Muzzle training is a really useful behavior to teach your dog. It is not just for aggressive dogs, it is useful for everyday life as well! For a lot of dogs that lack confidence or have anxiety, a muzzle can make them feel comfortable and relaxed.
Why should I muzzle train my dog?
1) First and foremost, the obvious answer is because you have a dog that bites. A dog with a bite history should be muzzled to keep your family members, friends, other pets, and strangers safe. The muzzle is not a permanent solution--it should be a part of rehabilitation and a safety precaution. If your dog has a bite history, I highly recommend seeking a professional trainer as well as keeping the dog muzzled if you know it’ll bite.
2) Even if your dog has not bitten anyone before, muzzle training can be helpful if they are put in a situation that they are not comfortable in (such as the vet). Every dog has the ability to bite, it’s a natural defense mechanism, and it does not hurt to take precautions. Being at the vet is a very high stress situation; often times dogs are being handled excessively in places that may make them uncomfortable. A muzzle is great to have in this situation.
3) If your dog has a cut or an injury that needs to be palpated or checked out, a muzzle may be used to restrain the dog. If the wound is painful, muzzling your dog is a good idea because they may have a knee jerk reaction to bite or snap.
4) When introducing your dog to a smaller dog or a young puppy, a muzzle is a good idea to have on hand if you know your dog plays rough. You can put the muzzle on first and introduce them, gauge how the situation is before you remove the muzzle. Even if the dog isn’t being malicious, they can accidentally hurt the other dog, or start a fight.
5) If you own a dog that likes to eat and will eat things off the floor, a muzzle can be helpful. Some dogs (particularly breeds like Labradors or French Bulldogs) will pick up things off the floor at home, the park, public spaces--basically anywhere and anything (whether it’s edible or not). This can be dangerous--imagine if your dog accidentally eats rat poison or obscene amounts of chocolate, this could end in a trip to the vet or worse, death.
How to properly fit a muzzle
Proper fit of a muzzle is important--muzzles are supposed to be comfortable for a dog. An uncomfortable muzzle will make the dog even more stressed and make the situation worse, which is the opposite of the muzzle’s purpose. The sizing of a muzzle will vary by brand, but make sure the length of the top of the muzzle (where the nose is) doesn’t extend too far, because this will block the dog’s line of sight. Your dog should still be able to pant, drink, and accept treats with the muzzle on. Be sure to go in store and try on the muzzle before purchasing!
Muzzle training tips
Remember, the goal of the muzzle is to alleviate stressful situations and to make your dog is as comfortable as possible. Here are a few tips on how to introduce your dog to the muzzle and make it a fun experience:
- Start out by holding the muzzle in front of your dog. Everytime the dog smells the muzzle reward with a treat, lots of pets, and lots of praise. Let your dog know this is a good thing! Repeat this process for a few days or a few sessions until your dog is comfortable and realizes smelling the muzzle or nosing the muzzle means good things.
- Hold the muzzle up as if you were going to put it over the dog. Hold the treat where the dog’s mouth would go, this way the dog has to put its nose and mouth inside the muzzle in order to get the treat. Once the dog does this, give a treat and lots of praise. Have the dog do this a few times and praise and treat. Continue this step until you are sure the dog is comfortable.
- Once the dog is comfortable putting its snout inside the muzzle, build duration. Have the dog hold its snout inside the muzzle for a few seconds, then praise and reward.
- Once the dog is comfortable with duration, you can now start strapping the muzzle on. Reward the dog (do not take the muzzle off) through the muzzle.
- Once the dog is comfortable wearing the muzzle, you can now practice walking the dog with the muzzle on around the house. Lots of treats should be given and praise after a short walk. You can keep repeating this process until the dog is comfortable and then you can try walking the dog in public with the muzzle. Keep the walks short at first, and lots of treats and praise.
Muzzles are a great tool to have on hand--they are meant to build up confidence for a dog by allowing them to feel relaxed in situations that make them nervous. By muzzle training your dog, you ensure that the people and animals around you feel safe and confident in sketchy situations. A confident dog is a happy dog!