Put A Muzzle On It

black and white dog wearing a basket muzzleIn the contest of who dislikes the thought of putting a muzzle on my dog, I’d come in a close second to the dog who has to wear it. That is unless I think about the alternatives to not wearing one. A muzzle is not an excuse to put a dog into situations in which they’re inclined to bite a person or another dog, but should it occur, the muzzle will help minimize damage.

I have been getting both Sunny and I used to having him wear a muzzle. We will be spending time visiting family this summer and though in the past we have rarely run into people during our daily walks, the more often we do it, the more likely it is that we will. I decided that I’d feel less stress if he was wearing a muzzle. A big step for me was to replace the image of ‘Hannibal Lecter’ with ‘hockey player’ when I looked at him.

The Baskerville Ultra Muzzle has large spaces in the grid of the muzzle which make it easy to feed your dog treats. One problem that I ran into with it is that the holes in the strap are not easy to locate and require a bit of extra fussing when fastening it on. I attempted to remedy this with a pair of vice grips and a hot nail, poking a number of easier to find holes in the strap. It’s not a perfect solution but I think the more I use the ‘right’ hole the easier it will be to find it. I tried the additional head strap which snaps onto the top of the muzzle and reaches over his head to clip on his collar. Maybe I didn’t snug it up tight enough but as the collar slid around his neck it took the strap with it.

So far any of his attempts to remove the muzzle have failed. This is important. If a dog successfully gets the muzzle off they are more likely to continue to try in the future. I am also coming up with sequences of putting the muzzle on and taking it off that I hope will effect how Sunny ‘feels’ about it. Immediately after the muzzle goes on either the door opens and he can run in the unfenced area outside the house, or his leash comes off so he run around where in the past he hunted feral cats. The muzzle predicts good things. I take the muzzle off and bring him inside or put him back on leash. Neither of those outcomes is horrible, but being outside and off leash is better.

This is by far my favorite and the most inspiring training video I’ve seen on teaching dogs to wear a muzzle.

This recent post on the Notes From A Dog Walker blog shows how you can turn your muzzle into a treat dispenser.

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34 comments so far

  1. rangerskat on

    A timely post for us at my house as Finna is learning to wear a muzzle. I want to be able to take her for walks again in our suburban area. Since most o the problems we have are that people think this dog that looks like a pint sized GSD is adorable and want to interact with her. I’m hoping that enough stigma attaches to dogs with muzzles that if she’s wearing one they will keep their distance. And, of course, it will help keep the dog lover who can’t resist safer as well and as a consequence I’ll be able to relax more.

  2. Lynn on

    Timely for me, too. Jasmine (ironically, the “normal” dog I adopted hoping to ease Tulip’s discomfort indoors) got into a fight with a friend’s son’s dog, and seemed intent on doing it again next day. She’s usually fine with other dogs, so I got her checked for physical problems and discovered she had Lyme disease. No idea if that caused her sudden aggression, but the trainer I consulted suggested that it would be safest if she’s muzzled when that particular dog is around until we can figure it out and maybe recondition her. So far, I’ve been dragging my feet about the muzzling and just steering clear of the other dog, but thank you for that video. It’s priceless.

    Has Sunny ever bitten anyone? As Tulip gets more confident, she willingly goes nearer people, but apart from a warning woof at times, she hasn’t shown signs of aggression.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Alas, yes Sunny has. I was very excited about his willingness to get closer to people and didn’t understand that it was a skill with very mixed blessings.

  3. Lynn on

    Oh dear. I’ve been so pleased watching Tulip’s progress, and I always warn people not to reach for her, but maybe it’s not so good. Was there much of a warning before he bit?

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      There was plenty of warning, I just didn’t understand what I was seeing. His willingness to approach people was not proof that he was eager and happy they were there.

      • Lynn on

        Sorry to keep on this topic, but now I’m a bit alarmed that Tulip investigating strangers may not be good. Usually, she’ll have a look and move on, or get a quick sniff, if they pay no attention to her. If people come here, she barks, but then settles down. She’ll even go next door with Jazzie and lie down near our neighbors while they’re out gardening. All that seems wonderfully near “normal” to me, but am I missing something?

      • KellyK on

        Lynn, one thing I read (not sure if it was here, on DINOS, or somewhere else) was that it’s important not to mistake info-gathering for an invitation. A dog sniffing someone to check them out, which sounds like what Tulip is doing, does not necessarily mean she’s okay with them petting or talking to her. Giving her the option to check people out and not be bothered is probably good, but overtly encouraging her to go check people out may lead to her sniffing someone who takes a dog coming up for a tentative sniff as an invitation to get grabby.

  4. dogdaz on

    Good to see Sunny getting out with the people, muzzle or not.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      I only wish Sunny felt the same way. Because he was not socialized as a pup to people or novelty, the stress of seeing strangers and sudden changes in his environment means I am very conservative as to the situations I put him in. I could make him do more (and did) but over the years I’ve come to the conclusion that he’s happier with a smaller world (which consists of 100s of acres). He can do what he ‘needs’ to do, but I prefer to have him do what he loves.

