Written by Jo Sellers, Pippin Pets Dog Training
Published – Dogs Today Magazine May 2018
Why is there such a stigma about using a muzzle? This management accessory is useful in so many situations – but some people are afraid to use one for fear of what others may think…..
Muzzles are not the enemy, so why do we have such a taboo or stigma about them? They are a management tool, but come with many negative assumptions. Other management tools are readily accepted – leads, collars, and harnesses do not scream ‘out of control dog alert’ quite like a muzzle shouts ‘dangerous dog’.
It’s true, muzzles prevent bites to others but why be worried seeing one on a dog?
Over the last month, I conducted a bit of covert research at some local dog walking spots. Not many dogs were wearing muzzles – and of the few that did, only one was because it nipped the other dog in the household and the walks were calmer when this dog was wearing it. One was wearing a muzzle after hurting its mouth, and 3 were restricted because they ate everything, and the owners were fed up of vets bills and runny bums! Not one of these dogs had any history of fighting, biting or signs of stress or aggression – on the contrary, I would have been licked to death with love, given half the chance.
On the flip side, there are a few known dogs that attack others (regularly). The owners have them off lead and its obvious they are stepping away from the path to avoid other dogs, with frantic shouting and calling should the dog be running in the wrong direction.
Surely good management practice should be to get your dog on a lead when you spot others, or better still, use a muzzle to prevent any ‘accidents’.
Why do we automatically assume a dangerous dog when we see a muzzle, and why do our egos stop us from using this handy tool? I feel it is more about the owner than the dogs themselves. We owe it to them to set them up for success. If they are prone to being grumpy with others, and could bite, then we have a responsibility to manage this – to make it less stressful for all, and to reduce the risk of harm, legal proceedings, or a precious pet being put to sleep.
No one really believes an owner after an event who says ‘He’s never done that before…’ There are always signs and indicators, and if you know your pet well, you have to remove your head from the sand and admit, ‘OK, he is grumpy, he can bite, so I need to manage this properly.’
Recent research by Direct Line showed some shocking numbers. Up to 100,000 dogs a year are killed or seriously maimed by dog bites/fights. This is possibly only the tip of the iceberg. How many ‘small’ unreported incidents are there, that don’t need vet attention or result in an insurance claim? Many.
We all need to get rid of the stigma of muzzles and accept them as readily as leads. A dog in a muzzle can be very friendly and playful, but has the muzzle as a precaution in case he gets overzealous. I would rather my pup play with a dog in a muzzle than a known aggressor without one, although we must also be aware that dogs can do damage to other dogs even when wearing a muzzle.
There are two main types of muzzles – the tight fabric ones used by groomers and vets and the basket muzzle. The former is a fabric sleeve shaped like a cone and fits tightly over the muzzle; it should only be used for very short time periods as it keeps the mouth closed. The dog cannot pant, drink and can get very distressed with this restriction if not used properly.
ADD TO BASKET
The basket muzzle is much better for pet owners, as it can be used for extended periods, such as on walks, or around the house with visitors. The dog can pant and drink, you can feed treats through it for good behaviour and choices, and the dog can also do other communication signs such as nose licks, that you can watch out for (to identify stress, for example). They come in a range of sizes and styles to fit various muzzle shapes, and you need to get the right one for your particular dog. It needs to cover the mouth, and the straps designed for your dog’s head shape.
As with anything, you need to introduce a muzzle slowly; you can’t expect to get the wrapping off your new muzzle, put it on and expect your dog to accept it. Clicker training is an excellent method to introduce a muzzle – pairing it with delicious treats and getting the dog to want to have it on, as it means good things will happen (food and walks!). Don’t rush through this; only move on to the next step until you achieve the current goal. Do a couple of short sessions a day It may take a few weeks to get to the end result – just go at your dog’s pace.
Here are some recommended steps to take when introducing the muzzle. Note: if you don’t have a clicker to mark the moment you are looking for, you can use a quick word (eg click) instead. Always give a tasty treat after you click – it is what your dog is expecting as payment for making the action!
- Show the muzzle and click/treat for when your dog looks at it, and moves towards it
- Click/treat for any touches with his nose – he is investigating the muzzle and he must be rewarded for this. Once this is happening quickly, only mark the longer and stronger nose bumps.
With these early stages, you may need to put the muzzle behind your back while you give the treat and then reshow it – ta dah – here it is again and it means a treat!
- Now hold the muzzle the right way up, and click/treat for touching the entrance part with his nose. Give bonus treats for any movement towards putting his nose in the tube part. You can encourage him by holding a treat at the end (a squeezy tube of cream cheese helps here, too!)
- When he is reliably putting his nose in, remove the prompt of the food so he must put his nose before you produce the food. Click and treat each time.
- Now build in duration. Feed the treats through the holes in the basket muzzle, and praise him lots while he waits for the click/treats. Progress in small increments by seconds. Build up to 10 seconds.
- Make sure the straps are adjusted to fit very loosely to start with, and whilst he is waiting with his nose in for his treat, start fiddling with the straps.
- Once he accepts this, you can progress to closing the connectors – remember to feed lots at this stage through the gaps in the muzzle. Praise him lots too. If he becomes worried at this stage, take it back to the previous step and keep practising.
- Tighten the straps slightly so the fit better but still loose, and repeat the step – lots of very tasty treats, and praise is the key here.
- Slowly tighten the straps now to fit snugly but comfortably for your dog, and repeat. You can also start to increase the duration of him wearing it too.
Remember to remove the muzzle should your dog show any signs of not being happy. This is why doing many short sessions is better than progressing too quickly. Should he not be comfortable with a stage, take it back to the one before and work on getting him to show you a ‘yippee’ behaviour – only then progress to the next stage.
Let’s all work together to celebrate a dog choosing to put on a muzzle – it is a fantastic tool for safety and management, and remember: not every dog wearing one is aggressive!