Muzzle : good idea or instrument of torture?

Throughout my dog training consultations, I came to find out that putting a muzzle on a dog is sometimes an odd discussion. The reaction I initially expected was surprise: “My dog?! A muzzle?! Isn’t that a little extreme?!”. I have to say that, even though I’ve heard that one a few times, it isn’t the most common one. Some context: I mainly train in Montreal, where most cases include some form of reactivity. Be it towards dogs, strangers or even bicycles, it is a very common issue with city dogs (because there are more dogs and more triggers). In some situations, I recommend that a muzzle be worn for specific situations. To my surprise, the two reactions I most often get are:

  • “You think so? We thought about it but we weren’t sure. We felt bad at the thought of putting that on our dog…”

and

  • “Oh we tried that, he hates it. We can’t leave it on him at all!”

Turns out muzzles aren’t quite as taboo as I initially thought, but still completely misused and misunderstood! That also means that people care about their dog’s well-being, which is always heart-warming. Back to the subject at hand, though:


A muzzle can (and should) be trained so that the dog is completely comfortable wearing it!


Makes sense, doesn’t it? There’s very little chance that your dog will be happy just having that thing slapped and strapped onto her nose. Think of a person whose hands we tied together. That person can still eat, drink from a glass and open doors, but that’s probably not something one would want done out of the blue! It’s likely to be received as intrusive, annoying, disturbing and scary. That’s why you need to gradually introduce your muzzle, with a specific training plan, so that your dog can come to wear the muzzle without any of these negative effects.

Does my dog need a muzzle?

Who’s a muzzle for, exactly? Here’s a short list of the most common situations where we’ll want to train and use a muzzle:

  • A dog that reacts during walks to things that can’t always be avoided. For instance, if the dog reacts to strangers: even if you do everything to keep your distance, there’s always a chance someone rounds the corner of a street and ends up face to face with your pup. In this situation, the muzzle can prevent a major accident. Keep in mind, though, that the muzzle doesn’t fix your problem, it’s just a safety measure. We have a reactivity specialist that can help you if you’re just getting started with this issue.

  • A dog who’s gotten to the point, in it’s training, where it will be in close contact with triggers. This step can be quite nerve racking with a dog that has a bite history. The trainer tells you you’re ready to cross people on the sidewalk, but you (or they!) would like an extra layer of safety. This helps a lot of people feel more comfortable with pushing into the further steps of fixing their dog’s reactivity.

  • A dog that will travel a lot. Many public places around the world accept dogs, so long as they are muzzled (for instance, you can take the train in France even with a big dog if it has a muzzle!)

  • A dog that has body handling issues and you’re just starting to work on that problem. The goal is obviously to keep the dog stress free, but for people who aren’t at ease or with a dog that has a bite history, it’s a great prevention method while we get the work done! Again, the muzzle doesn’t train the problem, you do. Slapping a muzzle on and then invading your dog’s space while they try to (but can’t) bite you is definitely not the way to go about this issue. You’ll end up quickly making things much, much worse.

  • A dog that has issues at the veterinarian’s office. Whether it’s the place, the strangers in the staff or the body handling that causes stress, dogs can get quite terrified in this situation. Training a muzzle will help your dog tremendously if the vet feels the need to put one on for their own safety. You’ll just help by having that part of the process be stress free!

  • A dog that compulsively eats everything it can find (edible or not) during walks. This issue is far more common than one might think and can be very dangerous. It gets even worse if the dog has resource guarding issues as well. A muzzle can help keep your dog safe while you work on teaching it not to pick up stuff off the ground or to reliably give it on cue.

  • A dog we are planning on leaving on a longer leash or off leash and we’re not sure how things will go. For instance, a big dog’s first time playing with smaller breeds or the first time a dog that has a bit of a personal space issue partakes in a Canicross race, where it will likely need to be overtaken by others. Once again, the muzzle won’t fix any of these issues, it just acts as a safety net in case things go wrong.

  • Lastly, I recommend training a muzzle for any household that adopts an adult dog they know little about. This way, you have something easy and fun to train with your new dog, on top of a safety line to try and test out all of the activities you plan on doing with it! Not sure about dog parks? Not sure about nail clipping? Not sure how it’ll go with the cat? Coupled with regular measures (a leash, progressive introduction, etc.), the muzzle gives you that reassurance that no matter how bad things get, they won’t get that bad. It’ll give you the confidence to try more things!

What type of muzzle should you get ?

Pick your muzzle based on what it’s going to be used for. For most people, a sturdy and simple basket muzzle, like the Baskerville Ultra, is a good choice. You can feed your dog through the mesh, which makes training with the muzzle on possible. It also allows the dog to pick food off the floor (with some practice), and drink water. It is definitely the most useful for almost everyone, with some exceptions:

  • A dog that eats small, dangerous objects (like gravel) will need a basket muzzle that doesn not allow picking things off the floor.
  • A brachycephalic dog (with a stubby nose) will need a muzzle adapted to it’s head shape.
  • Some veterinarian teams have a preference for nylon muzzles. If that is the case and that’s the only time your dog will need to wear one, might as well train the same thing at home!
  • For small breeds, you sometimes need to find specially made models, but they do exist! Small dogs can also need a muzzle sometimes.

Generally speaking, the size and model will vary from one dog to the next. You will likely need to test a few before you find THE muzzle that fits and is comfortable for your dog. Try multiple sizes and don’t hesitate to change brands until you find something you and your pet both like. One last piece of advice: some muzzles are made with material that you can reshape if you need to. The Baskerville Ultra is one of those. The manufacturer recommends to submerge it in hot water for five minutes, change the shape to what you like, and then dip it into cold water to make it stay that way and voilà!

So how do you train a muzzle?

That’s the million dollar question, isn’t it? We have a full protocol, with video demonstrations, available for free: click here to head there!