- There are a few reasons why your dog may need to wear a muzzle at points throughout their life.
- It might be for their own safety, if they’re prone to eating things they shouldn't, or for others’ safety if they become nervous and reactive around dogs/people, have a high prey drive, or become frightened in situations such as the vets/groomer.
- There are also certain breeds of dog that are required to wear a muzzle in public due to breed-specific legislation.
- Whatever the reason, if your dog needs to wear a muzzle from time to time, it’s important to introduce them to one slowly so they always feel positive about wearing it.
Which type of muzzle should I get for my dog?
When choosing a muzzle, it’s important to make sure:
- It fits comfortably and doesn’t come off easily
- It allows your dog to open their mouth to pant and drink
- It allows excellent airflow so your dog doesn’t overheat while wearing it
- It’s made of a durable material that won’t break
Our vets recommend the Baskerville Ultra Muzzle because it allows the dog wearing it to open their mouth fully, enables excellent airflow, and has big enough gaps for treats to be passed through during training. You can buy Baskerville Ultra Muzzles in most pet shops and also from our PDSA pet store.
Muzzles that hold the mouth shut can be helpful in very short-term situations such as at the vets, but should never be used for longer than a few minutes because they restrict your dog’s ability to pant and drink. If used over a longer period, this type of muzzle is likely to cause distress, and can even lead to life threatening problems such as heatstroke.
Choosing the right size muzzle for your dog
Most muzzle brands recommend a certain size muzzle for each breed, but if you’re not sure which size will fit your dog, you’ll need to measure the length of their nose (from the tip to the point just below their eyes), and around the widest part of their nose (which is usually just below their eyes). It’s also important to check that:
- Your dog’s nose isn’t squashed or touching the end of their muzzle – there should be roughly 1cm space between the end of their nose and the muzzle
- Your dog can easily open their mouth to pant and drink while wearing it
- The straps aren’t too tight – you should be able to slip one finger under them
- Your dog can’t shake or pull it off
Flat-faced breeds: It’s important to be very careful when muzzling flat-faced breeds such as Pugs, Pekinese, and French Bulldogs, as they often struggle with their breathing and muzzling can make this much worse. In addition, it can be very tricky to find a muzzle that fits a flat-faced breed because of the shape of their face. Speak to your vet for advice if you need to consider to muzzling a flat-faced breed.
Training your dog to wear a muzzle
Once you have a muzzle that's the correct size for your dog, you’ll need to start training them to wear it. It’s important that you do this slowly, and in a ‘reward based’ way to ensure wearing it stays a positive experience for your dog. Don't be tempted to simply put the muzzle on your dog and fasten it up, as this is likely to scare them.
Step one – get your dog used to the muzzle without wearing it
- Leave the muzzle on the floor and let them investigate it. Put a handful of really tasty treats inside and around the muzzle.
- For the next few days, leave it on the floor all the time and feed them their food inside and around it. This will help your dog associate the muzzle as a positive item.
Step two – getting their nose in the muzzle
- Once your dog is comfortable with their muzzle being around, you can start training them to put their nose in it.
- Hold a treat just inside the muzzle (you may need to hold it through the gaps) and let your dog take it. Gradually hold the treat further into the muzzle until your dog is happy to put their nose right in and take a treat from the very end.
- Lots of practice is needed for this stage – take it slowly, with plenty of short sessions over several days. Eventually, your dog will understand that putting their nose in the muzzle results in a reward.
*Remember, don’t be tempted to rush the process and push the muzzle onto your dog’s nose – let them progress at their own pace. If they start to look anxious or stressed, go back a step and try again.
Step three – holding the straps
- Once your dog is happy to put their nose inside the muzzle, try moving the straps behind their ears and taking them off again straight away.
- Practice this over several days, gradually increasing the time you hold the straps behind their ears.
- Constantly offer your dog treats throughout the process, so they continue to think of the muzzle as a good thing. Remember to keep training sessions short, take regular breaks, and go back a step if they begin to show signs of stress.
- If your dog shakes the muzzle off, don't tell them off, just be patient and try again.
Step four – leaving the muzzle on
- Once your dog is happy to have their muzzle straps fastened, start leaving it on for short periods and give them treats through the gaps whilst they're wearing it.
- Gradually increase the time the muzzle is on for, and try putting your dog on their lead and walking around the house with their muzzle on.
- Try putting the muzzle on in different environments and situations, and keep giving your dog lots of rewards to ensure they have a positive experience.
- When your dog is used to their muzzle and happy with it, you should be able to put it on and go out for walks. However, even once your dog is fully trained and comfortable wearing their muzzle it’s important to continue making it a positive experience with regular treats and rewards.
Step five – continual exposure
- If your dog only wears their muzzle occasionally i.e. at the vets/groomers it’s sensible to occasionally put it on at home as practice and give them treats every time– this way they won’t associate their muzzle solely with the vets/groomers and will keep thinking of it as a positive thing.
What if my dog is already frightened of their muzzle?
Even if your dog has struggled with wearing a muzzle in the past, or is frightened of their muzzle, you can still use the steps above to help them feel comfortable going forward. You’ll need to take their training extra slow to help build up their confidence, and it might take a little more time to get them feeling comfortable, but it’s never too late to teach an old dog a new trick!
What to avoid when muzzle training your dog
There are a few things to avoid when training your dog to wear a muzzle:
- Never rush your dog into wearing their muzzle – they need to get used to it in their own time
- Never use a muzzle as punishment – it should always be a positive experience
- Never leave your dog alone with their muzzle on – they could get it caught on something and injure themselves
Reward-based training is the most effective way of training your dog. Read our vets' advice on positive training.
A dog's body language can tell us a lot about how they are feeling. Check out our advice on canine body language.