How to muzzle train your dog
It can be difficult for dogs to get used to wearing a muzzle if they haven't before, but there are lots of dogs who need muzzles.
There are different reasons a dog may need to wear a muzzle. One reason could be that they are prone to eating things they shouldn't on walks and a muzzle is the safest way to make sure they don't eat anything dangerous out and about. Some dogs may have to wear a muzzle due to breed-specific legislation.
If you find that your dog now needs to wear a muzzle, there are some simple steps you can take to introduce them to their new muzzle and help them get used to wearing it.
Which muzzle should I get for my dog?
There are lots of different types of muzzle on the market and it can be a real minefield to work out which is best for your dog. As your dog may be wearing their muzzle a lot on walks and when you travel around, it's important to get something that will be comfortable for them and not prevent them from being able to do normal behaviours like panting and drinking.
As a basic rule, any muzzle you buy for your dog should fit them well to avoid them getting hurt by it. It shouldn't stop your dog from opening their mouth as it's really important for them to be able to pant so they don't overheat. It should be made of a durable material that's not going to break easily as this could potentially injure your dog.
We would recommend getting a Baskerville Muzzle (a basket-style muzzle) as they allow your dog to breath and pant freely. It doesn’t restrict their mouth as much, so they can still drink water even with the muzzle on. You can buy a Baskerville Muzzle in most pet shops.
Nylon muzzles can be helpful in short-term situations such as at the vet, but generally we don’t recommend them if your dog needs to wear a muzzle while out and about. They are harder to get a comfortable fit and it isn’t as easy for your dog to pant or drink.
How to fit a muzzle on my dog
It's really important to get the right size muzzle for your dog so they aren't uncomfortable. Usually, the sizes are in numbers and most will recommend a certain size for your breed, so check the packaging for a guide.
If you’re not sure, you can also measure your dog’s nose then look up what size would be best for them in a certain brand. You’ll need to measure around the widest part of their nose (which is usually just below their eyes). You’ll also need to measure the length of their nose, from the tip to the point just below their eyes. You will then be able to see what size muzzle would be best for them.
With some muzzles, you will be able to adjust their shape so they sit more comfortably on your dog. Remember they should be able to open their mouth wide enough to pant and their nose shouldn’t touch the end of the muzzle – always make sure there’s around 1cm between the end of your dog’s nose and the end of the muzzle. They should still be able to drink freely.
Our top tips for muzzle sizing and fitting:
- Look at the recommended breeds if you’re unsure which size to get.
- Measure your dog to make sure you’re getting the right size for them.
- Your dog’s nose shouldn’t touch the end of the muzzle.
- Make sure your dog can still breathe and their mouth isn’t too restricted.
- Make sure your dog can’t shake or paw the muzzle off.
- The muzzle straps shouldn’t be too tight – you should be able to slip one finger under the straps.
How to train my dog to wear a muzzle
Once you've got a muzzle that's the correct size for your dog, you'll need to start reward-based training to get them used to wearing it. Once you've fitted it, don't try to put a muzzle on your dog straight away and fasten it up if they are not already OK with wearing once, as if they get stressed it will make muzzle training more difficult.
Step one – get them used to the muzzle itself
The first thing you'll need to do is get your dog used to the muzzle itself. Remember you should never try to force a muzzle onto your dog's face straight away. Begin by showing them the muzzle. Let them sniff it and get used to seeing it and make sure to reward them for showing an interest with a treat or their favourite toy and lots of praise.
Step two – getting their nose in the muzzle
Once your dog is happy with the muzzle being around, you can start to train them to put their nose in it. If you have a Baskerville muzzle, pop a treat just inside the muzzle (you may need to hold it through the weaves) and let your dog take it. Gradually get further down the muzzle until your dog is happy to put their nose right in and take a treat held at the very bottom.
Remember not to push the muzzle on their nose and 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
Now that your dog is happy to put their nose inside the muzzle, you can start to move the straps behind their ears. Take it slow – at first you don't need to do the straps up. Go back a step if they begin to show signs of stress.
Remember to always be positive. If your dog shakes the muzzle off, don't tell them off! Just be patient and try again.
At this stage, you should be taking the muzzle off straight away and giving your dog a reward as soon as you take it off, too
Step four – leaving the muzzle on
Once your dog is happy to have the muzzle on with the straps completely fastened, start leaving it on for longer periods. Give them a reward while they're wearing it so that it becomes a good thing for them. Try to vary when and where you put the muzzle on your dog but always make sure it is a positive experience.
You can gradually build up the time the muzzle is on for and start popping your dog on the lead and walking around the house with the muzzle on. When your dog is used to the muzzle and happy with it, you should be able to pop your dog's muzzle on and go out for walks.
What to avoid when muzzle training your dog
Just like a dog's crate, a muzzle should never be used as punishment. You want them to associate their muzzle with positive experiences so they are OK with wearing it. Never rush your dog into wearing their muzzle – they need to get used to it in their own time.
Sometimes it's not possible to avoid your dog wearing a muzzle. If your dog does need to wear one before they are fully trained for safety reasons, be aware that this can set them back in muzzle training. One thing that can help with this is using a different kind of muzzle – so if you use a Baskerville muzzle at home, ask the vet to use a nylon one. This means that at least your dog won't remember the type of muzzle you use as part of a stressful experience.
Once they are trained, if your dog only needs to wear their muzzle at the vets, make sure you put the muzzle on before they enter the vet – ideally before leaving the house. If you try to put it on when you get there they may get stressed and not want to wear it at all. It’s a good idea to keep putting the muzzle on sometimes as practice too, so that they don’t learn that their muzzle coming out always means they’re going to the vet.
A muzzle shouldn’t be used to stop your dog barking. If your dog tends to bark a lot, there is usually a reason. Try training them or seek the advice of an accredited behaviourist if you’re having trouble. Neither should a muzzle be used to stop your dog chewing in the house. Again, there will be a reason for this which needs to be sorted to help your dog. If they do this when they are alone, they might have separation anxiety.
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.