Controlling dog aggression by using a dog muzzle

Dog wearing a muzzle
Dog wearing basket muzzle

If it is possible your dog might bite, or your dog is aggressive, snarky or reactive, or if your dog is in a situation where they are in pain, you really should consider investing in and training your dog to wear a dog muzzle.

On the one hand, people can feel more confident when their dog is wearing a muzzle and this can help your dog stay calmer. However, while wearing a muzzle can prevent bites, it will not improve aggression and can potentially make aggression worse if misused.

1. Types of Muzzles and which is best for my situation:

Potentially aggressive or Anxious dogs

SHORT Answer: Basket Muzzles are best for aggression

For the average dog owner who wants to exercise caution while training their dogs not to be aggressive or out for walks, the basket muzzle the most humane choice recommended by veterinary behaviorists.  Basket Muzzles allow your dog to pant and open their mouths. You need a good quality muzzle that will withstand potential fighting that will not rip or bend or otherwise fail. Ideally you need to be able to give treats through (food tubes are good for this).

  • USES: Bite prevention during longer-term use such as training or going on walks

Wire Basket Muzzle example on Amazon
This is an example of a wire basket muzzle on Amazon.

A basket muzzle is also the best muzzle to use because it minimizes anxiety and fear. (1) (2) Allowing dogs to pant and open their mouths which is extremely important. Dogs pants for any number of reasons including dogs that are panting to get more oxygen due to exercising, dogs that need to regular their temperature in warmer weather, or any dog who is panting because of stress.

Although there are many variations on the market you generally see either:

  • Wire basket muzzles
  • Plastic basket muzzles
  • Softer variations usually made of some kind of fabric such as nylon.

Giving food rewards:

Giving food rewards is essential for behavior modifcation and communication. Cut a hole at the front of plastic or rubber muzzles to make a larger hole to give them treats through the muzzle. Alternatively, using a popsicle stick with peanut butter, spreadable cheese or meat, or using a food tube all can work as well.

Dangers and considerations with basket muzzles
  • Some plastic muzzles tend to be cheaper, but they don’t tend to let in as much air flow so you need to consider what activity you are doing with your dog.
  • Some dogs can get their lower jaw out and get teeth stuck.
  • Dogs may be able to bite through a soft or cheap plastic muzzle.

The air flow is best with a wire basket muzzles. The ability to give your dog a treat through the muzzle is a little easier, too. However, the wire muzzles tend to be a little heavier and dogs can still hurt others with by hitting them with the muzzle.


Protection Training

Short answer: Leather Police Style or Agitation Muzzles are best for protection training.

These dog muzzles are usually used for police or protection training where the dog is encouraged to bark and bite. They are usually made of leather, although plastic variations exist. The leather variations allow the handler or target of the aggression to experience less damage if they are hit hard with them. While leather agitation muzzles considered the safest from a bite perspective, they are also the most expensive. Your trainer will likely have recommendation for your dog.

Police style or “Agitation” dog muzzle

  • USES: teaching dogs to bite for police or protection training
Dangers and considerations associated with Agitation muzzles
  • Ventilation is still a concern with these muzzles. Examine how well ventilated the muzzle is that you are looking at.
  • Getting the right fit is also important since it is more difficult to see how well the dog fits inside of it.

If you decide on one of these muzzles for a dog you are working with to NOT be aggressive an important consideration is how easy you can feed treats through. Using a muzzle with behavior modification or training, the ability to give a teat to your dog is essential. Some muzzles will allow you to put a popsicle stick with peanut butter, spreadable cheese or puréed meat, and as with some pplastic or rubber basket muzzles, some muzzles can be cut through to make giving treats easier.

Grooming or Vet Visits

Short answer: Basket Muzzles are best, Occulsion muzzles or Cute/Funny muzzles can still be used for situations.

Basket muzzles are the most humane, but for temporary uses, occusions are acceptable are relatively easy to put on.

Occlusion Muzzle

  • USES: Use occlusion muzzles short-term use only for vet visits or grooming

“Occlusion” muzzles that shut the dog’s mouth completely. They are usually made of fabric. Using a muzzle may prevents the dog from opening their mouths widely can increase anxiety and fear (1). Never use an occlusion muzzles for long period of time. They may be fine for temporary use such as at the vet or grooming. The advantage is that they can usually be put on relatively quickly.

