Have you wondered why you see some pups wearing a muzzle in PLAYtrain® Doggie Daycare, on the JM Live Webcams, or in our Facebook photos? Or maybe you’ve considered whether a muzzle would be a helpful tool for your dog, but you have questions? We’re here to help.
You may spot muzzles being used as training tools in our facility for a variety of reasons. Let’s talk about what muzzles are, and how they’re used as training tools to help dogs learn, socialize, and stay safe.
What is a muzzle?
A muzzle is a mask-like device that sits over a dog’s snout to prevent unwanted chewing, eating, or biting. There are two main types of muzzles: basket muzzles and “soft muzzles” (also called sleeve muzzles).
At JM Pet Resort, we use basket muzzles, which feature an open-weave design (like a basket!) that sits over the dog’s mouth, with straps that fasten around their head. Because of the open design, a dog can eat and drink through the muzzle. When fitted properly, a basket muzzle should be large enough to allow space for your dog to open his mouth to pant, accept treats, drink, and even yawn while wearing it. Basket muzzles are often made from plastic, rubber, or silicone. These can be comfortably worn for long periods of time, and are very useful for training.
A soft muzzle, or sleeve muzzle, prevents a dog from opening their mouth and should only be used for very brief periods of time – such as for a procedure done by a professional vet or groomer. Soft muzzles wrap around the dog’s snout and mouth to hold the mouth closed. These are made of nylon, mesh, or leather.
Is using a muzzle cruel?
When used properly, a muzzle is not cruel. In fact for some dogs, muzzles can significantly open up their world, giving them a lot more freedom than they would otherwise be allowed.
It’s important to introduce your dog to a muzzle slowly and gently, to get them comfortable wearing one. Use training treats and praise to help your pup associate the muzzle with a positive reward. When introduced properly, most dogs can be quite comfortable and relaxed while wearing one! [We could do a separate blog post with step-by-step how to desensitize your dog to a muzzle, or make this a graphic or something?]
Muzzles should never be used as punishment, and should not be forced onto a dog who isn’t yet comfortable wearing one.
The benefits of muzzles as training and safety tools
Muzzles are used for a variety of reasons, to help dogs learn and interact safely with their environment. Muzzles can be used to:
- Prevent a dog from eating dangerous or toxic substances
- Make vet visits or grooming visits safe
- Allow trainers to work with a dog to improve behaviors
- Allow a dog to socialize safely with other dogs
- Allow a dog to go out in public safely
Read on to learn more about each of the above topics.
Preventing dogs from eating dangerous things
Many dogs wear muzzles to prevent them from getting into and eating dangerous and inedible substances, including chemicals, plants, toys, and feces (gross, but true!). While some dogs can successfully learn the “Leave it!” command, other pups find it just too enticing to eat things that can make them sick.
Dogs who suffer from a condition called pica experience an intense compulsion to eat non-food items – including rocks, batteries, golf balls, toys, and more – which can be extremely dangerous to their health.
Helping with vet visits and grooming
Some dogs, even otherwise friendly and relaxed, become very stressed when visiting the vet or groomer. These dogs may have had a traumatic experience in the past, or feel anxiety about being poked, prodded, and touched in sensitive areas of their body. Of course, dogs cannot avoid visiting the vet or being groomed – these are essential for their health!
Dogs with anxiety or who are experiencing severe pain may bite a human who’s there to care for them, as a stress response. Being able to comfortably wear a muzzle allows the dog to visit the vet or groomer and receive the care they need to stay healthy. This simple safety tool can help when a dog needs to be treated for an injury, given a vaccine, have their nails trimmed, and more.
Enabling trainers to work on a dog's behaviors
Dogs who suffer from extreme anxiety or trauma may display aggressive behaviors – including growling, biting, or snapping – as a defense mechanism when they feel scared, threatened, or overwhelmed.
In order to improve on any behavior, a dog trainer must be able to engage that behavior and use teachable moments to help change the dog’s mindset and habits. For dogs with anxiety, this may mean exposing them to their particular triggers, gradually and slowly, to help them build confidence and overcome their fears. When it comes to biting, allowing this behavior is not safe for the trainer or dog. Without a safety measure in place, the dog is likely to end up living a very restricted life.
A muzzle allows human trainers to safely interact with a dog while teaching them and helping them grow. With a muzzle as a training tool, the trainer can expose the dog to situations that trigger anxiety without risk of biting. This allows a trainer to work on interrupting problematic behaviors, like growling and snapping, and redirecting the dog to a more positive response.
Allowing dogs to socialize with fellow dogs
Some dogs are perfectly friendly with humans, and have great obedience skills, but may feel uncomfortable and behave differently around a large group of dogs – such as at a dog park or doggie daycare.
Dogs use vocalizations, body language, and other signals to communicate with each other. In a group setting, some dogs may overreact to signals from their canine friends, and accidentally cause harm. When introduced properly to a basket muzzle, many of these dogs can still enjoy playtime with fellow pups and learn how to socialize safely!
Allowing dogs to go out in public safely
Muzzles can be helpful tools for dogs who are reactive in specific settings – such as being around large crowds, near busy streets, or being walked on a short leash. Some pups find being clipped on leash highly anxiety-inducing, and once they’re let loose it’s a whole different story. Of course, there are times when you cannot avoid having your dog on a leash or near a crowd. Wearing a muzzle allows these dogs to safely go out with their humans when needed, to visit the vet, get dropped off for boarding, and more – reducing the stress of these scenarios for both dog and human.
Muzzles are one of the many tools we use to help dogs become the best version of themselves
Our flagship PLAYtrain® doggie daycare program is designed to bring out the best in every dog. Tools like muzzles, drag leashes, Haltis, and more empower our Trainers to do their jobs – safely redirecting undesirable behavior and promoting positive, healthy socialization! In all instances, our goal is to promote appropriate doggie manners and keep the experience safe, fun, and enjoyable for all dogs.
If you see a dog wearing a muzzle, even though they may be friendly, it is best to give them some space and assume that the dog is uncomfortable receiving attention. If you approach a dog without asking, you may be interrupting some of the hard work and training the handler and dog are doing together!
Think your dog may benefit from a muzzle? We sell basket muzzles in our Retail Store, and our pet care experts are available to fit dogs with the correct muzzle size and help desensitize them to wearing one.