By Courtney Emken
co-written by  Bart Emken, CPDT-KA & Jen Larson, KPA-CTP

Dalmation dog in a muzzleMuzzles have become a bit controversial, and present a sort of appearance problem for dog owners. Many people assume they’re reserved specifically for reactive dogs who present a danger or bite risk to other dogs and people around them. In reality, THIS IS TOTALLY NOT THE CASE. Muzzles are a great training tool that any owner can effectively use with their dog.

Muzzles have a variety of applications, many of which have nothing to do with reactivity in dogs. Still, appropriate precautions are needed before use. Certain muzzles, just like certain collars, can be hazardous. Here’s our guide to using a muzzle with your dog in an effective, easy way.

How To Pick The Right Muzzle And When To Use It

People often feel uncomfortable or afraid around muzzled dogs, but this is totally unnecessary. Muzzles have a wide variety of purposes other than preventing a reactive dog from snapping or biting others. They are often used to:

  • Prevent self-injury
  • Stop chewing due to allergies
  • Reduce and/or control guarding behavior
  • Prevent furniture from being destroyed
  • Keep dogs calm during grooming
  • Facilitate classical conditioning

Also, wearing a muzzle is far more common than you may imagine. Whether it’s during a vet visit, grooming, or a bad allergic reaction, your dog will likely have to wear one at some point in his or her life.

However, not all muzzles are safe. Make sure you avoid using nylon and fabric muzzles. These muzzles pull your dog’s jaw almost completely shut, which prevents dogs from drinking or panting. Panting is an essential function for managing body temperature. In the heat, these muzzles can be deadly.

Full-cage, or basket muzzles, are the best option for your dog. They’ll still be able to open and close their mouth within the muzzle, allowing them to pant freely. You’ll be able to reward them with treats too.

It’s important to muzzle train dogs because certain situations can require their use. A few common examples would include:

  • While traveling (e.g. airplanes, trains)
  • Receiving vaccinations at the vet
  • Under breed-specific regulations
  • During grooming sessions

If you’re prepared beforehand, instead of a having an unsettling new experience, your dog will remain calm and comfortable. Plus, if you’ve made their muzzle really exciting, they might even enjoy themselves!

Muzzle Training: Easy For You, Fun For Dogs

The key goal in muzzle training is to make the muzzle exciting, positive, and fun. Dogs can be hesitant at first, especially if they’ve had no experience with muzzles. But, you’d be surprised how quickly they’ll change their minds.

The first step is to desensitize the muzzle. Leave the muzzle lying around the house. This allows your dog to familiarize themselves with the sight and smell of the muzzle on a routine basis. This makes it a mundane object, no different than any old toy or leash, and reduces any anxiety they may have around you using it on them.

After they’ve gained some familiarity with it, start to have your dog practice wearing the muzzle. During these exercises, ensure the experience is positive and fun. Giving simple rewards is enough to create a positive association, such as:

  • Treats
  • Praise/attention
  • Going on a walk

Wearing a muzzle definitely doesn’t have to be a negative experience for a dog. Through effective conditioning, any dog can become acquainted and comfortable with their muzzle.

Out here on the Ranch, we have a client dog who just loves his muzzle. If you think we’re exaggerating, come down to Behavior Boot Camp one day and watch him bound over just to stick his face inside. He knows there are treats on the way when he does!

If you ever find yourself needing to use a muzzle, please contact us! Our trainers will show you the best ways to use it, and how to make your dog love wearing one.

Image Permissions

Dalmatian Muzzle by Maja Dumat

Feeding Through Muzzle by Maja Dumat

Muzzled Pooch by Justin Smith