When you notice a muzzle on a dog, do you tend to think “there goes a bad dog”?
You wouldn’t be alone.
But the truth is, the stigma surrounding muzzles is rooted in a whole lot of misinformation. The unfortunate result is that many parents don’t use muzzles when they should.
Muzzles don’t need to be painful or restrictive, and they’re certainly not indicative of your pup’s good character. Some dogs simply have a tendency to nip, whether that’s because they’re rescue animals with a rough background or because they’re young and feisty. Other dogs may need muzzles to keep them from eating off the ground. Others may just need to be managed during high-stress moments, like vet visits or emergencies.
In any event, there are plenty of scenarios where helping your dog into a muzzle can help them safely socialise and function in the world. It doesn’t make them a bad dog. It just makes you a good dog parent.
Are muzzles only for aggressive dogs?
Many people may associate a dog muzzle with aggression. But “aggression” is often an oversimplification or even the wrong word altogether. Muzzles can be useful tools in a variety of situations and using one doesn’t necessarily mean your dog is dangerous. A muzzle is just one of many tools to manage and guide your dog’s behaviour in a safe and responsible way.
Just like humans, dogs possess a wide range of personalities and behaviours and the causes of those behaviours can vary. For instance, your dog might be anxious outside, around strangers, or around other dogs. Learning how to manage anxiety in your dog can be helpful.
Or they might have an insatiable urge to eat harmful substances off the ground. Knowing when and how to use a muzzle is all about recognising your dog’s needs.
How to train your dog to wear a muzzle
Before you can regularly use a muzzle, you’ll need to train your dog to be okay with wearing one. A good way to start is by creating a positive association with the muzzle. Use treats and praise to make the experience positive for your pup. When putting a muzzle on your dog, you’ll definitely want them to see the muzzle as a good thing, not something to be feared.
You can start by just showing your dog the muzzle and giving them a treat. Eventually, you can progress to putting the muzzle on your dog for short periods of time, always pairing it with treats and praise. Be sure to introduce the muzzle gradually, adjusting the fit over time to ensure your dog’s comfort. Monitor your dog while they're wearing the muzzle to make sure they're comfortable and safe.
The purpose of a dog muzzle
It’s true that muzzles for dogs can help prevent aggressive pups from biting, but that doesn’t tell the whole story.
Preventing biting or aggressive behaviour
Yes, muzzles can help prevent your dog from biting, especially in situations where they feel scared or threatened. While not all dogs bite, it's important to remember that biting is a natural behaviour for many dogs – a natural result of their instinct to protect themselves – and not something that makes them “bad.” A muzzle is one way to help manage this behaviour in a safe and humane way.
Preventing dogs from eating harmful substances
Some pups have the unfortunate habit of doing their best vacuum cleaner impression when they’re out on the town. But eating bones and other unsafe items off the street during walkscan make your dog extremely ill. Suffice to say, muzzles can be very helpful for dogs who have a tendency to scavenge. Indeed, muzzles will often flat-out solve this problem in a safe and effective way.
Training and behaviour modification, but never punishment
Muzzles aren’t always needed in perpetuity. They can be an extremely helpful tool for training and behaviour modification, providing a safety net during training sessions and allowing you and your dog to focus on learning. A muzzle can be especially helpful if your dog is learning to interact with other dogs or people.
But just to be crystal clear about this: A muzzle should never be used as a punishment or to force a dog to comply with an instruction. There’s no faster way to make a dog aggressive – or to reinforce a dog’s existing aggression – than to get punitive during training. Using a muzzle as punishment can create fear and anxiety, which can actually lead to more behavioural problems in the future.
Training should be all about positive reinforcement, whether you’re personally training your dog or relying on a professional trainer. If you use a muzzle humanely, perhaps you won’t need the muzzle forever. More often than not, the goal of using a muzzle is to get to a point where you no longer need to. But if you use a muzzle for punishment, there’s a good chance your dog will need the muzzle for the rest of their life.
During accidents, illnesses, and emergencies
Even the gentlest of pooches can start biting when they’re injured, acutely ill, or frantic due to a nerve-wracking emergency. In moments like these, a muzzle is an unmatched tool for preventing fear from translating into bites.
