Muzzled Dogs are Good Dogs, Too
Let’s talk muzzles!
What was your reaction seeing a picture of Benny in a muzzle?
Muzzle training is a controversial topic in the dog world. When we see a dog in a muzzle, we can’t help but to assume there are some aggressive tendencies there. We also tend to be worried about the dog’s quality of life: Does he have access to water? Is he able to pant properly? How can he go about doing fun dog things outside when he’s locked in “face prison”?
Yes, muzzles are frequently used on dogs who exhibit aggressive behavior. It is a great management tool that keeps everyone safe. Knowing that, we tend to consciously or subconsciously label certain dogs as “vicious” when we see them in a muzzle. We judge, become worried, and stay out of their way.
A muzzled dog is still a good dog, and not every muzzled dog bites. There are actually multiple reasons why a dog may need to wear a muzzle:
Emergency situations: A dog who is scared or in pain is more likely to bite. It is a good idea to muzzle your dog in case you need to treat or move them after an injury. This way, everyone involved remains safe.
Safety at the vet: There are likely times your dog is muzzled by your vet or groomer. They are often placed on a dog on the spot and in an abrupt fashion, often using a restrictive gauze wrap or a tight cloth muzzle. It can be very traumatic in an already stressful situation, risking your dog becoming more fearful and reactive every time they are handled by a third person in the future.
You can help your dog become more comfortable in those situations by desensitizing them to a muzzle early on, and helping create positive associations with the tool.
Exposing to new people/animals: If you just adopted your dog or got a puppy who hasn’t been exposed to little humans or other animals, it’s a good idea to muzzle your pup during their first interaction. It takes away a great deal of worry and helps you better gauge how your newly adopted dog and your toddler or resident cat get along with each other.
Picking up unsafe items: dogs (especially puppies) often explore the world with their mouths. Some have a learned tendency to scavenge and eat everything off the ground, or consume treats from the kitty litter box. Muzzling is a safer and more humane alternative to worrying about your lab who swallows rocks, a terrier who has a history of killing and/or consuming wildlife in your yard, or a beagle who goes after a chicken bone or a saucy knife, not stopping for anything.
In the photo, Benny wears a muzzle because he has a tendency to eat large amounts of plants when excited or stressed.
Your dog doesn’t have to hate the muzzle!
First and foremost, make sure you choose the type of muzzle that is comfortable for your pup.
Cloth and mesh muzzles are great options for short-term use when grooming or during an unpleasant procedure. They’re foldable and easy to slip on, but are also designed to keep the muzzle closed, making it less pleasant for your dog to wear.
For longer-term use, condition your dog to wear a basket muzzle. It allows your pup to pant, yawn, drink, and accept treats.
It is important to go at your dog’s pace when doing muzzle conditioning. Start by giving your dog high-value treats just for looking at the muzzle, then sniffing it, followed by briefly placing their nose in the muzzle. Encourage your dog to move into the muzzle, instead of placing it on them, while continuously giving treats. Work your way up to briefly closing the strap, then releasing and taking the muzzle off. When conditioning is done step-by-step, your dog will ultimately be excited to wear their muzzle!