Friday, April 10, 2009

I'm OK, You're OK: Muzzles

We need to stop stigmatizing the use of dog muzzles. From my initial online research, it seems only the U.S. has this stigma about muzzles. Muzzle use is much more common in Europe and Canada, where there are stricter requirements for dogs in public. But a U.S. citizen sees a muzzled dog and immediately thinks something like “Dangerous dog”. I see a muzzle and think, “Responsible, knowledgeable owner”.

Muzzles prevent dogs from biting people, dogs and other animals. Dog-muzzle-store writes, “Whether walking your dog on crowded streets, visiting the vet, or seeing the groomer, there are times when it pays to safely and compassionately use a dog muzzle. Putting a dog muzzle on your dog signals to passersby, and dog care professionals, that you are watching out for their safety. They'll feel more secure, and so will you. But remember that a dog muzzle is a short-term tool, and is not to be used for extended periods.” Basket muzzles can also deter a dog from chewing and eating unwanted items such as feces, rocks and sticks.

There is a growing problem here in the U.S. with untrained dogs becoming aggressive. When a dog starts showing signs of aggression, too many owners simply keep them away from other dogs/people. Often, they foolishly think keeping them locked in a fenced yard will be enough. This typically WORSENS the problem. The dog eventually escapes, injures someone and is put down by court order. Wouldn’t it have been better to muzzle and train the dog properly?

It’s a good idea to muzzle dogs that nip/bite during play. This is especially true for retired racers/coursers like Greyhounds and Whippets. Any dog can get overstimulated and start nipping/biting. Herding breeds – Corgi’s, Australian Shephards - seem more prone to this. Instead of avoiding the dog park, use an appropriate basket muzzle until your dog is trustworthy. Instead of feeling embarrassed, focus on your dog’s enjoyment and show off what an enlightened owner you are. After all, this isn’t about you.

I have heard some people claim that muzzles are cruel. I see no sense in this feeling. OK, muzzles usually don’t look very nice. But an appropriate muzzle is comfortable for the dog. Most dogs will need to be desensitized to wearing it. But, again, when done properly the dog should have no anxiety about it. It is much crueler to stress your dog by denying him social opportunities and not provide proper training.

There are quite a number of styles to consider, all for different situations. For short-term use, vets and groomers typically use soft muzzles that keep the mouth completely closed. Dogs being trained may require a basket style that allows panting and water-drinking. Note that head halter collars, such as Halti’s and Gentle Leader’s, do NOT prevent a dog from biting.

A muzzle is not something you want to blindly purchase, just slap on your dog and leave it at that. If you want to learn more, a good place to start is your vet and local trainers.


  1. Thank you so much for this article. I just recently rescued a dachshund/Beagle/Labrador mix from a local animal control. He has a great temperament, loves people and children alike but his one and only flaw is that he like to nip when he plays. He didn't have any background as he was found as an 8 month old stray (However I think he's at least a year). I was afraid that getting a muzzle would send the wrong signal to people and didn't want my dog to be feared generally in the neighborhood. But reading this article, has given me more confidence in getting the muzzle to do what is right not only for others who live here, but also for the safety of my dog.

    I was thinking of getting a muzzle he could wear and drink out of easily.

  2. Thank you so much for a GREAT article!

    I adopted a Labrador mix (about five years old) from a shelter last year. She is amazing with people--no problem whatsoever. But it was immediately apparent that she was never socialized with other dogs. She was clearly afraid of other dogs approaching her, especially face-to-face. She growled and tried to snap at pretty much every dog approaching her.

    We have been working hard on socializing her with other dogs. She has made so much progress compared to a year ago. She is great with my neighbors' dogs and other dogs she knows. And she is getting better at meeting new dogs in the neighborhood (no more lunging and barking from a distance). We have never had a problem at a dog park when I can watch her and get her attention in situations I know she is uncomfortable with. Generally speaking, she is much better off leash. She's been attending doggie daycare for almost a year now and has had a handful of incidents with other dogs, none of them serious--but you never know. To your point about the muzzle:

    A few weeks ago, my dog snapped at a new dog in doggie daycare after that dog jumped in her face barking. Nothing serious happened, but the doggie daycare has a zero-tolerance policy, so my girl got kicked out of playgroup. Because the only reason I have been bringing her to doggie daycare has been the socialization aspect, I asked if we could try using a muzzle, so she could continue spending a couple of days a week in playgroup. We first tried the muzzle last week, and she's been back in playgroup five times since then. While I was really worried she might not be happy about her Hannibal Lecter look, she does not seem to mind at all. We are using a wire muzzle, which allows her to drink, eat treats and pant. She has not once tried to take it off, and she seems to be a lot more comfortable in close proximity to other dogs having her muzzle on. She is a very happy dog. I often wonder if the muzzle might make her feel more secure because other dogs can't get to her face either. (She has a few scars, so I assume she was bitten in the face a few times.) I am so glad we tried the muzzle.

    While not every dog may be as accepting as my girl (she is generally very mellow), dog owners with similar issues may find that using a muzzle can be very rewarding. Your dog learns important socialization skills, and you are much less stressed about your dog being around other, unfamiliar dogs.

    Thanks again so much for a great blog post!

  3. It is common for puppies to bite when they are around 3 to 10 months old. As part of dog training, dog owner should understand the nature of puppy biting. Giving them the right objects to bite will discipline them.


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