Category: Training

Muzzles – Perception vs Reality

When you see a muzzled dog, what is your first thought?  Likely you go right to assuming that the dog is aggressive.  Yes, aggressive dogs are usually the most common to wear a muzzle, but that is because they carry such a stigma!  Muzzles can be useful for a lot of different conditions.  Some people use muzzles just as a deterrent so that people will stay away from them and their dog for one reason or another.  Today we will explore the different reasons that people muzzle and why it is important for every dog to be muzzle trained.

Reasons People Muzzle

There are many reasons that people muzzle their dogs.  Generally, it is for safety reasons.  The list below gives examples of all the different reasons that people may muzzle their dogs.

  • The dog eats inappropriate things
  • The dog is recovering from surgery and doesn’t do well with a cone
  • To ward off people (hopefully, this reaction will change if we start muzzle training all dogs!)
  • To keep mouthy dogs from engaging in play that is too rough
  • To prevent a dog from biting due to fear/aggression (usually used as an insurance policy that is paired with training to help desensitize a dog to their triggers)
  • To protect their dogs and others (Greyhounds are typically muzzled during play as their skin is thin and they are more prone to getting cuts when playing)

Types of Muzzles

There are 2 main types of muzzles that you will run into.  Some are better for certain activities than others.  Below you will find examples of the different types of muzzles and what they are recommended for.  We will talk about how to fit a muzzle a bit later.

Occlusion Muzzles

These muzzles are only recommended for short periods of time where your dog will not be overly stressed or exerting too much energy.  An occlusion muzzle is very restrictive.  Panting is not easy with these on and therefore your dog cannot cool themselves or relieve their stress by panting.  These can come in a variety of materials. Fabric or mesh are the most commonly used but these do come in leather as well.  An improperly sized basket muzzle can also be considered an occlusion muzzle.

This occlusion muzzle gives too much panting room and a bite could occur.
Basket Muzzles

These come in a variety of shapes, sizes and materials.  These are the best muzzle to be used on walks or for extended periods of time.  A properly sized basket muzzle will allow your dog to pant, eat and drink with little interference.  There are some types of muzzles that are a better choice for dogs who are or may be a bite risk.

Baskerville

These are one of the cheapest options on the market and not recommended for any dog that poses a bite risk.  Some dogs have been reported to have chewed through or bitten through the muzzle itself.

Leather

These are a better choice for dogs who are a bite risk.  These are also generally a fuller coverage muzzle, so will be able to keep dogs from eating things all the time.  These muzzles will take some upkeep to keep the leather soft and supple.

Metal

Metal is the best choice for a dog that is a bite risk.  There are multiple styles from different makers.  Some will have a flat front and others will be more shaped.  Some will be designed for short nosed breeds like boxers, while others will be designed for longer snouted dogs like German shepherds.  Based on your dog’s face shape, you can find just about any shape.

Angel Miami Muzzle
Dean & Tyler Freedom Muzzle

Jafco

These muzzles are totted as some of the best for bite risk dogs. There are lots of holes in the sides for ventilation and there is the option of a treat hole or not (for those that like to try to grab things they shouldn’t). These tend to be a bit more difficult to clean around the top and bottom of the muzzle because of the design, but there are many resources and knowledgeable people that will help you figure out the best way to keep it clean.

Greyhound Style

Sometimes, longer nosed dogs will be more comfortable in a greyhound style muzzle.  These tend to be lighter and built for longer faces.  There are many different types of greyhound muzzles ranging from plastic all the way up to metal ones.  some of them have built in guards around the bottom of the muzzle so that your dog can’t pick things up while it is on.

Plastic muzzle with guard

Brachycephalic

Some muzzles are designed specifically for Bracy dogs so that they are still able to breathe with a muzzle on.  Muzzling a dog that is brachycephalic can be dangerous because they already have compromised nasal passages and the muzzle may restrict their ability to pull in enough air.  Making sure your dog is comfortable is always important and especially so if they already have problems with their respiratory system.

How to fit a muzzle

We will briefly look at how to fit each of the types of muzzles highlighted above.  Please keep in mind that if you will be exercising your dog in a muzzle, to choose an appropriately sized basket muzzle and condition your dog to love it.  There is nothing that your dog shouldn’t be able to do with a muzzle on that they can do with it off (except for those behaviours you are trying to prevent of course!).

Occlusion Muzzle

These muzzles should fit snug.  They are meant to keep your dog’s mouth closed and are generally used by vets or groomers for short periods of time.  With fabric or mesh muzzles with open ends, if your dog is able to open their mouth much, they are likely able to nip or bite.

