Muzzles for dogs can sometimes be a controversial topic. Some dog owners are completely not in favour of them, while others insist that their dogs learn how to wear muzzles very early on. Indeed, most ‘working’ dogs may have to wear muzzles during the duration of their work day, and during the entire time they are in the vicinity of other people, and/or other dogs.
But while that rationale may make sense for service dogs, you may find yourself wondering- should I muzzle my dog? If so, why? And how long can my dog even wear a muzzle?
There are some factors that decide whether your dog should wear a muzzle. And then, some more factors that influence how long he can wear one. To start with, muzzles are perfectly safe for dogs to wear. There are different types of muzzles, for example. Mesh or grooming muzzles are something your dog should wear only for the duration of their grooming session. These keep your dog’s mouth closed rather tightly. Which is okay for a quick wash and blow dry, but not something that your dog should endure every time he goes for a walk.
Similarly, strap muzzles, that are good for active dogs and for training young dogs and pups, and are not so great while grooming them. Strap muzzles are lightweight, single or double straps of leather or synthetic material that wrap a loop around your dog’s snout. These are very useful for taking dogs on walks, for training your dog to walk alongside you without running off on his lead, and for basic training for young dogs.
Then you have basket muzzles, which are much larger and more form-fitting, but also allow dogs more freedom with their snouts. So your dog can eat, drink, and pant freely while wearing this, but he won’t bark or be able to bite at people or things. These muzzles are better for longer durations of time as well as for dogs who have a tendency to lunge or bite. But the disadvantage is that if you have a dog who eats everything his curious nose comes across, this kind of muzzle won’t prevent him from getting into every pile of garbage, and getting every pile of garbage into him.
And of course, you have the softer muzzles that basically hold the dog’s snout in place, and are anti-bark devices, so to speak. They are also a better option for dogs who eat too many foreign objects or frequently sample the rubbish bins.
Now, which of these is best? That depends on what you want to muzzle your dog for. Depending on the outside temperature and the duration of time you want your dog muzzled, you can choose between these muzzles. In hot places, it’s good to leave your dog freedom to move his jaw and drink water, if he will. A tight muzzle that holds his mouth closed will become too uncomfortable for your dog within 15 minutes. But a more relaxed basket muzzle will be okay for him for 30-45 minutes, with no issues.
So When Should You Muzzle Your Dog?
This is a relative zone. Some dogs need to be muzzled even while on a walk. Others don’t need a restraint even when getting their nails clipped. Here’s how to tell.
Has your dog every demonstrated biting behaviour? Whether towards other dogs or other people, a dog who has a history of lunging or biting behaviour should preferably be muzzled when interacting at close quarters with others. In the bus, for example, or at the vet’s.
Does your dog frequently eat garbage out on walks and make himself sick? Then you should consider a soft muzzle for him. But this should be done only as a stop-gap measure, till you train your dog to not eat trash.
And most importantly, you should muzzle-train your dog early on. Muzzle training should ideally be done when your dog is a puppy. This way, it remains in his skillset, and you can muzzle him if the need arises. You won’t have to start him off on the learning curve again.
Obviously, the next question is, how to put a muzzle on a dog to start with. You need to remember and reinforce upon your dog, that wearing a muzzle is not a punishment. Start by familiarizing your dog with the muzzle. Let him sniff it, lick it, see that it is a non-threatening object.
A good idea is to give him treats right off the bat, every time you introduce him to the muzzle. Positive reinforcement will take his fear of being tied up away. You can even put his treat inside the muzzle, so that he associates the muzzle with getting a treat, like a little jerky or peanut butter on the inside. Let him lick it off without putting the muzzle on, the first few times.
Slowly start strapping the muzzle on, after he’s gotten treats from inside it a few times. Each time, leave the muzzle on for a longer time. So start with say, 10 seconds, and work it up to 15,20,30 seconds, and then progressively into minutes. This way he’ll slowly get used to it.
Make a game of it. Adding a verbal cue like ‘Muzzle time!’ etc. also helps reinforce the command. Wearing the muzzle for short periods of time at home will help your dog slowly fall into the habit.
Bear in mind though, that you don’t leave it on for too long. Also, make sure that the muzzle fits well and is comfortable for your dog’s snout. Otherwise, it can quickly turn into a traumatic and negative experience for your dog.
When he has to wear it for extended periods of time, make sure he gets small pauses in the middle to snack, drink, or stretch his face out a little. And you’ll have a dog who will never shy from having his muzzle strapped on!
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