The Mighty Muzzle
As an assistant at Snoqualmie Ridge Veterinary Hospital, the muzzle is one of our most common tools we use to keep ourselves, as well as the pet, safe during an exam or treatment. By no means does a pet needing a muzzle mean they are bad animals! Instinctively, most pets will bite or scratch if they are fearful or in pain, regardless of their temperament at home. Training your pet to be comfortable with a muzzle will make it far less stressful if it is needed at a vet clinic, groomer, or if they need to be boarded.
There are several different muzzle types out there, depending on the use. Either way, as long as a pet is comfortable with something attached to their face, they will typically be comfortable with different types of muzzles. Muzzles need to be sized correctly, fitting snugly on the face, however, it should not in any way restrict breathing from at least the nose. When used properly, muzzles should not cause any pain or discomfort, especially for short term use.
The nylon muzzle fully restricts the jaw from opening. Fitting snugly, it should prevent the mouth from opening wide enough to bite but loose enough that the pet should be able to lick. These muzzles are commonly used at groomers and vet clinics for short term use. This is also a good muzzle to have on hand for emergencies at home. If your pet shows any sign of nausea or is at risk of vomiting, DO NOT use this muzzle as they can risk choking.
Basket muzzles are great for long term use as they allow the mouth to fully open. They are used by vets if pets need to be muzzled for more than a few minutes. These muzzles also allow them to eat and drink adequately and therefore can be kept on the face for aggressive dogs who need long term training. Treats can be fed through the holes as well. Have a pet that likes too eat anything and everything off the streets? Basket muzzles work to prevent that habit as well!
Muzzles for Short Snouts:
Common muzzles don't quite work for dogs with very short noses, but they do make cute masks for them! These are also safe for long term use and allow adequate breathing.
Gentle leaders are not considered muzzles since the don't provide a barrier in front of the mouth or prevent the jaw from opening. They do, however, provide good control of the head and can be used as a training tool to help dogs get used to having something around their snout. They also help greatly for leash pulling
How to Muzzle Train:
The goal of muzzle training is not to wrestle the muzzle on to the pet, but rather to teach them that it is not a scary and object and good things come when it is on. Where you start muzzle training depends on your dog's current sensitivity to them. If they run right when they see it, then start just having it in the same room. If they have never had a muzzle put on them, hold it up and encourage them to explore it.
Below are some steps to assist in muzzle training. Take it at the pet's rate, it may take as little as a few sessions, to a few weeks, to be fully comfortable with the muzzle. Before moving to the next step, make sure there is little to no hesitation for the current step. If this isn't clear, try the rule of ten. If within ten repetitions, the pet isn't performing what you want at least seven times, they are not ready to move on.
Step 1: Offer a treat every time the muzzle is presented. We want to teach them that muzzle means treats!
Step 2: While holding a treat, stick your hand partially through the muzzle so the dog has to move their nose close to it to get to the treat.
Step 3: Hold the treat just at the end of the muzzle so the dog has to put their nose almost completely through the muzzle.
Step 4: Hold the treat in front of the muzzle so that the dog must put their nose entirely through the muzzle to get to the treat.
*If you are using a basket muzzle to train, try using peanut butter or string cheese inside the muzzle so they must stick their snout in the muzzle to get the treats.
Step 5: Begin to offer the muzzle while holding the treats out of sight. Once the dog moves towards the muzzle, or sticks their snout completely through, reward generously! Repeat several times.
Step 6: Many dogs have more of a reaction to the sound of the clip as opposed to the muzzle itself. Clip the buckle in front of the dog to test their sensitivity to the sound. If they react, spend a few minutes associating that sound with good things. Every click means a treat! Once they show now reaction, try to clip the muzzle behind the ears, then immediately release.
Step 7: The muzzle is on! We aren't finished yet however. Continue to reward with the muzzle on and keep those times short. We don't want to reverse any work we have accomplished. Every time you practice with the muzzle, keep is short and exciting! Make sure muzzle use is never just limited to times where the pet may be stressed, this will cause a negative association with it. We want to keep it neutral, or even positive.