What is the first thing that comes to your mind when you hear the term “dog muzzle”? Many people often associate dog muzzles with negative thoughts, for example, maybe the dog is aggressive. Another impression is that dog muzzles cause discomfort and pain to our pets (which can be true if not done properly). But, did you know that dog muzzles can be beneficial in stressful or anxious situations? So, how do dog muzzles work to help protect your anxious dog?
Positive Reinforcement Using Dog Muzzles
Dog muzzles can be utilized to provide positive reinforcement. It can be used to train your dogs to associate the muzzle with treats, playtime, and other fun activities they enjoy. This allows your dog to be more comfortable or relaxed when wearing a muzzle. That way, when a more stressful event requires a muzzle your dog is already used to it. For example, when it’s time for a trip to the veterinarian, the less handling and restraining the vet team needs to do, the better. This will allow your dog to better respond to commands and receive positive feedback (and maybe even extra treats).
Dog Muzzles Help With The Feeling of Safety for Dogs and People
Dogs often respond to the energy around them. They sense if their owners are scared or unsure in situations. This can create an environment where your dog can be hyper-sensitive and react to other people and other dogs according to its owner’s energy. Dogs can also sense fear in other people and may act out as a result.
As an example, you could be walking down the street with your dog. You see a woman on the same side of the street as you, without a dog. You assume that she loves dogs (doesn’t everyone?)! However, she is actually terrified of dogs. Your dog can sense this energy and may respond negatively. In this scenario, a dog muzzle would give both you and her assurance that your dog won’t bite her.
Dog Muzzles Help Protect in New Situations
Dog muzzles can keep your dogs safe especially when they are introduced into new environments, like dog parks. These situations can cause anxiety for your dogs and sometimes owners aren’t sure how they will react to new dogs, with different personalities. Dog muzzles can prevent your dog from biting other dogs or people who may need to intervene in a fight.
While some people may be concerned that a dog with a muzzle may not be able to protect themselves, it’s a valid point. However, dogs are assessing who is in charge when they meet each other. If your dog is not determined as threatening by other dogs because the muzzle has decreased alpha behavior, the chances for needing to defend themselves is lower.
As you’ve learned, dog muzzles can be an effective way to protect your dog from being stressed or anxious. But before your dog can use a dog muzzle, they need to be trained over a long period of time to develop positive relationship with a muzzle, so the best time to start is when they are still a puppy.
So, how do you do that? Here is a step-by-step guide to train your dog to be comfortable when wearing a dog muzzle.
Training Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle
- Do not put the muzzle immediately! Let your dog observe from afar and allow them to sniff the dog muzzle. And as they sniff it, give them their favorite treat. Repeat this daily until your fur baby becomes comfortable when the muzzle is around their vicinity.
- Try to play with your dog using the dog muzzle. As you play, let the dog muzzle touch their snout or put some peanut butter on the dog muzzle as you play with them and allow them to lick the peanut butter off the muzzle. Do this until you notice that they associate the dog muzzle with playtime. This means that you would see their tail wagging when they see the muzzle or as you offer the muzzle they sit or assume a pouncing posture.
- Next, try to put the muzzle gently on your dog, but do not put the straps on yet! Allow them to eat treats within the muzzle. A basket muzzle is preferable for this, but put some tape or cardboard at the bottom side to keep the treats in. Then try to put the straps gently. Observe if there will be any reactions or they will be comfortable as you put on the strap. Try to remove it and put it on again doing the same steps in a non-forceful way.
- Once your dog is comfortable wearing the dog muzzle, try to take them for short walks around your neighborhood. Give them treats as you do this activity with the dog muzzle to further associate it with treats and other fun activities.
- Try to do some test runs before a vet appointment while training your dog to comfortably wear the dog muzzle. When you visit the vet, put the treats on the dog muzzle as you did in Step 3. If possible, give them treats as you visit the vet to help them be more comfortable during your vet appointments.
Tips & Reminders:
- Give your dogs time to be comfortable being around the muzzle first before proceeding to the other steps.
- Your dog’s reaction may differ in each step and some dogs will take longer or shorter to learn compared to others, so take your time and be patient.
- Make sure time spent wearing the muzzle is short. It can still cause discomfort if worn for long periods of time.
- Be prepared for others thinking that your dog is aggressive while taking a walk with a dog muzzle on. You can reassure others that you are training your dog to be more comfortable with dog muzzles.
- Ensure that you have properly fitted the dog muzzle for your dog’s face and head shape.
- Never use the dog muzzle for punishment for your dog. Doing so would defeat the purpose of positive reinforcement for them.
Different Types of Muzzles
There are several different types of dog muzzles that you can use for your dogs. The two main types include basket muzzles and soft muzzles. But homemade muzzles are commonly used for emergencies.
It’s pretty obvious what this muzzle would look like. It literally is a basket made out of plastic, rubber, or leather with straps. Though this muzzle can be intimidating to some since when your dog wears one they look a bit scary. But despite its appearance, this is the most comfortable dog muzzle of the three. Due to its basket-like appearance, it allows your fur baby to have a wider range of activities such as panting, which is how dogs sweat. This muzzle is a good choice if you want your dogs to have the widest range of normal behaviors while also being protected.
This type of muzzle is usually wrapped around your dog’s mouth. Since it’s commonly made out of fabric or leather it can wrap around your dog’s mouth tightly. It can be sometimes dangerous especially in hot weather because it hinders their ability to pant so it is recommended that you use this type of muzzle for a very short period of time. In addition, this type of muzzle is not advisable for positive reinforcement training since they cannot eat treats or drink when they are wearing one. You can use soft treats like peanut butter if you want to train them using soft muzzles but you’ll need to make sure that the muzzle is loose enough for them to lick.
As mentioned earlier, this type of muzzle is usually used for emergencies. Usually, this muzzle is made out of anything that is on hand at the moment, it could be cloth (like a bandana) or if you have an emergency kit in your house it could be gauze. This muzzle is not suggested to be used for positive reinforcement training and should only be used in emergencies. The cloth could be pulled off, chewed or eaten causing injury or worse.
While there are many negative connotations in using a dog muzzle for our dogs, there are positives as well. With the right knowledge and usage, dog muzzles can be used to protect you and your dog in different situations.
Training your dog to be comfortable wearing a dog muzzle can be difficult and it may take some time. But with patience, it will be very rewarding to know that our dogs feel that they are safe and secure, especially during those vet, grooming appointments and dog parks.
As always, check with your veterinarian and local dog trainer if you have concerns or need additional help.
Do you also want to crate train your dog? Our article The 4 Top Rated Dog Crates for Your Dog or Puppy might be helpful to you.
Have you trained or considered training your dog to wear a dog muzzle? Tell us about it in the comments below!