A veterinary hospital is a scary place for many dogs. There are strange sounds, smells, unknown animals and strange humans. To make matters worse, these strange humans in white coats want to examine your dog and possibly vaccinate them with sharp needles, or examine tender areas. It is natural for many dogs to feel uncertain, nervous or scared in these situations, and a natural defensive instinct for canines is to bite. Sometimes, a muzzle is needed to keep veterinary staff, yourself and your dog safe. Beyond veterinary hospitals, your dog can benefit from muzzle training in times of emergency, such as painful broken bones or if your pet is hit by a car. In order to transport your dog to a veterinary hospital safely, a muzzle can help prevent your dog from biting out of pain, and allow him to be transported for treatment much faster. Just like a leash or head halter, a muzzle is tool used to help control animal behaviour and should not be painful or stressful for the dog. Through muzzle training, you can help your dog accept a muzzle calmly and be prepared should your dog ever require a muzzle.
The Purpose of a Muzzle
A muzzle is a tool intended to limit a dog’s ability to bite. Even the most docile dog is genetically programmed to bite in reaction to pain. In this scenario, a bite is a protective instinct. They do not think about the fact that they are biting the hand that is trying to help them, as the dog is trying to prevent the area in pain from being subject to further injury.
Muzzles should never be used for punishment! If your pet is inappropriately chewing furniture in the home or barking at strangers through the window, a muzzle is not an appropriate tool to correct these behaviours. Consult a veterinarian who can refer you to a professional trainer or behaviourist if you have concerns regarding inappropriate behaviours.
Types of Muzzles:
While different styles of muzzles exist, a muzzle should allow a dog to breathe normally, pant if needed, and drink water. For these reasons, a basket muzzle is recommended when muzzle training dogs. Other styles of muzzles should only be used for a very limited duration by professionals.
For short-snouted dogs like French Bulldogs, Pugs and Boston Terriers, a mask-type of mesh muzzle is often more appropriate for short procedures like nail trims or exams. Due to their anatomy, the short, broad nose and flat faces of these breeds render traditional muzzles ill-fitting. The mesh mask muzzle allows these breeds to breathe properly during restraint, while still keeping veterinary staff safe.
Tips for Muzzle Training
The Blue Cross Animal Hospital has provided an excellent video on how to muzzle train your dog.
Introduce the muzzle in a fun way! Use treats, play or other things that your dog likes and gets excited about, and pair those positive elements with the muzzle to create positive associations with the muzzle.
Habituate your dog to the muzzle. If you only bring out the muzzle when your dog is nervous or painful and the muzzle is needed to prevent a potential bite, your dog can form negative associations with the muzzle. Instead, bring out the muzzle periodically and give your dog a treat while being relaxed near the muzzle, then put it away without putting it on your dog. Your dog will become desensitized to the muzzle—just because the muzzle is out does not mean your dog needs to wear it!
Start slowly. Allow your dog to start wearing the muzzle for short periods of time before gradually increasing the duration of wear. Once your dog becomes more comfortable, you can start fastening the strap at the back.
A proper fit: the strap below the ear sat the back of the neck should fit snugly. For everyday use, you should be able to fit two fingers between this strap and your dog’s neck, but not so loose that your dog can paw off the muzzle. When used as a means of restraint in a veterinary situation, this strap may be tightened for short periods of time if there is a concern about bite risk. The end of the muzzle for everyday use should allow about 1.25cm between the end of your dog’s nose and the beginning of the basket muzzle.
A muzzle measurement guide from Dean & Tyler, a canine equipment retailer.
How does muzzle training benefit my dog?
In Hamilton, the Dof Owner's Liability Act dictates that a dog that bites or attacks another pet or person can be ordered to be euthanized as a danger to society. By muzzle training animals that have a bite potential, you can help prevent injury to other dogs and people.
In Ontario, Breed Specific Leglislation deems certain breeds “dangerous.” As a result , these breeds must be muzzled in public by law. Muzzle training helps desensitize your dog to a device that must be worn by these breeds in public.
If your dog bites a person at one of our hospitals, Hamilton Public Health requires us to complete a bite report. If your dog is overdue for their rabies vaccine and bites a person, they will be required to enter quarantine based on a rabies risk assessment.
In veterinary medicine, we sometimes have to do things that are uncomfortable for the dog in the moment, but are essential for ensuring long-term health. For example, a dog that is limping may not want to be approached by staff and will require sedation both for the dog’s comfort during the exam and the safety of veterinary staff. However, the dog may not even allow staff close enough to administer the sedative injection safely. In this scenario, a muzzle is placed with the owner comforting the dog and keeping his attention and head away from staff which allows everyone to be safe, the dog to be sedated, and a full exam to completed pain-free. The dog can then be accurately diagnosed and treated. With muzzle training, stress is removed from the restraint portion of the procedure, and the dog does not struggle against the muzzle because he has never seen one before.