No dog owner likes to think about putting a muzzle on their dog but depending on the type of dog you own and where you live, using a dog muzzle may be a necessary part of your pet-owning life. Breed specific legislation (or "BSL") in a number of provinces and states across North America mandates certain breeds, or dogs bearing the appearance of a banned breed, are required to wear a muzzle when off private property or out of a secured pen. BSL aside, individual dogs known to act in a threatening manner toward strangers or other animals can greatly benefit from wearing a muzzle, and with careful selection and appropriate training, it doesn't have to be the distasteful experience most pet owners associate with dog muzzles.
Choosing the Right Dog Muzzle
The first thing to consider is why you need a dog muzzle. Has your dog demonstrated aggression in the past? Are you required by law? Is it for trips to the veterinarian? Or is your dog a threat to your shoes and furniture? One reason not to get a dog muzzle is to stop unwanted chewing unless you have exhausted all other alternatives to preventing that kind of behavior. If you think you need a dog muzzle for chewing, talk to an experienced trainer first!
There are a few different types of dog muzzles but the most recommended and humane is the basket dog muzzle. At first glance, it may appear threatening and overtly "cage-like" but in actual fact, it is the least likely to restrict movement or irritate the skin, allows for excellent air flow, and doesn't restrict panting or drinking.
Basket dog muzzles are available in wire and plastic forms. The wire muzzle is the sturdiest option, best for large dogs or bite prevention. A plastic basket or cage-type muzzle is more suitable for smaller animals.
Fabric muzzles may look more comfortable but they are actually considered the lesser option. They are recommended only for short period of time, such as during grooming or uncomfortable veterinary visits and shouldn't be used during warm weather because they can chafe and prevent panting. There's also the risk of it being chewed off. For a dog required to wear a muzzle during all outings, a fabric muzzle is not recommended.
Once you have selected the type of muzzle you need, the size and fit is important to your dog's comfort. Be sure to get a proper measurement of your dog's snout to ensure a proper fit.
Training to Wear a Muzzle
Perhaps the most difficult task of using a dog muzzle is training both yourself and your dog to accept it. Dogs are sensitive to the emotions of their owners and any stress you experience when using the muzzle will pass to your dog. If you are uncomfortable, the best thing to do is speak to an experienced trainer who can help you both overcome your uneasiness.
As always, associating the muzzle with positive experiences will help. You will likely need to start with short periods of wear and gradually lengthen them based on your dog's comfort level. Ample praise can go a long way toward teaching your dog that the muzzle is not a form of punishment.
Experts agree dog muzzles can help prevent certain behavior but they are not a solution to stop it for good. If your motivation for using a dog muzzle is behavioral, try to understand the root of the problem and explore long-term solutions through training. Regardless of how you feel about dog muzzles, remember they can be useful tools not only to shield others, but also to shield your dog from the consequences of a bad situation.