Muzzles are often seen as something you only need when your dog is aggressive. In reality, this tool has many applications and all dogs should be trained to wear one, ideally before you need it! You’ll find everything you need to know about muzzles on this page.
Why you should muzzle train your dog
The obvious reason here is in cases where bites are likely to occur, or already have. The muzzle is your first line of safety when working with a dog that has reactivity, resource guarding or body handling issues. Having this extra layer of protection can help you train confidently knowing that, should you make a mistake, no harm will come to you or the people helping you train.
If you are faced with such a difficult task, I strongly advise you get in touch with a trainer. Muzzle training is only a small part of fixing serious aggression issues and you will have much better success with a solid, personalized training plan.
Eating stuff off the floor
Living in the city means you’ll often come across garbage on the floor. Delicious, dangerous garbage that your dog loves to eat. While you train your dog to not touch the forbidden goodies, you have to keep them safe and out of the emergency room. That’s where a muzzle comes in.
Hotels and public transit
Hotels that allow dogs will often require that the dog be muzzled when it moves around and crated when left alone in the room. Many public transit services around the world allow dogs in the bus or metro, so long as they are muzzled and well behaved.
As a general safety tool for later use
Your dog may not be in any of the categories above, but that doesn’t meant that muzzle training isn’t a good idea! Having a properly sized muzzle trained and ready to go in the car can be a life saver, literally. A good example of this is if your dog gets injured and needs to be carried to the car. Injured dogs can get confused by their pain and try to defend themselves, even from the people they know and love. Should you end up in that situation, you’ll be happy to have a muzzle you can slap on quickly that won’t add (too much) extra stress to the situation.
Choosing a proper muzzle matters
Not all muzzle are created equal. We’ll recommend the one we like most in a bit, but here are the features an everyday muzzle should have:
- The dog can breathe properly
- Dogs don’t sweat. The way they expel heat is through their mouth. A good muzzle lets the dog open its mouth to do so.
- The dog can drink and eat treats through the muzzle
- Having to remove the apparatus to let your dog drink potentially exposes you to an accident, you don’t want that. Being able to feed treats through a hole makes training much, much easier.
- Solid and hard to take off for the dog
- A determined dog can chew or destroy pretty much any muzzle, which is part of the reason you want them to love wearing it, but you don’t want a product that’ll break or come off with just a few hits of the paw or by sliding on the floor once or twice.
- Fit for your dog’s head shape
- Some dogs, such as Pugs and French Bulldogs, have very short noses and require specially made muzzles. In those cases, you may have to sacrifice some of the points above for a proper fit.
Our recommendation: Basket Muzzles
Basket muzzles hit all the important points and, as a bonus, some brands can be reshaped after buying them to be a perfect fit to your dog’s nose.
Baskerville is a brand we’ve used and recommended a lot over the years. Their products can be found online and in most pet stores!
What do I do if my dog already hates the muzzle?
If you already own a muzzle that your dog runs away from every time, it’ll definitely take longer to go through this process. That doesn’t mean you can’t get it done! We frequently train dogs to love their muzzles, even though they hated it before.
The first piece of advice we can give you is to get a new muzzle. Find a differently shaped or colored muzzle and train with this new object instead of trying to repair the bad associations your dog has with the old one! Doing this isn’t mandatory, but it’ll help quite a bit.
The second thing to do when your dog already hates the muzzle is to be patient. You have to rebuild your dog’s trust around that object. It’ll take some time. Spend way more time on each step than you feel is necessary and never hesitate to drop to something easier if your dog seems even remotely unsure.
Muzzle training video:
For those who prefer a Youtube video, we have one right here!
How to properly follow this guide
As you follow this guide along, you’ll quickly find out that some steps are much harder for your dog than others. How you react to these bumps in the road will greatly affect how fast your dog learns to love the muzzle.
Here’s what you should always keep in mind as you train your dog:
- Use extremely high value food! Forget the kibble, it’s time to pull out cheese, hot dogs or boiled chicken.
- Multiple short sessions are much better than a single long one. Aim for 2-5 minutes at a time!
- End on a good note as much as possible. If your dog looks like it’s getting annoyed or bored, stop! If your dog is already past that point, however, don’t keep trying to get a win before you stop, it’s likely to cause more bad than good.
- Before moving on from one step to the next, your dog should be able to easily complete the one you’re on, five times in a row.
- Never force the muzzle onto your dog. Your dog should be going into the muzzle, not the other way around. If your dog tries to back away, let it.
Phase one: Seeing the Muzzle
This part of muzzle training is relatively easy, very boring but also quite important. Making your dog associate the appearance of the muzzle with great things helps prevent it from running away when you take it out, should you make mistakes further down the line. It also speeds up the next two phases since your dog will really want to stick around while that thing is visible.
