Good Dogs Wear Muzzles Too

We were walking our dogs outside a rally obedience trial several years ago when my friend froze. “Watch out!” she said sharply, “There’s a muzzled dog across the parking lot!” I looked, and sure enough someone was walking their dog in a comfortably fitted basket muzzle. The dog was on a loose leash with soft, relaxed body language, intent on his owner. I chuckled and went back to watching my own dog. “I don’t know why you’re worried,” I said, “That’s the one dog at this show that I’m the least concerned about.”

Layla wears her basket muzzle if she's going to be off leash around unfamiliar dogs.

Layla wears her basket muzzle if she’s going to be off leash around unfamiliar dogs.

Our societal perception of muzzles is shifting, but the prejudice is still present in many communities. The thought is that only “bad” dogs wear muzzles, and if a dog is wearing a muzzle he or she must be a mean animal with horrible owners.

I’m here to tell you that this perception is antiquated and untrue. Great dogs wear muzzles all the time, and there are many wonderful reasons for teaching your dog to be happy and comfortable in a basket muzzle. The Greyhound community has had this right for years and years, and I can only hope that the rest of us will catch up soon.

Conditioning your dog to wear a muzzle is a fairly straightforward process, and is something that I recommend all dog owners put the time into. The chances are good that your dog will need to wear a muzzle at some point in his life, and having him react happily to the appearance of the muzzle is a great way to ensure that you’re not adding stress to what may already be a difficult time in the case of an accident or injury that requires painful veterinary treatment.

layla_trout_dp

So, why might your dog wear a muzzle?

Safety of your dog: some dogs engage in behaviors such as pica (eating inedible items, such as gravel or sticks) or coprophagia (eating feces) which could be dangerous to their health. While a muzzle may not entirely stop your dog from engaging in these behaviors, it can definitely slow him down and allow you the necessary time to intervene. Muzzles can also be helpful for scroungy dogs on special diets.

Safety of others: if your dog has a history of snapping or biting at people or other dogs, the muzzle can serve as a part of a comprehensive management plan to improve community safety. Even if your dog doesn’t have this history, if the stakes are high (for example, introducing two dogs of very different sizes or introducing a newly adopted dog with an unknown history to children for the first time), a muzzle should be considered.

A visual “keep back” signal: along those same lines, a muzzle can also deter unwanted interaction. Layla walked in a comfortable basket muzzle for a couple years, not because I felt that she was likely to bite someone, but rather because the appearance of the muzzle served to keep unfamiliar people from approaching to pet her, which made her uncomfortable. It also served as a great visual signal for people walking their dogs that Layla may not appreciate being rushed by their “friendly” but unmannered pet. She loved the space her muzzle created for her!

Owner comfort level: muzzles can also help the opposite end of the leash. If you tend to get tense or worried in social situations with your dog, muzzling your pet may help you relax. Remember that dogs are highly empathetic, and tense owners are one of the best ways to create tense dogs. This can become a horrible spiral – the owner tenses up when their dog approaches someone, the dog becomes stressed due to the owner’s behavior, the dog snarks, and the owner’s worst fears are confirmed, setting them up to become even more stressed during the next interaction. While a muzzle should never be used as an excuse to put a dog in a situation you know the dog can’t handle, knowing that your dog can’t cause damage may help you to remain calm in situations that your dog would otherwise rock.

Legal requirements: if you travel with your dog, there may be locations that require the use of a muzzle if your dog is to be permitted in public areas or on public transportation. A dog who is comfortable in his muzzle may find doors opening up for him!

Dog sports: some sports require muzzles, and in other sports muzzles may be an option. Layla, for example, wears her basket muzzle when she lure courses. While she has always coursed alone rather than in a group, she has a history of grabbing the lure at the end of the course and snapping the line. This is frustrating and time consuming for those hosting the event to remedy, so Layla now wears her basket muzzle to course so that we have a brief window of time to catch her at the finish line before she can grab the lure and snap the line with a terrier head shake.

layla_muzzleDog’s comfort level: because muzzle conditioning is done using reward-based methods, dogs come to love their muzzles. This can have a wonderful “bleed-over” effect, where the dog feels happier and safer wearing his muzzle because it’s always been associated with good things. The power of this emotional response can be incredible when introducing dogs into potentially stressful situations. Simply placing your dog’s muzzle on before a new situation may help to color that entire situation as safe and positive.