They should not be used for preventing barking. If your dog is barking excessively, it may be a result of boredom or there may be an anxiety issue that can be resolved. In this case you should consider getting a veterinary behaviorist consultation to diagnose the issue.

It is also possible that dogs can still nip if the can get their mouths at all open.

Dangers and considerations associated with occlusion muzzles
  • Because dogs cool themselves when they are panting, these muzzles can pose a threat to the dogs wearing them. Avoid using Occlusion muzzles when especially warm or when they are stressed and need to pant. Panting is the only way a dog can cool down, so if worn too long in warmer weather, it can cause heat stroke resulting in serious harm or even death.
  • Dogs can find occlusion muzzles extremely frustrating

“Cute” or “Funny” Muzzles

Duck muzzle (#ad) The idea is great, but sadly, they are only good for short-term situations where the dog is unlikely to pant which rules out using them for aggressive dogs when out for a walk or when you have visitors. Like the occlusion muzzles, they may be fine for temporary use such as at the vet or grooming. The advantage is that it may make others around them feel less threatened by the fact they are wearing a muzzle.

Dangers and considerations with cute/funny duckbill muzzles
  • If the temperatures are warm, or a dog is likely to be anxious, they should be avoided. Do not use these muzzles for walking or any situation where a dog needs to pant.
  • The cute concept may encourage kids to approach which may not be a good thing for an anxious dog.
  • Many have reported that these muzzles are far too easy for the dog to pull off.

How we decided

  • Reviewed and consulted veterinary behaviorist advice
  • Collected online data from experienced dog owners and personal experience
  • Long standing brand ensures products need to live up to brand reputation and be of good quality and good design and soound business practices
  • Because Amazon is the world’s largest and most trusted retailer, cross-checked against Amazon selling ranks, ratings, number of reviews and quality of reviews over time

Disclosure: We strive to offer genuine assistance based on thorough research and expertise. In some instances, we may suggest products that we believe can aid in addressing these challenges. It’s important to note that we may earn a commission from online retailers if we link to them and if you choose to purchase these recommended products through the links provided on our site. Look for “#ad” next to the link. This affiliate income, however, is modest and does not cover all our operational expenses. Our main goal is to give you the support and guidance you need, and our recommendations are driven by our commitment to assisting dog owners. Transparency and integrity are core values at K9aggression.com, and we want you to make informed decisions with complete confidence in our recommendations.

Dean & Tyler Muzzles

Consistently the Dean and Tyler brand wire basket muzzles on Amazon (#ad) received excellent reports for quality and value over the years and have come recommended by many dog owners. Once bought you should never need to buy one again.

The Dean and Tyler brands have good fitting guides on their site, but you can usually find them for less on Amazon than buying direct (there have been complaints buying direct did not go smoothly, but that may have been a rare situation).

The Dean & Tyler Freedom Muzzles (#ad) is their most spacious basket muzzle and has received excellent reviews and is suitable for medium to extra-large dogs. Dead & Tyler has a “winter” version which is the wire covered with rubber These dog muzzles are good for those living in colder climates.  These muzzles allow your dog to drink and take treats as well allow a wide range of jaw movement.

These muzzles allow your dog to drink and take treats. You will need to check the sizes for your dog.  They come in many more sizes than the Baskerville.

Basketville Ultra Muzzles

Baskerville Ultra Muzzles (#ad)  (look for the size that fits your dog – the deafult option is a size 5) also scored well for dogs with larger heads such as Staffordshire Bull Terriers, pitbulls, etc.

This brand has consistently received good reviews and you can often buy them for less than the Dean and Tyler and Jafco muzzles.

The advantage of this muzzle is that the rubber version is typically lighter than the wire basket muzzles.  It is relatively easy to feed treats through.

The downside is that some styles have been reported to rub the skin against the nose of some dogs and there is a slightly more restricted airflow than the wire basket muzzles. They come in several different sizes.

Jafco

Jafco Muzzles are high quality muzzles. Many Veterinary Universities such as PennVet Behavior Medicine Clinic uses Jafco muzzles at their hospital (1) as well as other training professionals. These are plastic muzzles that have some flexibility to them so if the dog hits you with one, it doesn’t hurt as much as the wire ones.

Jafco Muzzles have been the first choice of some veterinary behaviorists and many training professionals. (1). However these are no longer as easy to find as they once were. You might be able to get them through your veterinarian. Check where to find these on the Jafco site.

