Basket muzzle training
What is a muzzle?
A basket muzzle is a useful tool to humanely prevent dog bites or to prevent dogs from eating things outside that are dangerous or toxic. A properly fitted muzzle allows your dog to pant, drink water and accept treats while wearing it.
Which dogs should learn to wear a muzzle?
All dogs can benefit from learning to comfortably wear a muzzle. Every dog can experience fear, anxiety and stress when handled by a stranger, handled in ways they are not accustomed to or when they are experiencing pain. Even the friendliest of dogs may be more inclined to growl or even bite in these scenarios. Muzzles also benefit dogs with a history of eating inappropriate objects outside.
Why should a dog learn to wear a muzzle?
A dog can develop a negative association with muzzles if they are not conditioned to comfortably wear them. In some medical situations, a dog may need to wear a muzzle to receive medical care while maintaining the clinician’s safety. Teaching your dog that the muzzle is safe, comfortable and that good things happen when they wear it will decrease their stress and improve everyone’s safety during times when wearing a muzzle may be necessary. Muzzled dogs can receive more gentle handling and experience less physical restraint, which is preferable for most dogs.
When should I teach my dog to wear a muzzle?
Puppyhood is an ideal time to muzzle train, as they likely have not had a negative experience with a muzzle or any other handling sensitivities. However, dogs of all ages can and should be trained to comfortably wear a muzzle.
What kind of muzzle should I get?
A basket muzzle, such as a Baskerville Ultra or Jafco Clear Vinyl muzzle, will allow you to feed treats through it, and your dog can comfortably pant and drink water while wearing it. Nylon muzzles that constrict your dog’s mouth are not appropriate for most situations.
How do I train my dog to be comfortable wearing a muzzle?
Training for the muzzle should be approached in two stages: comfort with putting their nose into the muzzle, and then comfort with the strap being placed around the back of their head. If your dog has a history of handling sensitivities, or a history of biting, consider reaching out to a qualified positive-reinforcement trainer or board-certified veterinary behaviorist.
Find a high-value treat that your dog loves (peanut butter, canned cheese, plain chicken, hot dogs, string cheese, etc). Start the process when your pet is not stressed and in a neutral context. Begin training as follows:
Place the high-value treat into the nose of the muzzle and allow your dog to approach the muzzle at their own pace. Avoid pushing it toward them.
Once your dog places their nose into the muzzle to eat the treat, praise them and then slowly back the muzzle off of their nose.
Next, present the muzzle without the treat and allow your dog to place their nose inside it. Then immediately feed them a treat through the muzzle and praise them. (If they do not place their nose into the muzzle without the treat inside, repeat step 1).
Repeat step 3 a few times, and stop the training session after 1-2 minutes.
Practice these sessions a few times a week until they have had several positive experiences.
Once the presence of the muzzle makes them reliably want to place their nose into the muzzle, you can attach the strap around the back of their head. Present the muzzle, allow them to place their nose inside, and then attach the neck strap loosely. Immediately reward them with a treat through the muzzle.
Adjust the strap to fit so it cannot slip over their head; (1-2 fingers should fit underneath the strap).
Muzzle do’s and don’ts
Make wearing a muzzle a happy and rewarding experience.
Keep the muzzle clean — wash it in warm soapy water after each use.
Use it when necessary, such as during veterinary visits. If your pet is typically aggressive or fearful, bring your muzzle to the appointment and put it on before entering the clinic.
Put your pet in scary situations where they are showing signs of extreme fear or anxiety while they are still getting used to wearing their muzzle (other than absolutely necessary at the vet) since it may worsen their fear.
Leave the muzzle on your pet while unattended — it’s possible for it to come off and your pet could chew it up or even swallow pieces of it.
This health topic was developed as a collaboration between the Cornell Richard P. Riney Canine Health Center and the Cornell Duffield Institute for Animal Behavior. The Duffield Institute expands our veterinary expertise to better understand animal behavior and improve the lives of pets and the people who share their lives with them.