So even if your pup has never needed a muzzle before, it can’t hurt to keep one on hand. If you want to be especially prepared, you might try familiarising your dog with a muzzle now; that way, they’ll be less likely to fight you if you try to apply a muzzle during a high-stress situation.
Vet visits can be stressful for some dogs, especially those who tend to get riled up around unfamiliar humans or animals. Again, even the friendliest of dogs can bite when they’re scared or stressed due to sickness or injury. A muzzle can help ensure the safety of every pet and person at the practice, both in the waiting room and during the examination.
Some dogs find grooming uncomfortable and a muzzle can prevent any nipping or biting during the process. In these cases, it’s important to find a groomer who’s experienced in working with dogs who wear muzzles and who uses positive reinforcement techniques to make the grooming experience as gentle and supportive as possible.
When not to use a muzzle
You certainly shouldn’t use muzzles all the time, or in every situation. So when should you avoid them?
To stop barking or chewing
A muzzled dog is not a silenced dog. They can still bark. So if your dog is barking too much, you’ll need to figure out what’s causing their stress – and perhaps even turn to a professional trainer – to help them overcome their high-volume habit through positive reinforcement training methods.
You should never use a muzzle to stop your furry friend from gnawing on objects, even if your shoes and furniture have been doubling as chew toys. Muzzles are only meant to be worn for short periods of time, like during a walk or a trip to the vet. Muzzling your dog all the time – which is what you’d need to do to stop them from chewing – would only lead to discomfort and worsen the stress that’s causing their chewing in the first place.
Barking and chewing probably aren’t signs that your dog needs a muzzle.
For example puppies usually bark and chew a lot until they grow older. This is all part of their development and it's up to you as their pet parent to help them understand acceptable behaviours in a positive way.
If the habit continues though it may mean your dog has an underlying problem, like boredom, anxiety, or a lack of exercise. There may also be an underlying health condition.
Speak with your vet about your concerns, who can do a health check. If there's an underlying health problem this can be identified and treated.
At ManyPets we can cover behavioural treatment when needed as a result of illness or injury when referred by your vet.
If there's no medical reason continued training and lifestyle changes should help sort out those troublesome behaviours.
As an alternative to avoiding stressful situations
If your dog finds a particular situation stressful, a muzzle won’t improve their emotional state. A pup who can’t visit the park without displaying fear-based aggression shouldn’t return to the park until those anxieties and aggressive behaviours have been addressed through training.
Muzzling a fearful dog might stop them from biting, but it won’t prevent a stressful situation from sending them into a frenzy. In fact, it won’t even stop them from attempting to bite – and keep in mind that a muzzled dog can still lunge and pounce.
If your dog ultimately can’t learn how to handle certain stressful situations or environments, you’ll just have to keep them away, or at least choose your moments wisely – for instance, by visiting an empty park early in the morning.
How to choose the right muzzle for your dog
A good muzzle for dogs should be comfortable and well-fitting. It definitely shouldn’t be too tight or cause any discomfort. Aside from preventing biting, it shouldn’t stop them from using their mouths in the ways that nature intended.
Muzzles should allow panting, drinking and eating
Some pet parents might not realize that modern muzzles are designed to let their furry friends pant, drink, and take treats with the muzzle on. All of this is vital for their comfort and well-being; panting is your pup’s way of cooling down, and nothing good comes from hunger, dehydration, or an inability to eat treats during training.
Use the right muzzle in the right situation
Different situations might call for different types of muzzles. For example, a soft fabric muzzle might be suitable for a quick vet visit, while a sturdy basket muzzle might be better for a longer training session.
The final word on muzzles
A muzzle isn’t a sign of a bad or dangerous dog. It doesn’t even necessarily indicate that a dog has bitten anyone in the past. A muzzle is just one of many tools in your pet parenting toolkit, a simple device that can help you ensure everyone’s well-being, especially your dog’s, in certain situations.
If you train your pup well – with lots of treats and positive reinforcement and with no yelling or punishment – there’s an excellent chance they won’t need the muzzle forever.
How ManyPets can help
Here at ManyPets we understand the challenges of pet ownership, and we’re here to support you every step of the way. That's why we offer dog insurance to help you provide the best possible care for your furry family member. Our coverage is designed to keep you prepared for any unexpected health issues and it also includes liability cover (for dogs only) so you can focus on enjoying every precious moment with your pet. Learn more about our dog insurance today and give your pet the protection they deserve.