SEE ALSO: 6 other ways to keep others away from your dog

3. How to Fit a Dog for a Muzzle

TIP: Use string to use on the dog, then lie the string onto a tape measure.

Most muzzles are adjustable. However, dogs come in all sorts of different shapes and sizes, even between breeds. What works for a greyhound with a narrow head is not going to work for a pitbull type with a wide jaw. Therefor you might want to build in your budget additional shipping costs in case you need to return a muzzle if it does not fit properly.

The strap around the neck needs to fit quite snuggly so the dog cannot paw it off or catch it on anything.  Ensure that there is enough room in the basket part of the muzzle for your dog to pant.

Make sure that the muzzle is not too small, but also that it is not too big. You may think you are doing your dog a favour by giving them lots of room, but you might actually be causing more problems if the muzzle is loose, flops around or rubs unnecessarily.

Desensitized and counter condition dogs to wearing a muzzle in order to make it a pleasurable experience. You don’t want a frustrated or irritated dog.  You will feel better about your dog wearing one as well!

4. When to use a dog muzzle

Vet visits

Vet visits can be stressful to dogs for a number of reasons and bites are more likely to happen. Most vets appreciate that you have thought to muzzle your dog is there are any concerns. However check with your vet about whether they think muzzling your dog is a good idea during the visit. If your dog is aggressive to other animals, it might be possible to keep your dog in your vehicle until the vet is ready to see your dog.

Neighbourhood or park walks

If your dog has the potential to bite, safety should always come first. The first step it to prevent your dog from becoming anxious by avoiding the things that set them off. But surprises and accidents happen so make sure your dog can’t bite by using a muzzle. It is a good idea to reinforce the link between muzzles and enjoyable walks

During training or behaviour modification

You should avoid the things that trigger your dog’s aggression except when doing behavior modification. However do not trigger the aggression by getting too close – see the importance of getting your dog’s attention at the first sign of arousal. Use a dog muzzle only as a safety precaution only.

To help encourage people to keep their distance

Muzzles encourage people to keep their distance! If you are interested in keeping people at a distance check out our article on other things that can help keep people and or dogs at a distance.

To regain your confidence

If you have experienced an aggressive conflict you may be feeling anxious yourself. Dogs can pick up on that and become more anxious in response. Knowing that your dog can’t bite might help you feel calmer.

5. Teaching your dog to wear a muzzle

  • Train your dog to enjoy wearing a muzzle (see video below)
  • Start for short periods and gradually work up to longer periods.
  • Put the muzzle on even when he or she doesn’t need it from time to time so they don’t associate with the trigger of their aggression.

Here is a pdf describing how to desensitize your dog to wearing a muzzle or head halter that describes how you can do this.  However, forcing a dog to wear a dog muzzle for too long can also be frustrating for them and this can contribute to stress.

train your dog to wear a muzzle

Training your dog to wear a muzzle is easy, and not only will it make your job easier putting them on, but it makes it much easier for your dog to get used to wearing one. Win-win! Check out these videos showing you how:

Treat suggestions to use with muzzles

  • “Squeezy” cheese or Canned aerosol cheese
  • baby food
  • liverwurst
  • Pretzels sticks
  • Kibble
  • “long” treats
  • Peanut butter, spreadable cheese or meat on a stick
  • Pureed dog food

You may want to use a reusable and refillable  food tube (#ad) like this one on Amazon and use a blender to puree your dog’s food to put into it.  Kong Stuff’n products (#ad) are another good alternative for those people who don’t have the time.

Working with non-food motivated dogs

Some dogs are picky. This is sometimes causes by stress. Other time, they are simply fed enough and lack the interest in eating more. Here are some tips:

  • Feed your dog less at meals
  • Use only high quality and desired food – kibble is rarely motivating for dogs
  • Ensure their diet is not causing them to feel uncomfortable. Some prepared raw diets, for example, do not puree vegetables well enough and may cause digestive upset
  • Talk to your vet about food allergies

How to handle dog aggression

Dog muzzles can be used to control biting. They should be used whenever there is any risk that a bite could happen.

Outside of fitting your dog properly, there is no special operating is there is with head halters. If your dog has the tendency to lunge, you might want to consider a head halter. (#ad)

Muzzles do not treat your dog’s aggression or reactivity in any way.  If you continue expose your dog to the situations that make them aggression, you are making the aggression issue worse. If a muzzle strap were to break or the muzzle get pawed off, you still have a dangerous dog on your hands.