Basket Muzzle

These muzzles are meant to fit comfortably and allow your dog to fully pant, eat and drink with them on.  Depending on the material the muzzle is designed out of, some are stronger than others and provide better bite protection.  If your dog is not a bite risk, something like a Baskerville should be more than enough.  When measuring your dog, use a soft/fabric tape measure or a piece of non-stretchable string.  When trying to determine how much extra room your dog needs for a full pant in a basket muzzle, have your dog hold a ball in their mouth as you measure.  If you can exercise your dog and then measure while they are panting, that is best, but most dogs will automatically close their mouths if you go to touch their face or wrap something around it.

Measuring Width
Conditioning your dog to the muzzle

No matter what age your dog is, you can start getting them used to the idea of a muzzle, even if you don’t have one yet or your pup is still growing.

The first video below is our absolute favorite for demonstrating a step by step process to get your dog comfortable with the muzzle. If you have a puppy that is still growing, don’t buy a good quality muzzle until they are full grown and you can get accurate measurements of them. Use a plastic cup, or some other size appropriate object, preferably with an open end, to start your pup on the road to loving having their nose inside something.


Not sure what type of muzzle would work best for your furry friend? Take the quiz below to see what the best options might be for your pup!

Quiz created by the admins and moderators of Muzzle up, pup! on Facebook.

Muzzle Quiz

Not on Facebook? Check out the website for the Muzzle up project!

Recognizing Stress and What to Do About it

Stress is part of everyone’s day to day life, even dogs. When we start to stack stresses on our dogs, especially fearful or anxious dogs, is when we will start to get into trouble. Most dogs will get stressed from one thing or another.  Stress isn’t always a bad thing, but it is helpful to know what stress looks like from your dog, and what to do to help them through discomfort.  Below are a couple of visual representations that show the expressions they may show as well as physical signs you can watch for.

Some of these expressions can be seen in other situations as well, so taking the situation into account as well as looking at your dog’s expression is vital.  If your dog has just been playing with their best friend, they will likely end up with a happy “clown mouth”.  Pay attention to multiple expressions or physiological signs to be able to determine if your dog is truly stressed or just over-aroused.

If your dog is panting in a cool environment where they shouldn’t be overheating, then they are likely stressed.  Not taking offered cookies is a huge one we watch for when training dogs to be comfortable around their triggers.  If a dog stops taking cookies, we have pushed them too far and need to back up to where they were last comfortable.

As stated above, stress isn’t always a bad thing.  If your dog is unsure or scared about a situation, you can slowly ease them into it and expose them to minor stress to help them acclimate to it.  We want to be careful that we never force our dog to be in a situation that they are terrified of.  If we force our dog to face something they aren’t ready for, we can set back any training we have done with them.  Taking careful precautions to not “flood” your dog with too many triggers is important to keep them moving forward and overcoming their stress levels instead of getting overwhelmed by them and possibly feeling like they must escalate to a bite.

If you are in a situation that is stressing your dog out and are unable to remove them, try to get them focused on something else. Move as far away from whatever it is that is stressing them out and try to get them to focus on you, a toy, a cookie, something that they love! Walking away from an overly stressful situation is always the best and we should be aware of what is likely to put unhealthy amounts of stress on our pups. We always want to set them up to succeed in any and every situation we expose them to. If we aren’t paying attention to their levels of stress, we can accidentally set them up to fail. Listen to your dog and go at their pace when exposing them to scary things.

Preventing Dog Bites

Dog bites are becoming an epidemic in society. As we get further and further from dogs living and working alongside us, we start to lose the ability to be able to read their body language and know what they are feeling. Below, I will outline a few different things to look for to help prevent a dog from biting. Learning how to read a dog’s body language is key to knowing if we are pushing them past thier comfort zone.

Defining a Bite

Bite: has punctured skin and drawn blood.

Nip: has contacted but not broken the skin.  May have left a bruise.

Mouthing: mostly shown by young puppies or untrained adult dogs.  There is generally very little if any, pressure involved.  Puppies may end up breaking skin because they don’t know any better yet.

It is important to know what to call different levels of a dog putting their mouth on you.  Ideally, every dog would understand that putting their mouth on people isn’t acceptable, but sometimes they aren’t taught or feel they must defend themselves for some reason.  Teaching puppies bite inhibition from a young age will help them understand that teeth on skin hurts and that it is not an acceptable behavior.

Aggression Progression

One of the most important things to remember is that any dog can bite.  A lot of times we don’t see the smaller dogs as being as big of a threat (most likely because they aren’t horribly large), but they have teeth just the same as larger dogs.  We want to prevent bites from all sizes of dogs.  The ladder below, from Farm and Pet Place, depicts how we can visually see a dog is getting close to their biting threshold.


We never want to corner a dog.  A lot of times, the calming signals depicted in the above graphic, will present if an animal is uncomfortable with the situation.  Usually, this means that they feel trapped in one way or another.  Always pay attention to if you are cornering a dog.  Never approach a dog that is displaying any of the above calming signals.  If we approach when they are displaying these signals, they will escalate to the next level until, in their mind, they have no choice but to bite to keep you away.

Calming Signals Visualized

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