barks at other dogs or people—a muzzle can provide additional peace of mind. However, the muzzle doesn’t solve the problem, it simply helps keeps everybody safe while you work on behavior modification with an animal behaviorist, veterinarian, and/or dog trainer. Your goal should be to change your dog’s behavior and mindset. The muzzle is simply a temporary tool to help you achieve that goal.

When There’s a Risk of Biting Due to a Threatening Situation

There may be specific situations that upset or stress your dog, such as examinations at the veterinarian. When you’re worried your dog may bite, the temporary use of a muzzle should be considered. But that’s also a sign that behavior modification is in order for a long-term resolution.

During Grooming Sessions

When properly desensitized with handling exercises (it helps to start in puppyhood), most dogs will tolerate or even enjoy grooming procedures like bathing or nail trimming. However, if you’re still training your dog to get used to grooming, a muzzle may helpful, especially when the dog is not familiar with the groomer.

When Required, Due to Breed-Specific Legislation

Unfortunately, some states or provinces have breed specific legislation (BSL), which requires certain so-called “dangerous breeds” to wear a muzzle when not on private property. (Read about the AKC’s position on BSL and what we’re doing to offer alternatives.)

When Should You Not Use a Muzzle?

It seems obvious, but muzzles are used to prevent dog bites. They are not for preventing problem behaviors by forcing your dog’s mouth closed. Do not use a dog muzzle for barkingchewing, or other ongoing behavioral problems. There are two important reasons for this.

  1. A muzzle is only meant to be used for short periods of time, and only when your dog is supervised.
  2. Behavioral problems like barking and chewing are, by their nature, ongoing issues, so a muzzle, a tool meant for temporary and short-term use, is not a solution.

If you want to see progress with these types of behaviors, you need to use consistent training and behavior modification instead. For example, if your dog is constantly barking, there is a reason for it such as separation anxietyboredom, sounding the alarm, territorial barking, or attention-seeking. First determine the cause then address it, with the help of a professional if necessary.

Also, never use a muzzle to put your dog in an unnecessarily stressful situation. For example, if your dog can’t handle the dog park, but your friends are all taking their dogs, a muzzle isn’t an appropriate way for your dog to join the group. If you know something upsets your dog, work to change that reaction, don’t muzzle your dog to get through the event. In fact, that can even make the situation worse. Your dog will associate the stressful situation with the muzzle, adding more fear and anxiety the next time around.

The same goes for punishment. Never muzzle your dog to teach a lesson. You will do nothing to fix the underlying problem, and once again, your dog will learn to associate the muzzle with the punishment. Now when you try to muzzle your dog in a legitimate situation like an emergency, your dog will be even more scared and nervous.

What Are the Different Types of Muzzles?

There are two main types of muzzles and by making sure you get the right style and fit, you will ensure safe and effective use. You can also make a homemade muzzle in an emergency if there is no other choice. Here are some options.

Basket Muzzle

Basket muzzles look exactly like they sound, a basket strapped to your dog’s nose and mouth. They can be made of leather, wire, plastic, or even rubber, and can be bought off the rack or made to fit your dog’s exact anatomy. Their “prison bars” appearance may look like the least humane choice, but the opposite is true. In fact, many dogs seem more comfortable in basket muzzles than soft muzzles because their mouth isn’t being held closed. Most styles allow dogs to open their mouths to pant, drink, and eat. Some even have slits along the side so you can slip larger treats like sliced hot dogs through the bars for training purposes.

Soft Muzzle

Usually made from fabric such as nylon or mesh, or sometimes leather, soft muzzles wrap around your dog’s mouth and hold it closed. That design is actually less comfortable for your dog than a basket muzzle and potentially more dangerous. Soft muzzles prevent your dog from panting, which is the only way he has of dispersing heat. Panting is the canine version of sweating so these muzzles should only be used for very short periods of time and never in hot weather. These muzzles also prevent your dog from barking, drinking, or eating. And if your dog can’t eat, it’s almost impossible to use treats as a reward during a behavioral modification program or when you’re training your dog to love the muzzle. You will have to rely on items like squeeze cheese that your dog doesn’t have to chew.

Homemade Muzzle

When there are no other options available, but you need to muzzle your dog, such as in an emergency or when your dog has been injured, you can make a muzzle from items you have at hand. This is only recommended when you have no other choice, and your homemade muzzle should only be used temporarily. You can find instructions online for improvising a homemade dog muzzle with a roll of gauze, a pair of pantyhose, or even your dog’s leash, but using materials such as these isn’t ideal. A better option is to keep a proper muzzle in your canine first aid kit.

How Do You Train a Dog to Accept a Muzzle?

The first time you put a muzzle on your dog should not be the first time you need to put one on. If your dog’s first introduction to wearing a muzzle happens when he is hurt or terrified, it will be much more difficult to get the muzzle on. And nearly impossible to use the muzzle in the future as your dog will have learned to associate the muzzle with the stressful circumstances. Luckily, a dog can be trained to accept a muzzle if he’s introduced to it under low-stress conditions, with a step-by-step process, and with appropriate rewards.

Beth Nash, AKC Gazette breed columnist for the Vizsla Club of America, has this to say about muzzles, and how she trained her first Vizsla, Bartok, to wear one:

“Bartok was terrified of the vet clinic due to a combination of unstable temperament and a series of unfortunate incidents. We needed to muzzle him for everyone’s safety. The clinic staff did their best to be gentle and patient, but Bart was seriously stressing out, and we needed to help him.

Over a period of several days, here’s what we did—using small, soft treats, and making sure he was comfortable with each step before going on to the next.

  1. Let him sniff the muzzle. Give a treat. Repeat a few times.
  2. Touch his nose with the muzzle. Treat. Repeat until he indicates that the muzzle looks interesting in a good way.
  3. Hold the muzzle with one hand and a treat with the other hand, so he needs to put his nose inside the muzzle to get the treat. Repeat until this step is no big deal.
  4. Gently slip the muzzle onto his nose and give him a treat. Remove the muzzle immediately. Repeat a few times.
  5. Put on the muzzle and fasten the buckle. Treat. Remove immediately. Repeat a few times.
  6. Put on the muzzle, fasten it, and count slowly to five. Treat. Remove the muzzle.
  7. Each time you put on the muzzle, gradually increase the time the muzzle is on. Hold his collar and give treats.

If we had introduced the muzzle before Bart associated it with scary things, we probably could have gone through these steps in less than a day—possibly a matter of minutes. We’ve done this with each successive dog, including rescue dogs we’ve fostered. If the dog isn’t interested in treats, you can substitute other rewards. I use verbal praise, but this is optional.”

The late Dr. Sophia Yin’s website has a terrific step-by-step guide for training your dog to wear a muzzle. And the American Veterinary Society of Animal Behavior has a video showing a dog being introduced to a muzzle for the first time.

How Do You Properly Fit a Muzzle?

The right fit is key to using a muzzle correctly. Too loose and your dog will be able to remove it; too tight and it will inhibit his ability to breathe, pant, or drink and can cause painful chafing. Straps should be fitted so you can just fit one finger between your dog’s head and the strap. It’s best to try on various sizes and get input from a knowledgeable professional trainer or experienced muzzle user. You should also take measurements, especially when ordering online. Even flat faced-dogs like Pugs can wear a muzzle, although a custom-fitted option may be the best solution. A few common styles are included below, but there are other types that are particularly suited for dogs who are known bite risks, or dogs with different face shapes.

No matter the reason for using a muzzle, or which type you select, it’s crucial to recognize that muzzles are not a solution to behavioral issues. Dog experts agree that a dog muzzle cannot replace consistent, positive training.
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