Should My Dog Wear a Muzzle?

If you have ever wondered, “Should my dog wear a muzzle?” 

The answer is yes.

Even if you haven’t ever wondered about a muzzle for your dog, the answer is still yes.

Whenever your dog has to be in a situation where she might bite, it’s time to wear a muzzle.

Most dog bites are preventable, and being comfortable wearing a muzzle is a life skill that every dog should have. 

Most of our dogs will go through life without ever needing one, but even the world’s nicest dog can bite if she is scared or in pain. If you and your dog are in an emergency situation, it will be that much less stressful if she is already familiar with a muzzle.

I have been involved with training and showing dogs for over 20 years, and have been a licensed vet tech for four years. I have muzzled more than a couple dogs! 

🐶 < Most of the dogs I have put muzzles on were scared, and needed the muzzle so they didn’t make bad choices we would all regret. 

🐶 < A few were aggressive. 

🐶 < A few were super sweet dogs who were in extreme pain after being hit by cars.

🐶 < And one was my own dog, dealing with a severe skin infection that was so itchy she was literally shredding her skin with her teeth.

Muzzle conditioning your pup is easy, and will help her to be much more relaxed if she does ever need to wear one. 

Learn when a dog should wear a muzzle, which type of muzzle to choose, and how to teach your dog to wear one calmly.

When should you use a muzzle?

The simple answer to this question is: whenever your dog has to be in a situation where she might bite.

Most dog owners are horrified by the suggestion that their precious pooch might bite. But stressful situations can bring out the worst in all of us.  

Dog muzzles are all about safety – protecting people or other animals from being bitten, and protecting your dog from the consequences of a dog bite. 

If your dog has a history of being reactive and aggressive tendencies, wearing a muzzle will also allow veterinary staff to be more relaxed with her, which will in turn keep her calmer.

Here are some situations in which you might want to put a dog muzzle on your pup:

  • After being hit by a car or enduring another traumatic injury
  • Painful minor injuries such as a broken toenail or thorn in paw
  • When being introduced to a new dog
  • If your dog is protective of you and YOU are having a medical emergency
  • Nail trims and vet visits if she gets snappy
  • Any stressful situation
  • Out in public with an aggressive or fearful dog (you never know when someone might approach your dog or try to touch her without permission)
  • Behavior modification training for a dog with a bite history
  • When required to by local laws – sadly some areas have breed specific legislation that requires all dogs of a particular breed to be muzzled in public
  • Most dogs are pretty clear with their body language when they are stressed out. 

Aggressive behaviors include tense body posture, a hard stare, and growling, often with mouth fully open. Signs of fear include cowering low, eyes darting as she looks for an escape, lip licking, and showing the whites of the eyes. She may not want to eat treats. A fearful dog can bite if she feels she is trapped and has no other option.

dog-muzzle

When not to use a muzzle 

Dog muzzles are not a substitute for training. They aren’t an excuse to put your dog in a situation that she can’t handle.

Vet care and grooming sessions are things that HAVE to be done. Mingling with your neighbor’s kids or dogs at the dog park, on the other hand, are not necessities. 

For everyone’s safety, avoid unnecessary situations where your dog might bite. Wait until the other dogs leave before letting her run at the dog park, and keep her in a separate room or her crate when kids are visiting (and teach the children to respect your dog’s space). 

Not all dogs like to socialize, and that’s ok.

Do not use a muzzle if your dog is having trouble breathing unless you have a basket muzzle with a wide basket.

A dog muzzle also isn’t a good choice if your pup is likely to panic because she has never worn one before. The best time to train your dog to wear a muzzle is when she is calm and relaxed at home, not in an emergency situation. 

Different types of muzzles

There are several different muzzle styles, and each one has its best uses. Most muzzles also come in a variety of colors, so you can customize to fit your dog’s style.

Basket muzzle

Basket style muzzles consist of a firm basket that goes around the dog’s snout and then straps that secure it on the dog’s head. The basket is usually made of metal or plastic and often has padding where it sits on the nose. 

These muzzles can be a bit bulky, but they give the dog room to pant and even eat and drink. You can also give your dog treats through the basket.

The Baskerville muzzle is a common brand of basket muzzle.

A basket muzzle is the best choice if your dog will need to wear the muzzle for extended periods of time, such as out for a walk in a crowded place or while going to the vet’s office.  Many dogs prefer this style of muzzle over other options.

Soft or “sleeve” muzzle

Sleeve muzzles are made of fabric, such as canvas, nylon, or mesh, and fit snugly over the snout with a strap that goes behind your pup’s head. 

These muzzles are extremely portable and easy to fit into a first aid kit or glove compartment, but because of the snug fit that keeps the dog’s mouth closed they are not ideal for long term use. Some dogs can still nip wearing a soft muzzle depending on the fit.

Soft muzzles are a good choice for short periods of time, such as during a nail trim or in an emergency situation.

Gauze muzzle

Gauze muzzles are for temporary use in an emergency, and can be made with any strip of fabric, even a spare leash.

Make a loop with the gauze and slide it over the dog’s snout, pulling snug and wrapping it around a second time, then secure it by tying a knot behind the dog’s ears.

Gauze muzzles are obviously not particularly durable, but knowing how to make one can be valuable in an emergency.

Brachycephalic muzzle

Traditional sleeve and basket muzzles often don’t fit the short noses of Bulldogs and Boxers! 

