Muzzles: For many dogs, a gateway to fun

Many dogs have to wear muzzles. Some are required to by law (breed-specific legislation). Some are fearful. Some eat rocks, feces, or garbage on the street.

The Muzzle Up! Project strives to erase the social stigma that comes with owning a dog that wears a muzzle. After all, when dogs are trained using positive reinforcement, they come to enjoy their muzzle, because the muzzle predicts good things (food, walks, fun with their humans). Muzzles also keep fearful and aggressive dogs safe, preventing them from possibly hurting another human or dog, while allowing them to still enjoy being a dog. And, unfortunately, some dog owners have no choice, since breed-specific legislation requires their dogs to wear one.

This blog post is a celebration of the humans who are doing it right: Desensitizing and counterconditioning their dogs to muzzles, finding creative ways to have fun with their dogs, and giving their dogs the gift of exercise and adventure.

1) First up is this gorgeous dog who doesn’t let his muzzle get in the way of a good game of fetch (thanks to Muzzle Up! supporter Rachel Jackson for the photo):

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2) Next, we have this creative pooch, who has found a way to retrieve an enticing tennis ball while wearing a muzzle (thanks to supporter Faren Sandberg for the photo):

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3) Supporter Emma Hindson shared this dramatic photo of her dog, Zara, who climbs mountains with her muzzle. (Check out more of Zara’s adventures on her Facebook page):

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4) Kisses are an important part of many dogs’ routines. Supporter Megan Mead’s photo of Sweden shows that this muzzle is entirely kissable:

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5) Supporter Cassarra Groesbeck sent us this photo, showing this group of dogs enjoying an off-leash hike:

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6) Sue F. Morgan sent us this photo of Dave, displaying his athletic prowess and zest for life:

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7) Not only do Cobalt and Sapphire color coordinate, they also attend a global protest to end BSL (thank you to supporter Carol Louise Bell for the photo):

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To join the Muzzle Up! movement, visit our Facebook page and spread the word. A huge thank you to all our current supporters! Check back for more muzzle adventures.

– Maureen Backman, MS, CTC

Maureen is the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and owns Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco, CA. Get in touch at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.

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Finding the best muzzle for your dog: An equipment guide

Photo courtesy Cassarra Groesbeck

Photo courtesy Cassarra Groesbeck

The Muzzle Up! Project has received a large number of requests for  information on the different types of muzzles available, breed-specific muzzles, and where to purchase them. The following is a starter list, compiled from our own research and information from supporters. Please email us at muzzleupproject@gmail.com if you have any questions or resources to share. We’d especially like to hear from those who live outside the US to help us expand our international resources.

Equipment Review

The Baskerville Ultra muzzle is the gold standard for a safe and comfortable basket muzzle. Product features include:

  • Durable, flexible plastic
  • Neoprene padding on the straps to prevent chafing
  • Safety strap that fits over the head to ensure a secure fit (optional)
  • Wide holes guarantee your dog can eat, drink and pant

– The Ultra is available on many sites. Muzzle Up! recommends purchasing one from the Karen Pryor Clicker Store. For those in the UK, Company of Animals provides a selection, including the option of blue or pink plastic.

– Pet Expertise offers a great sizing chart to help determine the best fit for your dog. Several Muzzle Up! supporters have indicated one drawback to the Ultra: in some dogs, the plastic chafes the skin above the nose. Fabric strips placed on the plastic can help prevent damage to the skin, as well as ensure a proper fit.

– Dean and Tyler offers a muzzle that comes in 30 sizes. Their website includes a chart to help you determine the correct size for your dog. Product features include:

  • Heavy felt padding on the nose area to prevent chafing
  • Adjustable leather straps
  • Ample room for your dog to eat, drink and pant
  • Available in smaller breed sizes

While wire muzzles can be a safe and effective choice, they are typically heavier than plastic muzzles. The metal can also become uncomfortable for a dog in hot or cold climates. Leather basket muzzles, while sometimes hard to fit, can provide some extra comfort for your dog. Keep in mind that some leather muzzle designs do not allow for easy consumption of food and water (two things that are essential for muzzle safety). Dean and Tyler also offers a version which, like their wire muzzles, includes padding around the nose area to prevent chafing.

