By Dr. Karen Burgess
What is the purpose of a muzzle?
Muzzles are typically used to protect people or objects from a dog or cat’s mouth, chewing, or biting. While commonly associated with aggressive animals, muzzles are protective in nature, allowing a pet that might not normally be handled safely or into a particular environment more latitude. Muzzles are particularly helpful when a pet is in a potentially painful or stressful situation and may unintentionally bite or harm a person. In some jurisdictions certain dog breeds are required to be muzzled in public.
Types of muzzles available
The two primary categories of muzzles are basket and nylon or tube type. Several examples are shown below. Things to consider when selecting a muzzle include
- Sturdiness and security-it is essential for all involved that a muzzle stays in place and not slips off at an inopportune time. An effective muzzle should also be able to withstand a pet pawing at it or trying to pull it over its head.
- Ability to pant-dogs cool themselves off by panting. If the mouth is held closed in particular for extended periods of time overheating can occur
- Ability to see pet’s facial expression-visual cues clue us into our pet’s state of mind. Some muzzles effectively block the ability to see a pet’s face.
- Ability to drink or eat while muzzled-there is definite benefit to being able to still eat and drink while muzzled. Treat rewards are often used to reward nervous pets and the ability to give these while wearing a muzzle is often beneficial
Specific styles/brands of muzzles
- Baskerville Ultra Muzzle-basket style, rubber, third strap and collar loop, can feed treats through
- Jafco Muzzle-basket style, clear version available, newer version can feed treats through, good for preventing licking wounds or eating foreign bodies
- Wire or Cage Muzzles-can be more damaging if pet hits muzzle on objects or people
- Leather Basket Muzzle-often used for security type work, more expensive, requires more maintenance to care for the leather
- Tube type muzzles-leather preferable to nylon for restraint/protection, standard muzzle type used in veterinary medicine, safe and effective for short time periods only as mouth is held shut and panting prevented, care should be taken as some pets can still bite with tip of mouth that is not enclosed in the muzzle
How to properly fit a muzzle on your pet
Fit is often determined by the specific style of muzzle being used. When fitting a muzzle ensure that a pet can open their mouth at least partially in a basket muzzle, that the complete nose is contained, and that the muzzle fits securely behind the neck.
Initial response to a muzzle
It is best to first desensitize a pet to being muzzled. Some pets will become very passive muzzled, others will paw relentlessly at their face. In the end, safety and prevention of self-trauma are both important.
How to desensitize to wearing a muzzle
Optimally a pet is first introduced to a muzzle in a non-fearful and comfortable situation. Initially let the pet explore the muzzle, sniffing and investigating it, while providing treats to create a positive association. After this, put some treats in the muzzle and have your pet eat them out of the muzzle. Gradually put the treats farther in the muzzle forcing your pet to put their nose farther forward into the muzzle. Next, after having put treats at the end of the muzzle, put the muzzle on for a few minutes but do not fasten it, pulling it off immediately and giving treats and verbal praise. Finally, put the muzzle on as above and fasten it, gradually increasing the wearing time. If you pet becomes anxious or distressed while muzzled back up in the training process until they are again calm. Ultimately getting your pet used to thirty minutes in a muzzle should be the goal. Avoid removing the muzzle if your pet is pawing at it as this can lead to further objection in the future. Instead try and redirect them with verbal commands or a soft tug on a leash.
More detailed descriptions of muzzle training can be found at