It's a hot topic, and one that definitely divides opinion, but almost certainly at some point in any dog's life they will likely have to wear a muzzle, even if only for very short periods at the vet or groomer. I always recommend training a dog to be comfortable wearing a muzzle and it’s easily practised using a yoghurt pot and some treats before you step up to actually purchasing a muzzle.
What to look for in a muzzle
There’s a wide range of muzzles on the market and not all are suitable for a dog to wear out and about; you need to look for a basket style muzzle that allows your dog to open their mouth, pant, drink, and even take treats. You may have seen the fabric type which clamps the mouth shut, these restrict the dogs ability to pant (which regulates their body temperature), and they still pose a bite risk. Please do not use these.
A good fitting muzzle will have space at the front of the nose and enough space underneath for the jaw to fully open. They should still be able to take treats and certainly drink water with it on.
Personally, I am a big fan of using a muzzle, and with the proper training your dog will be happy to wear one. If you follow our socials you'll see that two of my dogs wear muzzles often, all four are muzzle trained and we practice regularly.
My guys wear a Baskerville Ultra (size 4) (pictured), and a Baskerville Anti-Scavenge Muzzle (size 6). The Ultra is made of rubber and can be form fitted to suit your dog.
How you do it:
Gather your supplies:
a good selection of treats. Our favourites are Peanut Butter (xylitol free), Primula Cheese, and sandwich paste. Nom!
Muzzle or pot
Introduce the muzzle (or pot): Let your dog have a sniff without any pressure to do anything other than investigate its presence. Mark* and reward if they touch it calmly. *Marking is telling them Yes or Good at the appropriate time.
Put a blob of food at the front of the muzzle and offer the muzzle upside down to the dog by holding it in front of their face.
Once your dog is comfortable touching/licking the muzzle you can flip it the right way round and repeat the process with the food inside the muzzle
Wait for your dog to move forward for a sniff of what's inside and volunteer their nose into it themselves.
*** Do not try to fasten the muzzle at this stage***
Repeat this at least 5 times and mark with your marker cue (Yes or Good) each time they put their face inside.
Keep training sessions short:
no more than a couple of minutes each session
Gradually increase the time your dog keeps their nose inside the muzzle. Start with just a few seconds and build up to longer periods. Always reward and praise during and after each session.
Fastening the strap:
Don’t be in a rush to fasten the muzzle strap, this is one to be built up to.
To start, have the strap fairly loose and clip it closed and open it again straight away.
Mark & Reward!
Gradually you can leave it on for longer periods – but be unpredictable. Mix it up, sometimes you remove it immediately; other times leave it on for longer.
Movement & Environment:
Vary the places where you put the muzzle on (including doing it outside, in the garden or while you’re out for a walk) and vary the times of day that you practise.
Distraction & Play:
Associate wearing the muzzle with something your dog likes, such as going for a walk or being fed food treats while wearing the muzzle.
By keeping your dog active and feeding them treats you’ll also reduce the opportunity for them to try and take it off.
Regular Training & Exposure:
If you’re not planning on using the muzzle often, ensure you continue to practise with it occasionally, even after your dog is comfortable with it. This ensures they remain accustomed to it and don't associate it solely with uncomfortable situations.
Remember to always be patient and go at your dog's pace.
Never force the muzzle on them, and use positive reinforcement consistently throughout the training process. This gradual approach should help your dog become comfortable and cooperative when wearing a muzzle.
I really hope you found this useful and genuinely encourage you to give it a try. The day that you need a muzzle is not the day you want to introduce it for the first time.
Resources and Retailers
The Muzzle Up Project https://muzzleupproject.com/
Bumas - Biothane Basket Muzzles https://www.bumas.eu/muzzleshop?TABINDEX=1
Baskerville Muzzle https://companyofanimals.co.uk/brand/baskerville/