While they look ominous, muzzles are a humane safety measure for dogs. That being said, when used the wrong way, they can be aversive and harmful to dogs. If using a muzzle with your dog, keep the following in mind:
– Introduce your dog to a muzzle via classical conditioning (trainer speak for allowing your dog to form positive associations with wearing it). Here’s an excellent article by Pat Miller on muzzle training.
– Always ensure wearing a muzzle is followed by something enjoyable to your dog – a walk, a play session, or treats. This will ensure the muzzle remains a positive element for your dog.
– Use a basket muzzle, never a cloth or “grooming” muzzle. Cloth muzzles prevent a dog from panting, and can be dangerous when worn for extended periods of time. Basket muzzles allow a dog to take treats, drink water, and pant.
– Measure your dog to ensure a proper fit. Most muzzle brands list sizing information on their websites.
– Don’t substitute a muzzle for training or to control barking. If your dog has a history of biting or aggressive behavior, contact a positive reinforcement trainer. A muzzle will likely used in conjunction with a behavior change plan.
– Muzzles should not be used as a punishment device. Using them as a punishment will interfere with the muzzle’s positive associations, and could result in unwanted behavior and emotional consequences.