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Muzzle Training: Not Just for Dangerous Dogs

I am almost always delighted when I see a dog wearing a muzzle. Maybe that is a bit odd, but it signals to me that the owner on the other end of the leash is being thoughtful and considerate with their dog’s safety, as well as the safety of everyone around them. Of course I give these dogs a wide berth out of respect for their space, but I always wish I could telepathically communicate to the owner that they are doing a great job.

I should specify that throughout this post, I am referring to basket style muzzles. This style of muzzle allows the dog to pant, bark, drink, and even take treats, while still keeping everyone safe. While many vets offices and groomers use mesh or cloth muzzles that hold the dog’s mouth shut, these muzzles are only safe to use for very short bursts of time. Since the dog cannot pant with it on it puts them at great risk of overheating while wearing them for extended periods of time.

There are many reasons a dog may need to wear a muzzle. Most people assume the dog is a bite risk, either to people or other dogs, and while that certainly can be the case, it isn’t always. Some dogs may be fearful or reactive, and the muzzle is being used as a clear visual signal that the dog needs space, even if they aren’t going to bite. Some dogs have severe allergies that could send them to the emergency vet, and the muzzle prevents them from snagging a bite of trash off the side of the road. Similarly, some dogs compulsively eat objects like rocks, leading to expensive and risky obstruction surgeries.

But what if your dog doesn’t fit into any of those categories? There is still plenty of good reason to have a muzzle for your dog on hand and teach them to wear it comfortably. The most common reason is that if they are ever injured, they may lash out in a way they normally wouldn’t. If you already have a muzzle, it will make getting to the vet that much easier. If they already know how to wear it comfortably, it will also decrease the stress they’re going through. In some cases, a dog can wear a muzzle instead of a cone while recovering from surgery or another injury. I recently had my dog wear her muzzle when she cracked a dew claw and kept ripping her bandages off. She much prefers the muzzle over a cone, as do I since she will bash cones into furniture and the back of my legs!

Muzzle training is one of those projects that can take a lot of time and patience depending on the dog. While some adjust quickly, others need a slow and careful approach. This is tough to balance if you actually need your dog to wear the muzzle! This is why starting early is so helpful.

If you don’t want to run out and buy a muzzle right away, you can start the training process with other household objects. I like to use a cup for the initial steps of training. I teach the dog to stick their nose inside the cup and hold it there. Then, I can easily transfer that skill to an actual muzzle. Check out the video below to see what this process looks like!

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