– Trixie Pet Products offers a leather “bridle” style muzzle, which includes space for treat taking, panting and drinking, as well as a forehead strap for a secure fit.

Breed Specific and Custom Sized Muzzles

– The Dog Muzzle Store offers one of the most comprehensive collections of breed-specific muzzles available, in both leather and wire varieties. Here is an example of a leather basket muzzle designed for French bulldogs, pugs and Boston terriers. Their site allows you to list your dog’s measurements to ensure a custom fit.  Features of these custom muzzles include:

  • Felt padding along the nose area
  • Ample ventilation
  • Forehead straps to ensure a secure fit

The site includes various other leather options  to choose from, but this one has the best design for delivering treats and drinking water. The Dog Muzzle Store’s rubber and plastic coated muzzles come with a comfort strap above the nose as well, and the rubber coating ensures comfort in hot and cold temperatures. Here is an example of their metal wire muzzle, designed for boxer type breeds. They also offer a fully padded wire version (seen here on a German Shepherd).

– Hot Dogs All Dressed offers custom-made leather muzzles for all breeds.

International Links 

Bumas custom leather muzzles in various colors (based in Austria but ships worldwide)

Gappay rubberized muzzles (based in Germany)

– Sofahund Hot Dogs All Dressed (custom leather muzzles in various colors)

The Greyhound & Whippet Shop

– A special note about greyhounds: By purchasing from a respected rescue organization, you can ensure that your money will not support the dog racing industry. One of our supporters shared the link to Greyhound Rescue West of England, which provides several basket muzzle options. Scottish Greyhound Sanctuary also offers basket muzzles for this breed in a variety of colors.

– By Maureen Backman, MS CTC. Maureen is the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and owns Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco, CA. She will be presenting about Muzzle Up at this year’s Pet Professional Guild Summit in Tampa, FL. Get in touch at muttabouttownsf@gmail.com.

Explaining why your dog is wearing a muzzle

muzzle-cartoonsYou’re walking your dog and someone approaches. Maybe a neighbor, a coworker, or perhaps a complete stranger. And then comes the question you wish you didn’t have to constantly answer: “Why is your dog wearing a muzzle?” Sometimes, it’s asked out of pure interest. But most of the time, it’s tinged with many underlying fears and questions. Is that dog vicious? Will your dog attack me? Is your dog a bad dog? Many supporters of The Muzzle Up! Project face this question quite often, and they’ve come up with some great responses that erase stigma, ease anxiety and insert a little humor into living life with a muzzled up dog. Here are the brilliant ideas of our supporters. Enjoy!

  • I say, “My dog has an injury and sometimes also has issues with strangers approaching me, so I am being a responsible owner until we work through that.” Or something like that. – Christine
  • “She is scared of new folks.” And then I turn my attention to Diamond and ask her to do something to help her remain cognitive and build positive experiences with strangers around. And then I reward her cooperation. She has come a long way. More often than not, she now seems to have a more positive interest in strangers. – Angie
  • I have one who wears a muzzle as shes not keen on other dogs coming up to her and as she’s a big girl. I’m overly cautious. I also have a lead with “no dogs” printed on it and my boy wears a lead with ‘friendly’ on. Most people I see are nice but I’ve had a few comments. – Deanna
  • I have a greyhound and I muzzle her when we go to the groomers as they usually have little white fluffy lures in there. I explain I would rather be safe than sorry as she has been trained to chase.Then I say she is really a lamb. – Tracey
  • I once had someone ask me why my dog was wearing a hockey mask – made me cease and explain the situation, all whilst I had blood dribbling down my leg because I had just fallen over and was trying to sort a plaster. We must have looked a right pair! – Emma
  • I put my foster dog on my Facebook cover photo saying she is a DINOS Diva (Dog in need of space), just to change my own perception of using a muzzle and be comfortable being proactive by having her wear a muzzle when out. She looks kind of like a ‘super hero’ with her yellow jacket and her head gear. – Jo-Ann
  • She has a hard time trusting other people and other dogs, but she still deserves the same love and privileges as any other creature… I muzzle cuddles so that she and the other creatures around her can live a safe and normal life. – Кристина
  • Obviously, because he can’t wear two. – Luis
  • Mine used to wear one one when he was a pup “because he is a pig – and hovers up anything and everything and makes himself sick!” – Emma