Whatever your reasons for muzzle training your dog, I encourage you to consider this useful tool as part of your dog’s comprehensive care plan. As for the dog at the rally trial? He continued to be happy and relaxed all day, and I complimented his owner on her dog’s lovely demeanor. Good dogs wear muzzles too.

24 responses to “Good Dogs Wear Muzzles Too

  1. Reblogged this on DogSentials and commented:
    Essential reading. Thank you Sara!

  2. Great article! Where can you get a good basket muzzle? Our dog does not like others running up to her

  3. The dog in this picture has his muzzle to tight. You should be able to fit two fingers between the nose and the end of the muzzle unless you have very small fingers than 3.

    • Which picture? There is more than one…how can you tell how many fingers fit from a photo?

    • It does appear that the black muzzle is too short for this dog. Finding the right fit can be difficult, but is very important to ensure proper function, comfort and safety (ability to breath/drink).

  4. Really good, sensible and helpful article. One query – I’ve been told that if a dog is wearing a muzzle it shouldn’t be let off the lead as it will have been clocked as a dangerous dog. Is this true?

  5. Thank you for writing this. I live in a very dog friendly city (Portland Oregon ). But it’s only friendly to we’ll socialized dogs. This means my adopted staffie and I get evil looks, comments and threats when out even when we’re being safe.

  6. I live in Chicago and I let my dogs (whippets) run on the beach by Lake Michigan—and I have them wear basket muzzles. it prevents them from picking up what people drop, and it’s added safety in case someone lets a smaller dog run loose.

  7. You can also use muzzles instead of or in addition to collars/’cone of shame’ for dogs who are particularly good at getting around them or who don’t tolerate them well. My doberman thinks her muzzle is pretty awesome, even when it is used to prevent her from licking a wound.

  8. The muzzle it too tight always allow for the dog to pant. There is no need to have a tight muzzle because if a dog is taught when young they take it for granted. My dogs run to me as soon as they see the muzzle they know its time to go out. In any event I love my dogs and am particular as to what goes near their nose and face. Good article.

  9. Does anyone know of brand of muzzle that would fit a Neapolitan mastiff? My boy’s face is too short and wide for the Baskerville muzzles.

  10. At the risk of asking a ‘stupid question’… can anyone comment on whether a baskerville muzzel may alter the behaviour of the dog.
    My situation is…rescue Bull Terrier bitch – desexed has been my darling for 4 years now aged approx 6 years.
    Former owner/breeder advised she should be muzzled in public for everyones safety.

    My recent contact with K9 behaviouralist stated Bully is anxious…not aggressive… (adores my grankids – gentle as a lamb)
    I really cannot afford his quoted cost to de-sensitise her to other dogs.
    When walking, whether we meet of just see other dogs…she goes nuts….ridiculous. I can see at times her tail curls under between her legs, however, at other times its straight as an arrow & as far as I can see, she means to do damage….depending on the size of the other dog.
    We use a choke chain to back up a halter…which after 4 years she still hates..but accepts beligerently. Please remember she has a Bull Terrier brain…& a 3 second attentional window…once she switches brains its impossible to bring her back quickly (unless I were to place her in a quiet dark room for 20 min…yes Im being ridiculous now)
    QUESTION IS…would a muzzel alter her behaviour…perhaps she may realise she is seriously restricted and curb her Bully behaviour..
    I’m at the point where I often dread taking her for walk…mostly due to other dogs OFF LEASH..& often without owner, so Im concerned the muzzel will prevent her from defending herself if worst comes to worst.
    I’ve thought about buying a Stun Baton 😈 ..yep…also ridiculous. ..H E L P !
    PS…I’ve previously raised & trained 2 Rotties with my 2 young sons, Rotties were often walked together…NEVER encountered any major problems…and so, I dont consider myself a dumbarse novice.
    Thanks in anticipation Red N.