Start seeing the muzzle, start eating
The goal here is to create a positive association with the appearance of the muzzle. Hold the muzzle up, wait two seconds, then start feeding your dog delicious treats, one after the other. As long as the muzzle is in your dog’s field of view, treats keep coming.
Stop seeing the muzzle, stop eating
After a random number of seconds, you’ll hide the muzzle. Two seconds later, the food stops coming. Not only does seeing the muzzle mean constant food, it going away means no more food! Your dog is really gonna want that thing to stick around.
Random objects don’t mean squat
At random, you’ll also hold out other objects: a phone, a remote control, a shoe, a pen, a bottle of shampoo, anything! These objects will be held out for a random number of seconds, just like the muzzle, but the dog doesn’t get anything for these objects’ presence. Your dog has to figure out that the muzzle, and only the muzzle means deliciousness is coming.
Repeat until joy is achieved
Do this training a few times a day until you take out the muzzle and see that your dog is happy. It can be a tail wag, stepping forward for treats, anything. You do however want to be sure that your dog is no longer neutral towards the muzzle before moving on to phase two.
Phase two: Putting the muzzle on
The goal in this phase is to have the dog put its nose into the muzzle and, eventually, keep it in there while we tie it. This section is where the bulk of the work takes place. Trying to rush through these steps will often lead to your dog refusing to approach the muzzle, especially if you didn’t take the time to fully complete phase one!
Putting the nose in halfway
Hold your muzzle up and slide a treat into one of the holes in the middle for your dog to go and get. Repeat until your dog does not hesitate to go get the food.
Putting the nose in all the way
At first, do exactly the same as last step with the treat is all the way at the end of the muzzle.
Once your dog confidently goes and gets it, put your empty hand at the end of the muzzle and wait for your dog to go in, say “Yes!” and give it the food after the snout has gone in the muzzle!
Work towards your dog putting it’s head in the muzzle when it is presented even if your had isn’t there to bait it in.
Staying in the muzzle for extended periods of time
You aren’t tying the muzzle quite yet! First, you’re going to work on keeping your dog’s head in there.
Grab a plate or a bowl and smear some all natural peanut butter on it. Present the muzzle and, once your dog’s nose goes in, bring up the plate for your dog to lick. Remove the muzzle and the plate after a few seconds. Repeat, increasing the amount of time your dog stays in the muzzle until you can reach about 30 seconds
If your dog has resource guarding issues, you should check with your trainer to make sure this step is safe and to find alternatives if it is not.
Tying or clipping the muzzle straps
While your dog is licking the peanut butter, loosely tie the straps around the back of its head. Remove the straps after a few seconds. If tying the straps is too difficult, you can start by simply playing with them instead.
Repeat, increasing the tightness of the straps or the amount of time it stays tied, one at a time.
Once you’ve got secure straps and about 15 seconds of licking-peanut-butter time, go back down to a few seconds of wearing the muzzle, but with periodic treats instead of non-stop licking. When your dog is fine wearing the muzzle and being fed treats through it for about 30 seconds, move on to phase three!
Phase three: Living with the muzzle
Wearing the muzzle for a minute in your living room is not quite the same as wearing it for an entire walk or hike. You’ll want to progressively introduce all the different aspects of life your dog is used to, but with a muzzle on.
Start easy: simple obedience behaviors indoors, walking around the house, drinking water. Then, go for a very short (5 minutes) walk around the block, rewarding often. You could then move up to going for a play session with friends. Your goal is always to remove your muzzle before your dog starts you paw at it.
The situations you bring your dog in while muzzled should be adequate to its emotional abilities. Just because your dog can’t bite doesn’t mean you won’t make a reactivity problem much worse by getting too close to what scares your dog! Check with your trainer before entering such a scenario if you’re not sure what is safe and what isn’t.
Your dog shouldn’t be trying to take off the muzzle
If your dog is constantly rubbing on your legs, on the ground or pawing at the muzzle trying to take it off, that means you’ve left it on for too long (even if it hasn’t been that long), remove it as soon as it is safe to do so and be careful to have your dog wear it for shorter amounts of time in the future as you build duration back up.
What to do if you get stuck
Some dogs will find certain steps harder than others. If your dog looks like it’s starting to dislike your muzzle training sessions, you should immediately try to fix that. Don’t wait until your dog completely hates the process!
There are two things you can do to help your dog:
- Go down to a previous step: Simply go back to the last step you were working on and keep doing that for a bit
- Alternate between steps: To help make the harder steps more bearable at first, you can mix them in with some very easy stuff. As an example: for every time you tie the muzzle around your dog’s head, pay for the simple fact that your dog put its head in four of five times.
If you’re still having trouble, you should check in with your trainer to see what else can be done to get past your current hurdle.
And there you have it! A complete tutorial for muzzle training.
Still having issues? Get in touch with us!