Muzzles are used for a wide variety of reasons and can be a fantastic training tool. The primary reason they are used is for safety. This could be the safety of the dog wearing it, other dogs, or people! Muzzles do have a stigma, I won't lie about this. People see them and generally assume a dog is aggressive or dangerous. This is a hard pill to swallow when beginning the muzzle training journey but it is one I have come to embrace. My favorite saying is a muzzled dog is a safe dog!
We use a muzzle because Kane is a dog that is very sensitive about his space with both dogs and people. I use a muzzle on busier off-leash trails, when we are more likely to run into an off-leash dog that might invade our space, when he is meeting new dogs or people, and in our home when visitors are over. I personally find that the muzzle serves as a fantastic visual cue and reminder for people. As I said above, there is a stigma behind muzzles, but it is a stigma I am okay with. When people approach us on trails they are much more likely to call/leash their dogs or step off the trail for us if Kane is muzzled. Equally, in our home people are much more likely to follow directions and ignore Kane if he is wearing his muzzle.
We, of course, get negative comments or weird looks about his muzzle from both random people out on the trails and friends/family in our home. It used to really get me down because of the stigma but nowadays I try to laugh it off. We make jokes about his alter-ego when he wears his muzzle (Bane, Batman reference) and I speak honestly to people who won't drop it. I comment that the muzzle is the reason he is so comfortable and turn it back on them by saying, if you could resist touching him he wouldn't need to wear it. Sassy? Maybe, but it is true and usually works. I have only had a couple of people ask me about it on trails and all of them have been genuinely curious so I respond that he is grumpy and doesn't like new people or dogs in his space and this protects everyone. I have never received negative comments responding this way, usually people are very receptive and thankful that I explained & took the precautions necessary, but maybe I am lucky!
However, I think my favorite part of the muzzle is how it has advanced our training and changed our relationship. The muzzle helps me feel more confident when I am out with Kane, this in turn makes him more confident because he doesn't sense my nervousness. It also gives me the courage to take him to new and busier places which has advanced our training and relationship hugely. Overall it allows me to push us out of our comfort zone while being confident that he cannot hurt a dog or a person.
Muzzle Training Tips
- Find a correctly fitting muzzle. The right size muzzle will allow a dog to pant fully. Some styles may also allow them to drink water or take treats. I prefer this style if your dog will be wearing it for hiking.
- Make it fun! The most important part. Like all other training, both you and your dog should enjoy it. Use lots of rewards and take it slow. You could use luring or free shaping. If your dog has previously had a negative experience with a muzzle you could try a different style of muzzle and build a new association and/or free-shape it to allow them to take it at their own pace.
- Take it slow, like really slow. Start in a low-distraction environment, like your house. Reward frequently and build up duration over time. Don't expect to put the muzzle on your dog and go for a hike in it the next day.