Muzzles—Not Just for Aggression Anymore!
Muzzles for dogs can be a great tool in specific circumstances. However, because muzzles can look intimidating and have some unfortunately negative associations you might be afraid of what people will think of your dog if he needs to wear one. You may be afraid that people will assume your dog is aggressive or mean-tempered. But those connotations are slowly falling by the wayside; in truth, a muzzle can be a great tool for keeping your dog safe in potentially stressful situations, and while some dogs who wear muzzles have aggression issues that need to be worked out, many perfectly friendly dogs wear muzzles from time to time.
Muzzles are used for bite prevention, primarily in those situations where a dog may feel frightened, threatened, or is in pain. Some dogs benefit from wearing muzzles while on walks, while others need them for visits to the vet or groomer’s.
Muzzles can also be of great aid if your dog is injured. Injured, frightened dogs are at greater risk for biting—remember they can’t tell us “that hurts, please don’t touch!” and bites don’t always indicate an aggression issue. Even the most gentle dogs can bite if they feel threatened or very, very frightened, and having a muzzle in your bag of tricks can mitigate a dangerous situation.
No matter what reason your dog wears a muzzle, they are always meant for relatively short-term use, such as while walking or at an appointment. Always supervise your dog when he’s muzzled—if left alone with one on he can hurt himself trying to get it off. Naturally, they should never be used to side-step dealing with a serious issue like aggression. If your dog has aggression issues an experienced dog trainer or behaviorist can help. Additionally, as this super helpful page from the American Kennel Club points out, a muzzle should never be used to keep a dog from vocalizing or chewing. Excessive barking or chewing might indicate boredom or anxiety, and the underlying issue needs to be addressed and a solution found.
Making certain your dog’s muzzle fits is important—the muzzle must be secure, so the pup can’t just take it off, but also has to be as comfortable as possible. If you can try a muzzle on before purchase that’s fantastic, but you may have to measure your pupper’s snout if you don’t have the option of trying the muzzle on beforehand. Good online stores will have measurement guides.
There are numerous styles of muzzles, two popular styles are basket muzzles or nylon muzzles. Basket muzzles are the most classically “muzzle”-looking, and some people find them intimidating, but this style allows your pup to open his mouth and pant, which is how dogs regulate their body temperature. Basket muzzles can also allow your dog to take a drink of water, or get a tasty treat for being such a good boy. They come in a variety of materials, from wire to rigid plastic to leather.
Nylon muzzles keep the jaws closed, and should only be worn for very short periods, due to the fact that they prevent your dog from panting. You tend to see these styles at groomer’s and some veterinarian offices. The nylon muzzles come out when this author’s dogs are getting their nails clipped, for example, and they’re only worn for a few minutes, until the manicures are done.
If you decide that investing in a muzzle is a good idea, it will be helpful for your dog to get used to it before he really needs to wear it. This will help mitigate additional stress to your dog when the muzzle comes out at the vet’s or groomer’s. If your dog learns to associate the muzzle with good things, like treats, he’s much less likely to be afraid of it. There are some great tips on how to acclimate a dog to a muzzle using the Clicker Method here.
Muzzles may look frightening, and it’s true that some people may be put off by them. It seems like those old assumptions are fading as more information comes to light, and as the general public is learning more about dogs and dog behavior. Remember, a muzzle can be a great aid in certain situations and it’s really about keeping your dog safe, as well as the people and other dogs he interacts with.