Muzzles. Should You Use One?

Dogs are social animals, which is what makes them great pets. But when a dog has social anxieties, the human solution is often the over-use of isolation. Dogs who are suffering from issues related to aggression are truly doing that; suffering. If a dog can't be around other dogs or people, that means they are usually caged for long periods of time, relegated to a single room of the house or in the yard, spending most of their time isolated from other living things. While trying to keep other animals and people safe, the dog is often getting worse, and not better, due to the social isolation. The use of a muzzle is a responsible and humane dog training solution.

The word 'Muzzle' definitely has a negative connotation, and brings all kids of other unpleasant words to mind. So it stands to reason that most people have an ill opinion of them. However, the muzzle is an excellent tool if you have decided to move forward with training a do with aggression issues with other dogs, people, or vet visits. Let's look at what safety a muzzle does and does not provide.

  • Muzzles increase the confidence of the handler in their ability to control a given situation, which allows them to think and react with logic and less emotion. Training the dog in an objective manner is the key to success.
  • Muzzles allow dogs (who would otherwise be isolated) to enjoy normal, environmentally enriching experiences while keeping them and the general public safe.
  • Muzzles cause the public to steer clear of the dog, and usually, that's exactly what the dog needs; just a little more space. The muzzle can usually keep the 'He's Friendly!' types at bay, and cause the overly friendly humans to cross the street. For dogs struggling with fear aggression, having those people avoid eye contact can be a game changer in a positive way.
  • A muzzle alone is not enough. The last phase of police dog training is muzzle work. We teach police K9's to muzzle fight the bad guys. In the video, you can see the helper (the guy the dog is trying to bite) is wearing a ballistic vest. That's because a large dog in a muzzle can break your ribs, knock you out, or kill another animal using blunt force. Using a muzzle on a dog without a leash is a terrible and irresponsible idea! The bottom line is that a muzzle does not equate total safety, and needs to be used in conjunction with an overall training plan and protocol.
  • Muzzles, when used and trained properly, can teach dogs that there are alternatives to aggressive behavior. By taking their ability to bite away, the dog learns he has to use body language and rely on his human to diffuse uncomfortable situations. Most dogs don't actually want to bite, they feel forced to, and learn that biting gets what they want (distance, control, resources) through experience and repetition. Muzzle training takes that option away, and helps the dog realize there are other ways to get what they want.

First, muzzles can only be used under direct supervision. No matter what kind of muzzle you are using, they restrict your dog's ability to regulate their body temperature to some degree. Dogs cool their body by panting, and all muzzles reduce the amount of airflow required to reduce their temperature effectively. They can get caught on things, and cause your dog to panic and thrash, resulting in serious injuries. Muzzles are not safe for dogs who are left unattended. Muzzles are not safe on hot days for the same reason. Safe operating temperature depends on breed and the fitness of your dog. If you are muzzle training your dog, make sure you know how to recognize heat stress.

The type of muzzle you use depends on what you are trying to accomplish through training, and also the size and shape of your dog. NEVER USE A CLOTH MUZZLE.

Any muzzle that completely closes the mouth of the dog is very dangerous. Most dogs that are required to be muzzled for any reason are stressed in some way. Dogs under duress have increased levels of adrenaline and epinephrine in their body, causing their body temperature to rise. A stressed dog is very likely to become dangerously heat exhausted in a cloth muzzle.

Basket muzzles are the most versatile muzzles for training applications ranging from leash walking to vet visits. They allow the most 'breathing' room, while keeping people and other animals relatively safe from the toothy end of the dog. Italian basket muzzles have the widest range of sizes, and fit long-muzzled breeds (shepherds, sight hounds, etc) best. Baskerville muzzles are best for shorter muzzled breeds (pit bulls, Labradors, Spaniels, etc.), that aren't brachiocephalic or snub-nosed. For snub-nosed breeds like boxers, pugs, bulldogs and the like, a custom-fitted muzzle is recommended.

The muzzle should fit snuggly, but there should be about 1/4 of an inch between the end of the dogs mouth and the muzzle. The muzzle should not obstruct your dog's vision. It should be wide enough that it doesn't squeeze the sides of your dogs mouth. The muzzle should allow your dog to take food through the muzzle, pant, and drink water.

Each time a muzzle is used, a safety check should be performed. The handler should grab the muzzle underneath and gently but firmly lift the dog straight up by the muzzle. The muzzle should stay securely fastened. Next, grasp the muzzle top and bottom in both hands and try to “roll” the muzzle down off the dog’s snout to mimic the pawing action the dog can make to insure that the muzzle cannot be taken off by a determined dog. Do this gently but firmly, and don’t wrench the dog’s neck.

Never strap an inexperienced dog into a muzzle. The act of wearing a muzzle requires training. We believe dogs should accept their muzzle willingly, and wear it comfortably. It shouldn't add to their stress! The muzzle should be introduced slowly and with positive reinforcement techniques.

If you think you and your dog could benefit from muzzle training, please contact Dog Dynamix. We will help you find the right solution for you and your dog.