Muzzle Training 101

A large doberman wearing an orange muzzle looking off screen

Is a muzzled dog a bad dog?

No! While the image of a muzzle evokes fear and hesitation, nothing could be further from the truth. Destigmatized, a muzzle is a valuable safety and training tool. A 2020 survey of dog owners reported that only 21.6 percent never used a muzzle.

In a sense, a muzzle is no different from a leash. It prevents dogs from engaging in certain behaviors. Dogs associate leashes with trips outside and become excited upon seeing them. Once a muzzle is paired with treats, training sessions, and playtime, dogs can enjoy wearing their muzzles.

Another comparison you can make is to a crate. While many people choose not to crate their dogs, crate training is still necessary to reduce stress around vet visits, grooming trips, and transportation. By anticipating occasions that require your dog to be muzzled and working on muzzle training, you can reduce your dog’s stress levels and keep these situations as pleasant and anxiety-free as possible.

Muzzles Keep a Good Dog Good

True or false: muzzles are for aggressive dogs only.

It should come as no surprise at this point but…false.

Muzzles are best introduced and used before a dog gets to the point where they might bite. Some vets and groomers muzzle anxious dogs as a matter of protocol.

Remember–expert dog handling and training requires you to be proactive. Prevention is always the most effective method in the long run.

Muzzles also get used for dogs that are working on Leave It. While dogs are famously indiscriminate omnivores, preventing them from ingesting objects off the ground can keep them healthy. Dogs with pica, a disorder characterized by eating inedible objects, benefit from muzzle training enormously.

When Should You Use a Muzzle?

  • During vet visits: Pain and illness can cause friendly and well-socialized dogs to behave uncharacteristically
  • During grooming visits: nail trims are a common trigger for dogs. Don’t forget to desensitize your dog to having their paws handled before their first trip to the groomer.
  • During walks: Because people are more likely to give dogs wearing muzzles space, reactive or anxious dogs may find muzzled walks less stressful

Muzzles are not designed to hold a dog’s mouth closed. They should not be used to manage barking or chewing.

Muzzles are meant for short-term usage only. Always supervise your dog while they’re wearing a muzzle.

Types of Muzzles

  • Basket muzzles: Made from leather, wire, plastic, or rubber, basket muzzles look like baskets strapped to a dog’s face. Despite the intimidating appearance, basket muzzles are generally the most comfortable option, as they do not strap a dog’s mouth closed or place pressure on their snouts.
  • Soft muzzles: Usually made from nylon or mesh, soft muzzles hold a dog’s mouth closed. This design can prevent a dog from being able to pant and cool themselves effectively. However, soft muzzles are not strong enough to stop your dog from biting.
  • Air muzzles: Flat-faced dogs cannot wear traditional muzzles, so a plastic dome encloses their heads. Air muzzles also block their vision, which can be useful in some situations but increase anxiety in others, so only use them when appropriate.

Note: Although head halters such as the gentle leader look similar to muzzles, they do not prevent your dog from opening their mouth and biting.

How to Size and Fit a Muzzle Correctly

A muzzle should be loose enough that your dog can open their mouth to pant, drink water, and eat easily. Remember: a muzzle is not a punitive device, and your dog should enjoy wearing it!

Make sure the strap is loose enough that you can insert a finger between your dog’s head and the fabric.

Try different sizes and styles to make sure you find the best fit.

How to Train Your Dog to Wear a Muzzle

Part 1: Create a happy response to seeing the muzzle

  • When the muzzle is out, place it on the ground and scatter treats around it. Let your dog approach the muzzle rather than the other way around.
  • Take short training breaks (30 to 60 seconds) and place the muzzle out of sight. This will help your dog understand that the muzzle’s presence predicts treats and play.

Part 2: Turn the muzzle into a treat-dispensing device

  • Spread something soft and high-value (ex. peanut butter) on the inside of the muzzle so that your dog has to place their snout inside. You may have to start at the edge of the muzzle and work slowly.
  • When your dog is willingly putting their face in the muzzle, deliver small treats rapidly. If they pull their face out of the muzzle, pause the treat delivery. As long as they keep their face in the muzzle, the treats continue.
  • Slow down the rate to longer intervals, then start using random intervals for intermittent reinforcement. This helps build duration.

Part 3: Desensitize your dog to the weight and feel of the muzzle

  • Pair the sound of the straps or buckles with plenty of food to help desensitize your dog to the noise
  • Have your dog put their face into the muzzle, keeping its weight supported with one hand. You may need a helper to strap the muzzle on correctly. Feed your dog treats and slowly remove your hand so that they can feel the weight of the muzzle on their face and head little by little. Go slowly during this stage.
  • Play with your dog while they’re wearing their muzzle. Keep muzzle sessions short and fun!
  • Practice wearing the muzzle outside of high-stress events so that your dog does not associate it with unpleasant environments.

About the Author

A picture of Melody smiling towards the camera
Melody Lee
Contributing Writer

Melody Lee is a contributing writer for Gentle Beast, and is a CPDT-KA dog trainer. She lives in Manhattan with two feral cats, Littlepip and Alphonse, that tolerate her clicker training attempts. One day, her cats might let her adopt a dog of her own.

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