Muzzles are useful but misunderstood tools for training the dog you love, whether it’s training them to do tricks or training dogs not to jump. A dog in a muzzle is not necessarily a mean dog. A dog in a muzzle is not necessarily a dog who bites. But every dog in a muzzle has humans who care enough to make sure even accidental bites just don’t happen.
Seven Benefits of Using a Muzzle
Muzzles have some uses in canine care that most of us would not immediately think about. A dog that suffers a jaw injury may need a muscle while cuts and broken bones heal. Muzzles can be especially useful in treating facial injuries of puppies.
Muzzles can keep dogs from licking their wounds. This is especially important in treating chronic skin conditions such as leishmaniasis, a tropical parasite dogs can pick up when they are taken along on beach vacations.
But most people who put dogs in muzzles are concerned about bites, whether intentional or accidental. Here are some of the most common situations in which dog owners are concerned about dog bites.
- You just want to be extra safe. You might want to muzzle your dog when introducing it to a child. Even a very friendly dog who has not been around a lot of children may act defensively when introduced to unexpectedly small people. A muzzle allows the owner to focus on the child’s happiness and the dog’s comfort without worrying about a potential accident.
- Your dog has a history of being reactive or aggressive. Ideally, dogs should be socialized to other dogs and all kinds of people when they are puppies at the ages of seven to sixteen weeks. Dogs who do not have these formative experiences may need remedial training to interact appropriately with people later in their lives. While an older dog is receiving the training it needs to feel comfortable around people, safety may require the use of a muzzle.
- Your sweet and gentle dog needs its space. People naturally back off from dogs in muzzles. If your dog is cute but shy, one way of making sure it does not have to interact with too many people in a social setting is to place it in a muzzle.
- Your dog has been traumatized. Dogs get excited in emergency situations. A dog that has just come out of an encounter with another aggressive animal, or that has been injured, may instinctively protect itself with nips and bites. Placing a dog in a muzzle until its trauma has passed may prevent unfortunate, unusual bites.
It’s sometimes not a bad idea to place your dog in a muzzle when you take it to the vet. The longer you have to sit with your dog in the veterinarian’s waiting room, the greater the likelihood of an aggressive encounter. Muzzling your dog will make sure your dog causes no harm and is not labeled as the aggressor in an encounter with another animal.
Muzzles Aren’t the Answer for Behavioral Problems
There is one common situation in which relying on a muzzle is a serious mistake.
Suppose your dog loves the dog park but tends to get into fights with other dogs. You don’t want your dog to be labeled as aggressive, so you put her in a muzzle. Dogs introduce themselves by scent. Scientists tell us dogs most commonly introduce themselves by touching face to snout. If your dog is in a muzzle, she won’t be as able to learn the scent of new dogs and new dogs will not come to recognize her.
For aggressive dogs, behavioral issues can actually become worse. The problem is that while your dog can’t bite, your dog can still get into fights and be bitten. The experience of being unable to defend herself can compound her anxiety around other dogs and bring out the worst in other dogs in the shared space. And because your dog was not able to sniff other dogs, she cannot remember which dogs were her friends.
Muzzles aren’t the answer for controlling aggressive dogs. Dog training is. In interactions between dogs and humans, muzzles can prevent harm. In interactions between dogs, muzzles can increase the risk of aggressive behavior.
Muzzles for Dogs Can Be a Positive Experience for Dog and Owner
Muzzles aren’t punishment. Muzzles are protection, both for people and other dogs and for your dog herself.
Your dog isn’t going to be able to rationalize that her temporary confinement in a muzzle is for her own good, but you can condition your dog to react to muzzles positively. You may need to invest your time and treats into choosing a dog training school for several training sessions for your dog to be happy in a muzzle.
First, let your dog sniff the muzzle and sit by you quietly for a few minutes. That’s the first training session. The next day, let your dog slip her nose in the muzzle, held loosely to her face. Give her a treat. That’s the second training session. Then have your dog stay in her muzzle for 30 seconds. Give her a treat. Have her stay in the muzzle for a minute. Give her a treat. Keep increasing the time your dog spends in the muzzle until she is comfortable wearing it to the vet, on her walks, and in other situations called for extra caution.
Muzzles used properly can be a positive experience for dogs and for the people who care for them. Just remember that muzzles are like safety belts in your car. You still have to follow the rules, but you have an extra layer of protection in case of unexpected events.