Suggest to someone that they muzzle their dog and you get reactions ranging from anger or distress to horror. Take a dog out wearing a muzzle and some people will drag their children across the street and whisper hehind their hands. Even among dog trainers and professionals muzzles are often viewed with suspicion – or as an indication of a lazy owner. If a dog is properly trained, some argue, he shouldn’t have to wear a muzzle.
I don’t agree. I think they’re great! Used properly, they are valuable training tools and, sometimes, essential permanent management tools, that allow for safe interaction, training and exercise and remove significant stress from both owner and dog.
Let me be blunt: if a dog has bitten a person in a public place, a second incident is likely cost that dog his life. A dog may be trained and rehabilitated to a high degree, but can we ever be 100% certain that there won’t be another incident? And even if the chance of it is only one in a hundred or a thousand, would you be prepared to take those odds on your dog’s life? Using a muzzle, in situations where the owner cannot completely control access to people, such as when the dog is off lead or in a crowded place, allows the owner to relax and the dog still to enjoy freedom, while ensuring that the public – and the dog – are kept safe. A win-win.
Muzzles are also great when working with dog-reactive dogs, both on lead and off. The muzzle allows dogs to be assessed and to work with other dogs, without putting the other dogs at risk. It may also allow a dog to play off lead with other dogs, where the issue is more inappropriate nipping and grabbing than serious aggression. Most importantly, using the muzzle stops the owner feeling anxious, which immediately improves the chances of the dog not being reactive!
But preventing biting is only one reason a dog might need to be muzzled. There are several other reasons:
- To stop scavenging: if a dog is on a restricted diet, using a muzzle can avoid the risk of picking up and eating unwanted food. If the diet is due to a medical condition or allergy, this could be live-saving.
- To protect wildlife: some breeds will instinctively chase and, potentially, kill small animals (rabbits, hares, squirrels) – a muzzle will mean that the chase does not end in a kill.
- To prevent self-harm: if a dog has a wound or a sore area, a muzzle may be more acceptable, especially outside or in the car, than the “Cone of Shame“, but will still protect the wound from licking and chewing.
- To allow safe handling in the case of injury: understandably a dog that is injured and in pain might try to bite those helping him – a muzzle can allow him to be treated.
- To comply with the law: several countries have muzzle laws which affect specific breeds, regardless of whether they have shown aggression. In some cases the list includes most bull breeds and a significant number of other large breeds.
My absolute favourite reason is the one I overheard a young hockey-player telling his mother, when he saw my lurcher in her muzzle:
“Look mummy, that dog’s wearing a mouth guard so that it won’t get hit in the teeth by a ball!”
Given their usefulness, I believe muzzle training is essential for all dogs, even if only in case of the injury situation. It is worth taking a little time to teach your dog to see the muzzle as something positive and unthreatening, so that you will be able to use one if you need to. This video by Chirag Patel is an excellent tutorial on how to muzzle train your dog. Have fun!
Note: Please only use basket-style muzzles with your dogs when out on walks. Mesh muzzles that hold the dog’s mouth shut do not allow the dog to pant and should therefore not be used as a day-to-day muzzle or for exercise. Sighthound and Baskerville basket muzzles, such as the one being used in the video, are my favourite types.