      • dogdaz on

        Debbie – I have similar challenges with Louise, but not as severe. I thought about ‘forcing’ her to walk down a city street, but then I say ‘why?’ She is fine in her little world and happy. You have done great stuff with Sunny.

  5. Catherine McBrien on

    I very much hope you’re not continuing to encourage Sunny to hunt feral cats as some type of reward. That is not only very cruel, it also encourages aggression which is something you appear not to want.

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      No. There are no more cats, but he doesn’t know that.

  6. KellyK on

    This might be another way to acclimate Sunny to the muzzle: http://notesfromadogwalker.com/2012/05/15/muzzle-kong-kuzzle/

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for reminding folks about that link. It is lost under the video in the post.

      • KellyK on

        Oops! I gave you a video that not only you’ve already seen, but that was right here on this post, and thought I was adding something new. Clearly I need to read more closely before I comment! 🙂 More coffee might also help.

  7. Margo Barnes on

    Our dog is just recovering from ingesting a wad of dried horse poop which lodged in her esophagus and very nearly killed her, requiring a 3-hour surgery and lots of intensive care for related pneumonia. Normal training had not stopped her from snatching horse poop or some dead thing from the roadside even while on leash. She won’t survive another incident like this one. A muzzle isn’t just for aggression. In our dog’s case, it may save her life.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Thanks for sharing that Margo. A friend has a dog with epilepsy and the meds have caused him to eat practically anything. They too had an experience like yours. They also put a muzzle on him. It’s just a good skill for a dog to have should they ever need to have one put on them in an emergency. An injured, freaked out dog can bite. It would be nice if they didn’t end up an injured, freaked out dog who is even more freaked out because they had a muzzle stuck on their face.

  8. fearfuldogs on

    Lynn, it ‘may’ be a good thing going on with Tulip. The problem is that if a dog is ok only so long as people ignore them, what happens when if they don’t? My mistake was allowing Sunny to build the ‘going close to people’ skill before he had the ‘I feel good about people’ skill.

    In hindsight I would have preferred he continued to move away from people as a default. You can’t bite someone if you’re not close to them. Most of the people we see appear individually and suddenly. This is a big environmental change for all the dogs.

    Sunny has skills for being around people. He can go to classes, he can be handled at the vet, he can have strangers in the house, he can go for walks with me and friend, he can be cared for by others and if it’s just the two of us and a stranger appears on the trail ahead of us I can ask him to wait or move away and he will. If there are other dogs with us, who are safe to approach people, Sunny can get pulled along and it’s not a situation I’ve been able to proof his ‘wait’ in. In the past this hasn’t been a problem, but since I’ve added Nibbles to the mix, who brings an addition of reactivity and arousal, I don’t want to take any chances.

    Hence the muzzle.

  9. m4r7a on

    I have a sighthound mix and he is rather suspicious to strangers. If they act too interested in him this will make him bark and even snap after them. Because of the fact that i have to put a muzzle on him when we travel with public transport, he is very used to it and I tend to let the muzzle on him, even on normal walks, because of how he acts against strangers.

    After reading about some breeds (for example the weimaraner) that even have in their breed standard to be alert to strangers (in german “Mannschärfe”, which means sort of “human-aggressive”) i have given it a good thought and now I see things like this: Not all dogs are friedly by nature. I happen to have one that isn’t always friedly to strangers (though in most cases he ignores people). I could work my ass of to change that, but maybe it’s just how he is. So I accept it as part of who my dog is and try to prevent any injuries etc. by putting a muzzle on him. He is so used to it, he doesn’t even seem to really notice – and it doesn’t bother me either.

    • KellyK on

      That makes a lot of sense. Not all dog breeds were intended to be friendly to random strangers. If a big part of a dog’s family tree is dogs who were bred to be guard dogs, or alert their owner to the presence of strangers, their innate capacity to be accepting of strangers might be a lot lower than other dogs. (I need to remind myself of this when my shar-pei mix avoids strangers and barks her head off when people come to the door.)

      I think that if your dog is happy and safe wearing a muzzle, and the people around you are safe, it’s a win-win.

  10. Denise Litchfield on

    Thanks for the reference to the muzzle – we have the “Hannibal” variety and it’s good to know there are others.

    Love this blog, and come here often.

  11. engineer chic on

    Can you modify the strap to use a plastic clip-thing like a regular collar? That would probably be quicker than a buckle and might give you more sizing flexibility.

    It will be interesting to see if Sunny feels any differently with the muzzle on. I always wondered if dogs felt, “What?! I can’t bite?! What if I need to bite?” when they had a muzzle on. Then again, maybe they aren’t aware of the loss of a strategy until they try to use it and it fails, and if a dog tries to bite you through a muzzle he gets what he wants/needs because people will back off and give him space. So maybe the dog doesn’t feel like he had his primary weapon confiscated.

    I have only muzzled our dog at the vet once when they had to examine an area that was tender. Normally, he is okay as long as I am there and he has time to make the choice to walk in under his own power (as opposed to being carried in, he panics and urinates/defecates if he is forced into the clinic or exam room). He seemed to accept it well, but they were wonderful and let me put it on him.