Human reactions to muzzles

MqUgt47xH8sB1LY0DvU7uAd9y-wGVKQQN7HJps-Wl80,tbddtejv52x1vYi5rqdsfha8KEg-MAqFwLi8wSaAJRw,bG1p_GdldAOMIy6xS-4pom5y2fYMkBjL54s2Gat7ivI,GxuDbVthEx20W6GcRQrijCmX_0zWfkH5XUB1rSw9jqg,F7nJQiRNXnqul8w_nIbBrETvAIRcYd8z_McGLO6jSTY-1One of The Muzzle Up! Project’s goals is erasing the stigma associated with muzzles. While it’s difficult to find research studies focused on human perceptions of muzzled dogs and how that affects our behavior, I fortunately came across an interesting study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research in 2009.

The study observed the behavior of adults who came within a specific distance of a man walking a German shepherd dog, both when the dog was wearing the muzzle and when the dog was not wearing one.

According to the authors, “We focused on 3 behaviors potentially indicative of fear, relating to either avoidance or vigilance: (1) movement away from the dog while passing by; (2) looking at the dog while passing by; (3) turning around to look at the dog after passing by.”

The results showed that the muzzled dog elicited more fear-based behaviors in humans. The study also found that the people who encountered the muzzled dog moved away from the dog to avoid him and also turned around to look at the dog once they passed him, indicating fear and hypervigilance.

“This study suggests that, paradoxically, a muzzled dog is considered as more dangerous by humans than a non-muzzled dog, whereas only the latter can be a real source of danger,” write the authors.

– By Maureen Backman, MS

Maureen is the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and the owner of Mutt About Town in San Francisco, CA. Get in touch at muzzleupproject@gmail.com.

Citation:

The dog or its muzzle as a Signal of danger for humans
Anaïs Racca, Claude Baudoin

Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 1 
March 2009 (volume 4 issue 2 Page 94 DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2008.09.055)

Why using muzzles as punishment is dangerous

Photo by Animal Kingdom Hostpial/Flickr Creative Commons License

Photo by Animal Kingdom Hostpial/Flickr Creative Commons License

Imagine a child who, every time she misbehaves, is subsequently punished by being placed in a car with the seatbelt buckled. Each time the seatbelt clicks shut, she is left in the car for a period of time without explanation. The only association she has with the car and the seatbelt is as a form of punishment, causing her to dislike it.

Now, imagine that same child has to go to the emergency room. The only means of transport is a car. Faced with the prospect of having to endure what has historically been a form of punishment for her – the seatbelt – she resists, taking up precious time that could be spent driving to the hospital.

This scenario may seem a bit outlandish, and it should. Using a standard safety measure as a form of punishment is ridiculous and cruel, not to mention counterproductive for any life-threatening situation. Unfortunately, when people use muzzles as a form of punishment or time out for dogs, they create a situation not unlike a child being punished with a seatbelt.

Many dogs become fearful if placed in a muzzle without proper desensitization and counterconditioning. They will fear the muzzle even more if it is used as a means to reduce undesirable behaviors (especially if the person presenting the muzzle has a stern tone of voice and agitated body language, two things that often accompany punishment). Now add continual repetitions of the muzzle being used as punishment, and the dog acquires an ever-growing history of negative associations with it.

Why is this such a problem? The fact is, at some point, most dogs will have to wear a muzzle. It’s often the first step when applying pet first aid. It’s also used as a safety measure at the veterinarian if a dog is in pain. Dogs may develop fears at any point in their lives, which could result the need for a muzzle while training is underway. Dogs may even need to wear muzzles for non-aggressive behaviors like eating feces. In any of these situations, it is critical that a dog be desensitized and trained to enjoy wearing a muzzle, especially in the case of an emergency when time is of the essence and mucking around isn’t an option.

Even in non-emergency situations, training a dog to like a muzzle once he has developed strong negative associations to it will take eons longer than performing a standard muzzle training plan from the beginning; fears are easy for dogs to develop and difficult to overcome.

For all of these reasons, refrain from using a muzzle as a way to reduce unwanted behaviors. Your dog’s life may depend on it someday.

-Maureen Backman, MS
Maureen is the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and owns Mutt About Town dog training in San Francisco.