It’s time to end the stigma around muzzles with expert know-how from knowledgeable dog behaviourist Philippa Short.
Read on to learn all about the whys and hows of dog muzzle training. Discover what types of muzzles there are and how to teach your dog to be happy and relaxed in a muzzle.
Why is dog muzzle training important?
Sadly, dog muzzles and training have been heavily stigmatised over recent years.
A muzzled dog is a safe dog and there’s no need to fear them.
Muzzle training puppies is an important life skill – they are an excellent tool that can be used for many different reasons. And if a dog is trained to use a muzzle correctly, they will be comfortable wearing it.
So don’t ever hide the fact that your dog is in a muzzle – be proud that you’re being a responsible pet parent.
> When would you use a dog muzzle?
It’s always better to condition your dog to accept and be happy in a muzzle as there are many times when they need to wear one.
This includes occasions like:
- Vet visits – remember to invest in dog insurance to cover you for unexpected costs
- Following any dog laws – for both current and up-and-coming banned breeds
- Managing your dog’s fear of other dogs or people
- Dealing with an accident – your dog may be in pain and need to be muzzled at the accident site to get them to the vet
- Stopping predatory drift – where two dogs are playing chase but the prey drive kicks in and one dog gets too rough with the other
- Stopping your dog from eating inappropriate things or excessively scavenging
- Giving you more confidence about your dog’s behaviour, for example during a behavioural session
Always remember that using a muzzle is better than letting your dog make a mistake and bite someone.
> When shouldn’t you use a dog muzzle?
A muzzle shouldn’t be used to stop barking or chewing as there are multiple other reasons for these behaviours. You need to work with a qualified dog behaviourist to understand why they’re happening and how to fix them.
Dogs should also always be supervised while wearing a muzzle. Barking and chewing often happen when you’re not there, so using a muzzle to stop these can put your dog at risk.
What are the different types of dog muzzles?
Muzzles come in three basic types, but not all are created equally or appropriate for everyday use.
Sometimes known as a ‘cage’ muzzle, this is the type you should be using with your dog.
As the name suggests, they are basket-shaped and cover the dog’s entire nose and mouth. They can be made from plastic, leather, rubber, or wire and are usually easy to keep clean.
This type of muzzle holds the dog’s nose in a sheath and can be made from nylon or mesh.
Stay away from fabric muzzles as they are very restrictive. While your dog can take treats, they can’t open their mouth to pant, drink, or vomit properly. So there’s a risk of overheating or choking.
This should only be used in an emergency or for medical reasons when you don’t have a basket muzzle.
Tape can be used purely to help muzzle your dog so that you can safely pick them up and get them urgent medical help.
> How to tell if your dog’s muzzle fits properly
A properly fitted muzzle should:
- Be completely comfortable for your dog to wear
- Not leave any pressure points around the head or face
- Allow your dog to pant, eat treats, drink, or vomit
The only thing a muzzle should prevent is your dog from being able to open and put their mouth around something to bite.
The Muzzle Up Project can give you ideas on how to get your dog measured for a muzzle. The project also has info on personalising your dog’s muzzle to help make you feel more positive about it.
Steps to muzzle train a dog
The goal in muzzle training is to get your dog to a point where they are happy wearing one.
Although you can achieve training in fewer steps, it’s better to take the time and go through them all properly. You want your dog to be completely comfortable with a muzzle, especially if they’re wearing one daily.
Always remember to bring your dog to the muzzle, not the other way round. This is important for giving your dog a sense of independence and helping with their emotional reaction to the muzzle.
Before you begin, choose some high-value treats that your dog loves and make sure you have a suitable basket muzzle. Repeat each of the following steps at least ten times before moving onto the next one.
The great news is some companies make bespoke muzzles for your dog’s face and these come in a range of different colours.
- Start by sitting in front of your dog with the muzzle behind your back.
- Bring the muzzle round to present to your dog, say ‘yes’ as a marker, and give them a treat.
- Put the muzzle behind your back and repeat.
- This time, keep the muzzle in front of your dog.
- As your dog comes towards the muzzle to nudge it with their nose, say ‘yes’, and give them a treat.
- Open the muzzle and present the open basket towards your dog as if you were going to put it on them.