    • fearfuldogs on

      Someone handier than me (I’m ok with a hot nail, but beyond that no so much) could probably replace the buckle with a plastic clip, which would be better so long as the sound didn’t bother a dog. I’ve worked out a system in which I keep my finger under the buckle as I pull it tight, keeping his fur out of it and snugging it up tight but then just enough slack for him when I take out my finger.

      We used it during walks the last few days and I’d probably be safe in saying he hates it. He rubs it and tries to get it off. A couple of times I didn’t get it snug enough and he managed to work it half way off. But we’re going to keep using it and hopefully he’ll get used to it.

      Sunny’s first choice is to move away from people and not go after them to bite them. It’s only since I added yet another ‘not happy to see people’ dog to the household that I worried that he might get drawn closer to people than he’s comfortable with.

      The hardest thing for me has been giving up a lot of how I ‘think’ dogs should live. But now that I live with 3 dogs who have stranger issues, of varying degrees I’ve had to come to terms to managing them to minimize the opportunities for them to behave in ways that are upsetting to all involved. *sigh*

  12. thelittlebeardogblog on

    Thanks so much for posting this video. Little Bear is starting a new socialisation class on Saturday and although he’ll be going into the ‘shy guys’ group to start, he may at some point need to be muzzled.

    I’ve started the training but this video included some really great tips, like taking the muzzle away other than letting him take his nose out which I’d not even thought of.

    I totally agree that it’s always better safe than sorry. Even for chilled dogs, it’s a good skill to have. We’ve had a spate of poisonings here in popular dog walking areas and the official advice from the council was to ‘avoid the areas or muzzle dogs who might eat discarded food’ – I did struggle to think of one dog who wouldn’t eat something tasty on a walk…!

  13. pawsforpraise on

    I am always glad when dog owners and trainers opt for muzzling rather than take any chance of allowing a dog in training to end up with a bite history. As long as you prepare the dog, as in the video, with proper desensitization and condition him to love the muzzle, it shouldn’t be any different than a collar, leash, head collar or harness. It’s the *humans* who often balk at putting muzzles on dogs because they don’t want their dog to “look aggressive.” But, if a dog *is* aggressive, then looking aggressive is a bit beside the point, don’t you think? I’d much rather protect my dog from any errors he or she might make during the course of behavior modification than to worry about the “wardrobe.” Nice blog post, Debby, and thanks for posting the video, too. Important to remember that dogs don’t take nicely to things we just put on them without proper introduction.

  14. Gryphon on

    Always had mixed emotions about the use of muzzles but truly understand the need. Fortunately have never had the necessity to use one. Excellent post. Thanks.

  15. Donna and the Dogs on

    I started getting my dog Leah used to a muzzle after two recommendations from trainers when we were having some in-house fighting between my two girls, so she could spend time with my other dogs without always being confined to an x-pen. I got her used to it similar to what you did, having it predict fun things like walks and treats, and removing it when we were done.Thankfully, we have resolved the fighting, and she never got to the point where I needed to use it regularly, because I felt bad about having her wear it too thanks to the whole ‘Hannibal Lecter’ thing, as you say….if the need ever strikes again to use it, I’ll keep the Hockey Player image in mind. 🙂

  16. RescueABoxer on

    I am not really in favor of a muzzle, but some dogs just can’t be let out in public without one.

    • fearfuldogs on

      My dog is probably not in favor of a muzzle either, but I’m the one with the thumbs making the decisions, so he’s stuck with it.

    • rangerskat on

      I wasn’t ever a fan of muzzling a dog until I discovered just how unsocialized my adopted rescue is and just how clueless the public can be. Now I’m thinking that maybe we need to change our attitudes toward muzzles. Wearing a muzzle is a visible sign to even clueless people that this is a dog in need of space. It helps protect people by warning them away in a way they can recognize and it helps protect my dog from being pushed over threshold so that I’m better able to manage her. I’m beginning to view a muzzle as a very useful tool.

      • fearfuldogs on

        If I was out walking Sunny on his own I have more confidence that I could manage him safely. When I am out with several dogs, two others with reactivity issues, I have a lot on my plate. We rarely see people when we are out but it’s hard for me to relax and enjoy the walk when I am constantly peering around corners and into the distance to make sure I can get control of Sunny before it’s too late. I hate seeing him in the muzzle, BUT I do like relaxing when we’re out there. My other yappers are on leash when we walk at my mom’s so I suppose in the big picture Sunny has it pretty good.

  17. Lynn on

    Thanks, KellyK, for weighing in on Tulip. She steers clear of strangers, although it looks more like “No thanks” than the horror and fear she once showed. But she’s approaching neighbors and people she’s familiar with (who all know not to grab at her) and has even started to give a few tentative hand licks to a couple of them. I find this very encouraging (so do they), so I hope I’m not misreading it.

  18. Ashley on

    The video was perfect ! Every time I was like wait hold on shouldn’t we be doing this ? It was addressed! Perfect

    • Debbie Jacobs on

      Worth keeping an eye on the work Chirag is doing!


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