Can my dog breathe? Can he drink? Does it hurt? Is it humane? Why would my dog need to wear a muzzle? These are all questions that can come up around the topic of muzzles. There can sometimes be a stigma surrounding dog muzzles that the animal wearing the muzzle is aggressive or dangerous, but by using a muzzle, the situation is safer.
Muzzles are a great tool to keep yourself, your pet, and others safe in times of stress. Though they may look scary, a basket muzzle is the safest and most humane option for keeping your pet from nipping. Basket muzzles, however, do not replace training and behavior modification. They are meant to be used in conjunction with ongoing training for the best results.
What is a basket muzzle?
Basket muzzles are made of hard plastic or coated wire. They cover the entire muzzle and mouth of the dog while still allowing them to pant and drink.
When to use a basket muzzle
- Emergencies – Painful dogs can bite. Even if your dog has never showed aggression, in times of extreme pain/stress they may lash out. Imagine if you had pain you did not understand and strangers were touching the part that hurt. You may bite too!
- Potential for someone to get hurt – Some dogs can get overstimulated and stressed in new situations. A basket muzzle may be appropriate when introducing new dogs to each other, meeting strangers, or going to a stressful place.
When NOT to use a basket muzzle
- Punishment – Never use a muzzle as a punishment as it will only make the dog more fearful and react poorly to future muzzling.
- Excessive barking – Muzzles are not an appropriate response for barking. Muzzles should not be left on without close supervision and only for short periods of time.
- Chewing – Muzzles should only be worn with close supervision and should not be left on while the pet is home alone. This is not an appropriate solution for chewing.
Addressing the stigma
For someone who isn’t accustomed to seeing a basket muzzle, they can be daunting and scary looking. Some dog owners worry about how their pet will be perceived. At PBVC, we are huge advocates for basket muzzles because of the safety they bring to a potentially dangerous situation. We know that the vet can be a scary and stressful place, and even though we love your animals, we understand if they don’t feel the same about us! Just because a dog needs a basket muzzle at the clinic, it doesn’t mean they are a bad dog.
Training your dog to accept a muzzle
It’s pretty amazing when you think about it: Our dogs generally accept all kinds of unpleasant things without biting us. They learn to tolerate (and sometimes even seem to enjoy) our doing very uncomfortable things to them like trimming toenails and cleaning ears. At the vet, they allow people to draw blood, insert thermometers, and give shots. They let strangers examine them. Dogs are capable of biting us and doing serious damage, but typically they choose not to do that. There are times, however, when even the sweetest dog would not be able to stop himself from biting. When any dog is very frightened or in serious pain, there is a real risk of a person getting bitten and the dog acquiring a “bite history.”
Bartok was terrified of the vet clinic due to a combination of unstable temperament and a series of unfortunate incidents. We needed to muzzle him for everyone’s safety. The clinic staff did their best to be gentle and patient, but Bart was seriously stressing out, and we needed to help him.
Over a period of several days, here’s what we did—using small, soft treats, and making sure he was comfortable with each step before going on to the next.
- Let him sniff the muzzle. Give a treat. Repeat a few times.
- Touch his nose with the muzzle. Treat. Repeat until he indicates that the muzzle looks interesting in a good way.
- Hold the muzzle with one hand and a treat with the other hand, so he needs to put his nose inside the muzzle to get the treat. Repeat until this step is no big deal.
- Gently slip the muzzle onto his nose and give him a treat. Remove the muzzle immediately. Repeat a few times.
- Put on the muzzle and fasten the buckle. Treat. Remove immediately. Repeat a few times.
- Put on the muzzle, fasten it, and count slowly to five. Treat. Remove the muzzle.
- Each time you put on the muzzle, gradually increase the time the muzzle is on. Hold his collar and give treats.
If we had introduced the muzzle before Bart associated it with scary things, we probably could have gone through these steps in less than a day—possibly a matter of minutes. We’ve done this with each successive dog, including rescue dogs we’ve fostered. If the dog isn’t interested in treats, you can substitute other rewards. I use verbal praise, but this is optional.