I have been following a case where a groomer was severely mauled by a client’s dog. The dog came in muzzled. The muzzle was removed and the groomer severely injured. Several months earlier the dog attacked a neighbor’s dog and bit a dog walker. The dog was designated dangerous and was supposed to be muzzled. There are conflicting stories about how much of the dog’s history was given to the groomer. There have been conflicting reports about why the muzzle was removed and store policy. What it comes down to is a dog needing to be muzzled was not and someone was seriously injured. A veterinarian I knew was trying to examine a small dog that was a biter. The owner did not think his small dog could do damage when he bit so he did not muzzle the dog. Well the dog bit and the bite damaged a nerve in the vet’s hand. If the damage did not heal it would have severely impacted the vet’s ability to work. This is an example of why muzzle training for all dogs is important. Most people would agree that muzzles are needed for dogs that are deemed dangerous. However, as a trainer I feel muzzles should be a part of any dog owner’s tool box. You are out with a lower confidence dog and though the dog has never bitten, you do not want to risk the chance of something if the dog is startled. Muzzles are not a bad thing.
All dogs should be muzzle trained. Some sports require muzzles like certain types of lure coursing events. Dogs who lunge while on leash, especially if they try to nip, should be muzzled while out. If your dog is stressed by vet exams or being handled by groomers even when the vet or groomer is trained in low stress handling, I would use a muzzle. Remember, even if your dog is a great, relaxed, social dog, there may be times when a muzzle is needed.
Train your dog to accept a muzzle before one is needed. The more comfortable a dog is with muzzling the better. The Muzzle Up Project has some great on-line resources. You can also have a dog trainer get you started. Once you learn what to do the process is not difficult. It simply takes time, practice and refreshing the work. I will discuss muzzle training basics in another column. A dog should be acclimated to wearing any muzzle, but muzzles are not all equal. What type pf muzzle should you choose?
Fabric muzzles, muzzles that slip like tubes over the snoot and the cute duck bill ones inhibit the ability to pant, drink and receive treats during training. Dogs that cannot pant cannot effectively cool themselves. Panting when not trying to cool down is a stress indicator. Also, some dogs can still bite while wearing some of these muzzles. These are for short term use only and not for general wear. A good basket muzzle that allows for panting, drinking and delivering treats is preferred. As with anything, periodically check the muzzle for wear and tear. Metal ones may let loose at the weld point and over time plastic can fatigue. Leather requires maintenance and cleaning.
A muzzle will not teach a dog to stop biting. One the muzzle is off, if it is fitted poorly or the wrong muzzle is used, a dog can still bite. A muzzle does not teach a dog to stop barking. Muzzles sold to “stop barking” hold the mouth shut can lead to overheating, dehydration, etc. Muzzles should never be used to make a dog safer for dog parks. If a dog needs a muzzle around dogs or humans, he should not be at dog parks. Nor should they be used to let dogs “work their issues out.” Muzzles are to increase safety, not an excuse to do something with a dog that he should not be doing.
It is time we get rid of the stigma of muzzles and realize they are for safety. There is no shame in teaching your dog to wear a muzzle or using one when needed.
In the past I have written about allowing dogs to determine if they want to be touched. However, there are times your dog needs to be touched: vet visits, grooming, examined by the owner, and yes, when being muzzled. Therefore, the first lessons needed are allowing touch. If your dog is not accepting of touch, gives indications he may bite, etc., contact a good trainer to get started. Right now, I am going to assume a dog is already good with being handled as we look at teaching a dog to wear a muzzle. Begin with getting your dog used to the presence of the muzzle before we put it on.
Wearing a muzzle is not natural for a dog. Before we attempt to muzzle we must work to make the presence of the muzzle near the dog a positive thing. Carry the muzzle with you when you are home. Hang it from your belt loop. Feed the dog while you are holding it. Put the muzzle down and let the dog investigate it. Put good treats around the muzzle as it sits on the floor. When the dog is OK with the muzzle’s presence start teaching him to put his snoot in the muzzle.
If the muzzle is large enough slip a small container, open end up, in to the basket. Drop an awesome treat in the muzzle and let your dog take it out. If the muzzle is too small for this take a treat stick and slide it through the spaces in the front and let the dog take a nibble. Put a treat on the ground under the basket of the muzzle and let the dog get it. Slide a spoon with good food through the basket of the muzzle and let the dog lick it off. When the dog is eagerly looking at the muzzle as a source of good things begin offering the muzzle with no treat. If your dog puts his snoot in, reinforce that behavior with a treat slid to him through the basket. Be patient, do not rush things. Progress to feeding the dog through the muzzle while the straps are hooked up. Continue to make every step of being muzzled a positive and fun experience. Even after your dog is muzzle trained make sure you keep making muzzling positive. Yes, just because he is trained to wear the muzzle does not mean we can stop making it positive.
Have your dog wear the muzzle at times when he is not under stress. We do not want to risk a dog associating a muzzle with bad things happening around him. You want to make wearing a muzzle as normal to your dog as wearing a collar.
Always remember: if it has a mouth it can bite. Being prepared and having a dog that will allow a muzzle without fighting is a good thing. If needed call a trainer to walk you through the process. Muzzle training is not difficult but sometimes a little guidance from a professional never hurts.