    • disparateinterests

      I don’t think a muzzle ALONE will alter her behavior. I think your behaviorist is right. You have to do this in minute steps.When it comes to training dogs….it’s subtle things…nuances…that work, and consistency. Unfortunately, you have to untrain what she’s already learned. You might want to work on getting her attention with no distractions, first…who knows how long this will take….but me? If I had that many off leash dogs menacing me, I’d bring a stun baton.

    • The muzzle will not change your dogs behavior, but it will prevent your dog from practicing bad behavior. You absolutely need to work on some behavioral modification or this fear-aggression will get worse. My adopted lab had the same issue and now he is a champ with other dogs.

      First, if dangerous dogs are trying to attack you, I suggest the use of animal-safe spray shield over a stun gun, especially for your safety and that of your dog. Additionally, carrying stinky treats can be an effective tool. Simply throw a handful of the treats at the dogs head and behind him so he is surprised and turns around to scoop up the snacks. It might give you the time you need to escape and train the dog to have a better approach next time.

      For your fear aggression, if you cannot afford to work with the behaviorist, there are a number of great books out there on this subject that I can recommend. First, get rid of that choke collar… It is making things worse by punishing your dog whenever another dog approaches. Use a front clip harness that will give you more control… I recommend 2hounds designs Freedom Harness. Books that might help: Feisty Fido by McConnell (start here), The Cautious Canine by McConnell, BAT 2.0 by Stewart (DVD set) and Fight! by Donaldson. Several of these books are less than $10 and can be found on Amazon or Dogwise. That said, I highly recommend working with a behaviorist or qualified trainer in your area on these issues.
      Good luck!

  11. I want to add to your list of benefits: Emergencies. As part of Dog First Aid, I recommend that all dogs are trained to accept a properly fitted basket muzzle. When dogs are injured and in pain, this can be a tool to help keep family and veterinary staff safe as well as an additional aid in keeping dogs from chewing stitches, etc. I personally know a trainer whose dogs were muzzle trained and in a scary car accident. While not seriously injured, the dogs were panicked and emergency workers were able to round them up. Vet staff muzzled them and they actually calmed down a bit due to the familiarity of the muzzle… They thought they were playing the muzzle game all of a sudden. They were able to be examined without sedation.

    • Thanks ‘disparateinterests’ & ‘kimberly’
      for both your comments.
      I hear what your saying re; choke chain, we use it as a safety chain …not a snap & jerk reprimand..the head halter contains her nicely…much to her disgust…lol – she’s quite obstinate at times and fights the halter (when confronted by off leash dogs)
      I got use to using a halter when walking my rotties…many years ago now…rotties, as you know have draught capabilities…halter like having power steering…
      Ms Bully is very food focussed & will just give me ‘that look’ until I part with a corner of toast..her overinterest in food seems to dissapear when she hears /see’s other dog….I’m thinking a clicker may help her maintain the ‘TREAT’ connection …I can’t whistle anymore so I clap to break or get her attention …this works very well….long as shes not hyperfocussed on incoming k9.
      I can see I need to just suck it up….& be brave…consistent…patient and change my walking route around….to avoid the menaces.
      Ps 😈stun batons are illegal in Australia Im pretty sure…so Im also sure I would be in deep poo if I used it on one of those IRRESPONSIBLE owners. RedN

  12. Great article. Now if only I could find a basket muzzle that would fit my Neapolitan Mastiff.

  13. I’ve gotten lazy about continuing to work on muzzle training on my latest dog because he had to wear an e-collar and loves it. It is his cone of power and has many of the same advantages. As far as we can tell, he relaxes because he feels like he has a bigger head.

  14. great article just a shame the black muzzle in the pictures is too short for the dog wearing it. Always get a proper fitting muzzle!

  15. Makes good sense.

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