Brachycephalic muzzles are specially designed to fit flat faced dogs so they can breathe normally but can’t hurt anyone.

Dogs can still do some damage even with a muzzle on. But an appropriately sized dog muzzle dramatically cuts down on the risk of a severe bite.

Choosing the right muzzle size for your dog

No matter which type of muzzle you choose, the head piece should fit snugly so that your dog can’t shake or paw it off. When fitted properly, you should only be able to fit one finger comfortably under the strap.

  • For sleeve muzzles, the sleeve should also fit snugly. These muzzles often have a little bit of give due to the fabric material, so the dog may still be able to open her mouth a little.
  • The basket part of basket muzzles can be pretty big. The larger the basket, the wider your dog’s mouth can open to accommodate panting or drinking. The basket should only be slightly longer than your dog’s muzzle, but not touching the tip of her nose for optimal comfort.

If possible, bring your dog with you when buying a muzzle. If she can’t go with you, take measurements of her head so you can choose a muzzle with a proper fit.

How to train your dog to wear a muzzle step-by-step 

With a little time and patience and a lot of small treats, you can teach your dog to love wearing her muzzle! Dogs love learning new things, and making it a game will give your dog a positive association with the muzzle.

Things you will need:

  • Muzzle
  • Treats that your dog really likes
  • Clicker (if desired)

The best time to muzzle train your dog is when she is calm and relaxed at home. 

Remember that wearing a muzzle is all about safety – you want your dog to feel happy about wearing a muzzle, not scared.

Tip: If your dog is uncomfortable with having her face and head touched, work on that separately. Teach her to touch your hand, and build up to running your hands over your dog’s muzzle and head. Feeding treats from your hand can be helpful.

  1. Start by letting your dog sniff the muzzle on her own. Praise and reward, even placing treats on the muzzle itself (peanut butter and squeeze cheese work great for this). 
  2. Hold the muzzle up with one hand, and reach the other hand through the muzzle with treats for your dog to take.
  3. Gradually inch your hand back so your dog’s nose has to reach all the way into the muzzle to get the treats. Praise each time she puts her nose in the muzzle. Repeat until she is doing this quickly and without hesitation.
  4. Now try holding up the muzzle without any treats. Your dog should put her nose in anyway – praise and reward immediately. Repeat a couple times.
  5. You are now ready to start using the straps. When your dog puts her snout in the muzzle, pull the straps into place behind her ears, hold them there for a second while praising her, then take it off and reward. Repeat until she is relaxed with this.
  6. Now start closing the buckle to fasten the straps behind her head. Praise calmly while the muzzle is on, and gradually increase the time she wears it. If your dog is fearful of strange noises, get her used to the sound first before trying to snap the buckle right behind her ears.
  7. Practice wearing the muzzle once a month or so, just to keep that skill fresh in your dog’s mind. This is especially important if you have a fearful or aggressive dog who needs to be muzzled frequently – you don’t want her to only associate the muzzle with scary things, like the vet’s office or a visit from your screaming nieces and nephews.

If your dog likes clicker training, you can completely shape this behavior. Start small, by clicking and treating if your dog touches the muzzle, then working up to placing her snout in place.

Tip: Keep dog training sessions short, especially if you have an anxious dog. Work on this skill a little bit at a time to keep it positive and up-beat.

dog-muzzle

Do muzzles make dogs more aggressive?

In my experience, wearing a muzzle can often help a dog to relax. This is because dogs are extremely good at reading human body language.

If a dog is acting sketchy, we instinctively tense up, ready to jump back if the dog tries to bite. The dog of course reads this tension, and it can make the situation worse. If the dog wears a muzzle, the people around the dog can relax a little more because they know that Fido can’t get a full bite in. 

When the people relax, the dog relaxes, and is easier to work with.

A muzzle is also a great choice for a pup who is leash reactive if she needs to be introduced to a new dog. These dogs tend to respond to other dogs dramatically and often aggressively when they are on a leash, but are fine when loose. 

Obviously your pup shouldn’t be roaming the neighborhood loose, but if she needs to be introduced to a friend’s dog or a new family member, find a secure fenced yard where they can be loose together. The muzzle still provides protection for the other dog, but your pup will feel free to move away if she needs to because she is off the leash.

Muzzles can make aggressive behavior worse if used improperly, however. Just because your dog is muzzled and can’t bite doesn’t mean you should put her in an avoidable situation that upsets her. This could make her feel trapped and cause her to lash out worse.

If your dog resource guards her food bowl, don’t bully her and remove the bowl by force when she has a muzzle on. This will just make her more frantic about protecting her bowl. Behavior modification under the guidance of a canine behaviorist will get you much better results.

When you go to muzzle your dog in an emergency situation, try to do it just like you do when practicing at home. Stay calm, and act like it is just an average day.

Takeaways on muzzling your dog

Every dog should learn to wear a muzzle happily so that she will be familiar with it if she has to wear one in an emergency. I recommend keeping one in your first aid kit.

And for fearful or aggressive dogs, wearing a muzzle keeps everyone safe. Seek the help of a behaviorist to help you work through your dog’s behavior issues.

Don’t forget to introduce the muzzle slowly, starting with very short periods and then gradually leave it on for longer periods of time.

Choose a muzzle that appeals to you and fits your dog, and start training! If you found this article helpful, let us know.

Kate Basedow, LVT
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