Muzzles: The Why, the How, and the Why Not

Here’s how to teach your dog to enjoy wearing a muzzle – and why you should teach him that! Also: When should your dog absolutely, positively not be muzzled? Click to find out.

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA
5-minute read
Episode #232

I love many things about Manhattan, New York, and here’s one of them: When Manhattanites see a muzzled dog being walked on the street, they almost always have exactly the right response. They pointedly ignore him, exactly the way they would ignore a celebrity. Being easily impressed is just not cool in NYC.

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Alas, in most of the rest of the world, including the rest of New York City, muzzles inspire passersby to shy out of the way, grab their kids and scream, and make rude remarks about the “aggressive dog.” Way to punish the human who’s managing her dog’s behavior problem responsibly, right?

This week, why and how to teach your dog to wear a muzzle, and when you should absolutely not use one.>

Why Teach Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle?

First, the why. Obviously, if your dog has a history of injuring people or other dogs, you should consider muzzling him in public. The scenario to think about is, “What happens if a small child runs past and knocks into Zippy?” Or, “What happens if that bouncy dog bounces over here and gets all into Dogalini’s face?”

But it can be a good move to teach even a non-aggressive dog to enjoy wearing a muzzle. My dog Juniper loves people, but he’ll flail and try to escape from certain kinds of handling. His regular vet knows us well, and between her gentle touch and my clicker, treats, and reassurances, we do fine. But vets who don’t know us aren’t necessarily reassured by my confidence that he won’t bite: They’ve heard that line before! In that case, a muzzled Juni makes for a more relaxed vet and a better exam. And because Juni accepts the muzzle comfortably, it doesn’t add to his stress.

What Kind of Muzzle?

Almost always, a basket muzzle is best, because your dog can open his mouth to pant and drink while wearing it. You’ll want to be able to feed your dog treats while the muzzle is on, so cut out one or two of the plastic bars in front. Never, ever use a nylon grooming muzzle in hot weather unless it’s an emergency, and then remove it as soon as possible. Grooming muzzles are basically tubes that fit closely enough to keep the dog’s mouth shut so he can’t bite, but they don’t allow panting, and panting is how dogs cool themselves. These muzzles are especially dangerous for short-nosed breeds such as Bulldogs.

Vets’ offices often have grooming muzzles available. But if you need to use a muzzle at the vet’s office, then you know right away this is a stressful situation. Stressed dogs often pant. Inability to pant = more stress. Also, if your dog is clicker trained you can often help him cope with stress the way I do with Juni, by marking appropriate behavior and rewarding it with treats. So bring your dog’s comfortable, well-fitted basket muzzle with you.


About the Author

Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA

Jolanta holds professional certifications in both training and behavior counseling and belongs to the Association of Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. She also volunteered with Pet Help Partners, a program of the Humane Society of the United States that works to prevent pet relinquishment. Her approach is generally behaviorist (Pavlovian, Skinnerian and post-Skinnerian learning theory) with a big helping of ethology (animal behavior as observed in non-experimental settings).