Muzzles: the Why, the How and the Why Not
Muzzles are probably one of the most misunderstood tools in dog training.
The majority of society think that they are cruel.
Even when aggressive dogs come into the veterinary clinic where I work 98% of people don’t want their dog muzzled.
Certain European countries demand muzzles be worn by certain breeds of dogs while they are out of their house.
The truth is that muzzles keep people safe.
The other truth is that muzzles keep DOGS safe!
Dogs that bite are often deemed dangerous and euthanized.
I would much rather walk my aggressive dog in a muzzle than risk that he would bite someone and have his life cut short.
I also don’t mind him being muzzled at the vet or when he has his nails trimmed.
I actually think that having a muzzle on his face keeps him preoccupied and he is thinking less about anything else that is going on around him!
I have spent a good part of my career working with protection and police dogs and part of our training is to acclimate dogs to doing obedience in muzzles and even agitating them in muzzles. Muzzle work is very important.
I have learned to love muzzles.
Let me tell you why.
Muzzles Keep Your Dog Safe
If your dog is in a muzzle, he can’t bite another person or another dog or animal. This keeps him from being deemed a dangerous dog!
Muzzles Keep Me Safe
Muzzles keep me from being bitten.
I don’t want to be bitten, whether I am working with an aggression case or whether I am trimming a Chihuahua’s nails at the vet.
Muzzles Keep Other Dog’s Safe
If a dog is dog aggressive, it makes training and socializing with other dogs (which is essential for a normal life) safe.
I don’t want to take my own dog, who is my demonstration dog to help dog aggressive dogs to learn if the aggressor is not on leash and muzzled. It is not worth it to me if she gets bitten or mauled.
She trusts in me to keep her safe when I work on rehabilitation with these kinds of dogs and I will always ensure that she is safe, even if the leash were to get dropped.
Muzzles Keep Other Animals Safe
I have worked with dogs that also have aggression or severe prey drive issues with chickens, ducks, sheep, horses, cows, cats, etc.
Keeping a muzzle on the dog that is learning and then working on obedience keeps the distraction animal safe.
Just like I don’t want my own dog mauled.
I also don’t want a chicken killed or a horse tormented (especially because horses kick and kill dogs)
Muzzles and leashes with obedience and focus are key to working with animals that suffer from this kind of aggression.
Muzzles Give Your Dog Something Else to Think About
I mentioned this earlier, but it also deserves more elaboration.
It is absolutely true, that if your dog is stressed or slightly fearful or aggressive at places like the vet, the introduction of a muzzle allows for negative or stressful things to happen more quickly and with less trauma.
Because the dog is focused on what is on his face, he is less fearful of the needles and the nail trimmers. Sometimes it is amazing.
I even admit I have muzzled overly excited dogs in an attempt to just get them to sit still long enough for me to get nails trimmed.
This same phenomenon can happen with training; the muzzle gives them something else to focus on rather than overt aggression and their trigger.
It is kind of the same theory of the “Thunder Shirt”, it places focus somewhere else and can, in some ways, take some of the aggression out of the dog’s “sails”.
Some dogs realize there is no way they can bite and they acquiesce to the situation, which makes training easier for the owner and more tolerable for the dog.
Muzzles Give Us Space
I used to HATE how people would judge me and my dog, when my dog had a muzzle on his face.
- I felt bad.
- I felt guilty.
- I felt that the dog and I were being judged harshly.
Then I realized, that I didn’t have to care.
People judge people, dogs and things all of the time. Often our actions have little to do with other people’s judgement anyway.
I have gotten used to the dirty looks and the snide comments and I have lived to realize that it actually keeps people away from me and my dog when I am training.
I often put a muzzle on a perfectly social dog just to escape screaming children and explicit conversations about all things “dog” when I am out training. Sometimes I don’t want to be social, I just want to train.
But the nice thing is that a muzzle keeps people and dogs out of yours and your dog’s bubble.
It doesn’t matter if your dog is dog aggressive, or if he doesn’t like people, a basket muzzle is a universal sign to give you space and therefore it allows you to train without stress.
If I have to worry that a toddler will sneak up behind me and my aggressive dog and he might bite the child in the face, it creates an immense amount of stress for us both; because my stress travels down the leash to my dog.
If I have to have my head on a swivel and am constantly on the look out for dogs that are off leash because my dog is dog aggressive; it also creates undue stress on the two of us while we are training.
I like to train my dogs with a calm demeanor, always, so that they too will feed off of my aura. I can’t do that nearly as well, if I am afraid my dog will have an aggressive moment.
Make the Muzzle Fun
I feed my dogs out of their muzzle WAY before I ever strap the muzzle on their face.
I use duct tape to tape the end of the muzzle shut (sticky to sticky so that the inside is not sticky) and then I pour food into the muzzle and let the dog come and eat out of it like a feeding bag.
I can also use hot dogs or great treats in there.
After they have been acclimated to shoving their face in there, I take the tape off and being to slather peanut butter or liverwurst into the muzzle and allow the dog to lick this out.
Sometimes, at this point I barely hang the muzzle on their face.
Then I can click for keeping the muzzle on, while I insert great treats through the gap of the muzzle.
The important thing is to get them used to it before ever strapping it on and leaving it on their face.
They should be excited to shove their face in the muzzle!
From there you can add obedience, click and reward through the muzzle. For a great video series that shows how to teach basic obedience, click here.
As always, make it fun!!!!
Why I Hate Muzzles
I will agree that in some instances, people over use them.
They are not to be used all of the time in your home if you have dogs that don’t get along.
I think this is a cruel and unacceptable way to live.
Sure, they can be used to training for these situations too, but they are not meant to be a constant piece of clothing or a band aid without the use of any training.
I hate cloth muzzles, unless they are going to be on for less that 2-5 minutes.
Cloth muzzles restrict breathing and the ability for your dog to pant.
These muzzles should only be used by vets, vet hospitals or other people who just simply need to get a quick treatment done.
If you leave a muzzle like this on a dog for extended period, they will die.
I once knew a client whose neighbor left on of these muzzles on their collie because the dog barked outside in the back yard during the day. Their solution was to muzzle the dog and put it outside. The dog died of heat exhaustion within the day.
Muzzles are not an excuse not to train!
Muzzles are only a tool to help the dog and owner relax and a way to control the dog and environment to the best of the owners ability.
I have been a professional dog trainer and pet sitter for over 20 years. I am a Certified Professional Dog Trainer, through the international Certification Counsel of Professional Dog Trainers. I have trained and worked with police, Schutzhund and personal protection dogs. I trained Assistance Dogs in a men’s prison and ran my own nonprofit organization to take adult dogs from shelters and to train them to assist children and adults with disabilities, at no charge to my clients. My nonprofit organization and I were nominated for several awards of merit and even made the front page of the Denver Post. I was a veterinary technician for many years, where I learned about all aspects of health and preventative medicine. I have trained and worked with exotic animals and cheetahs. I introduced a temperament testing program in my local shelter and sat on the board of directors. I volunteered with my dog “Mr. Snitch” and helped local children learn to read. I have attained obedience titles and several blue ribbons. I am constantly in search of ways to continue my education and excellence when it comes to animals, their behavior and their health.