- Keep your hands still and wait for your dog to put their nose at the entrance of the muzzle. As soon as they do this, then mark and reward.
- This time, wait for your dog’s nose to be halfway into the muzzle before you mark and reward.
- You’re looking for your dog to move a bit further into the muzzle before you can pay them with a treat.
- Now you’re looking for your dog’s whole face to be placed directly into the muzzle.
- As soon as they do this, say ‘yes’, and then feed them a treat through the muzzle itself. This takes practice to get the mechanics right for you and your dog.
- Moving forward, their treat only comes through the bars of the muzzle. Depending on the brand, you can cut out one of the plastic bars to make it easier to give the treat.
- Once your dog is used to placing their face in the muzzle, you want them to get used to moving their face around in the basket.
- Squeeze a soft treat on the inside of the bars, near where the nose rests. This could for example be squeezy cheese, natural peanut butter, or pate.
- Hold the muzzle tightly so it doesn’t slip. Encourage your dog to place their face inside and lick the treat. Give them lots of praise while they move their face around to clean up the treat.
- The aim is to increase the amount of time your dog has their face in the muzzle. You’re also getting them used to the feeling of the muzzle moving and bumping on their face. So the more you repeat this step, the better. At this point, you can introduce a cue such as ‘muzzle’ or ‘muzzle up’.
- Next, you want to get your dog used to the sound of the muzzle fastening. Most basket muzzles have clicking fasteners that go up by the dog’s ears.
- Keeping the muzzle away from your dog’s face this time, practice clicking the straps and immediately giving your dog a treat.
- Repeat until your dog pays no attention to the noise, showing they’ve been desensitised to the sound.
- Pick up the muzzle and put some soft treat on the inside of the bars.
- Stand up and show your dog the muzzle, give them the ‘muzzle’ cue, and then take a few steps back. You’re looking for your dog to ‘chase’ the muzzle.
- Once their nose is in and they start licking, say ‘yes’, and then pop another high value treat through the bars.
- For this stage, use a little bit less of the soft treat on the inside of the bars.
- Move away with the muzzle and wait for your dog to chase and put their nose in.
- This time, wait for their head to be in the muzzle for a few seconds before saying ‘yes’ and putting in another treat. Your dog is learning that treats still come but not straight away and they need to comfortably hold their face in the muzzle.
- At this stage, you want to start desensitising your dog to having the muzzle straps behind their ears. Add some soft treat to the bars, present the muzzle to your dog, and use your ‘muzzle’ cue.
- As your dog puts their face in the muzzle, hold the straps on either side of their face. You may need the muzzle in your lap to help with this.
- As soon as the straps are up by your dog’s face, say ‘yes’, and reward with a treat through the bars.
- Now you’re going to start clipping the muzzle. Present the muzzle (with some soft treat inside) to your dog, say the ‘muzzle’ cue, and wait for them to put their face inside.
- Take the straps and clip them up beside your dog’s head. Say ‘yes’, instantly unclip and give a treat through the bars.
- As you progress, say ‘yes’, leave the muzzle clipped, give them a treat, and then unclip.
- The goal is to now slowly build the number of seconds your dog has the muzzle on and clipped up before you say ‘yes’. Payment still always comes while they’re clipped in.
- Don’t make a big fuss of unclipping the muzzle and seeing your dog remove their head. Focus all praise and reward on your dog being clipped into the muzzle.
- Your next task is to teach your dog that they can walk while wearing the muzzle. Put them on a lead and ask them to start by taking a step, say ‘yes’, and treat through the muzzle.
- Slowly increase the amount of steps each time before rewarding, until your dog is walking happily with the muzzle on.
- All dogs will try and use their paw to see if they can get the muzzle off their face. As soon as they stop doing this, say ‘yes’, and treat. No dog should be excessively worried at this stage and any sign of hysterical pawing shows things have been rushed. If that happens, drop back to the previous step.
- The final stage is encouraging your dog to just hang out in their muzzle. Put the muzzle on, hang out for a few minutes, give them praise and a few treats, then take it off.
- Practice in different places and throughout the day, For example, during breakfast, cuddling on the sofa together, and moving to and from the car on walks.