Make your dog a safer pet with a systematic approach than relying on a muzzle only. Here are some basic steps:

  1. Identify signs of stress: Learn how the body language that indicates stress or or anxiety to help you act before the aggression even starts.
  2. Prevention: Create a prevention and management plan to help you avoid the circumstances that are causing the aggression unless you are specifically working on behavior modification.
  3. Establish a treatment plan: Help your dog learn to cope better and teach your dog alternative behaviors with a treatment plan designed to keep his anxiety below “threshold” through humane treatment methods.

Learn more about treating dog aggression check out the ebook The Dog Aggression System Every Dog Owner Needs.

6. FAQ: Does using a muzzle make dog aggression worse?

There are some situation where improperly using a muzzle can make aggression worse due to frustration. Any kind of frustration will make aggression worse. There are three concern areas where a muzzle can increase frustration.

  • Feel strange or bothersome. The muzzle it can feel strange and bothersome until your dog gets used to it.  A dog may freel frustrated if they try and can’t remove the muzzle. This is one reason why desensitization, which is easy, is so important.
  • Doesn’t fit properly. It is important the the muzzle is fit properly. Too loose risks rubbing and chaffing, as well as being a safety concern. To tight and the dog will be uncomfortable.
  • Prevents the dog from panting. If a dog becomes over heated, their ability to tolerate anything dimishes greatly. A basket muzzle that allow your dog to pant is key.
  • Precents the dog from drinking. Again, anything where a dog is uncomfortable will increase their frustration. Ensure your dog has access to water and can drink through the muzzle easily.
  • It’s been on too long: Never leave a muzzle on a dog for long period of time. An hour is the longest.
  • Getting caught on something. If sticks or other items get caught on the muzzle, or if the muzzle catches on something, your dog can understandly become frustrated. Ensure your dog is being supervised when wearing a muzzle.

If a dog can’t get a muzzle off and wants to, or it is bothers his or her face, you can increase frustration and frustration can make aggression worse.  This is why you should always desensitize a dog to wearing one.

7. Problems associated with using dog muzzles to control dog aggression

There are a number of problems with using muzzles to control dog aggression. Here is what to consider:

  • Your dog can still cause harm: Using a muzzle can give people a false sense of security. A dog muzzle will not prevent aggressive behavior. A dog muzzle will only prevent a bite.   Your dog can still “muzzle punch”, lunge, hit, trample, bruise, etc. Breeds at risk for having a eye popped out during a fight are those who have eyes stick out such as Pomeranians, French Bulldogs, Pugs, etc. Ensure you are still mindful of your dog’s potential to react to stressful anxiety producing situation.
  • Using a muzzle in place of actively avoiding stressful situations: People have the tendency to use a dog muzzle instead of actively looking for ways to minimize stress. Exposing your dog to the things that trigger his increases the amount of dread for your dog making the overall problem worse. Even when we are actively working on a systematic behavior modification program, we want to keep our dogs below the threshold where they are experiencing too much stress.
  • Introduction of too much change at once. A dog aggression problem creates a sence of urgency to a solution. But too much change at once can be too much for your dog. Ensure your dog only has to adjust to change in small amounts.
  • Airflow for some muzzles: Some plastic muzzles tend to be cheaper, but they don’t tend to let in as much air flow so you need to consider what activity you are doing with your dog.
  • Catching teeth on muzzles: Some dogs can get their lower jaw out and get teeth stuck.
  • Dogs can bite through some kinds of muzzles: Dogs may be able to bite through a soft or cheap plastic muzzle.

If you want to learn more about treating dog aggression, you may want to get the The Dog Aggression System Every Dog Owner Needs book (comes in both print and an ebook version).

The Use of Muzzles With Other Behavior Issues:
  • People think a muzzle can be used to stop barking.  This is a bad idea as it frustrates the dog. There are more effective ways to handle barking such as addressing or treating the reasons why your dog barks. (See Barking control for more information)
  • People think they can prevent destruction in the home with a muzzles while they are away.  Dogs destroy things either because they are bored or anxious.  A dog should never be left unsupervised with a muzzle on. It can get caught on things. If the dog tries to paw it off, even its nails can get stuck.  Dogs have been known to get their lower teeth caught with cheaper muzzles.  In addition, a dog that feels the need to destroy something may find other ways to do it.  It is better to treat separation anxiety than to try to prevent it with a muzzle.

8. Alternatives to Muzzles

Avoidance

Crates, fences. tethering (i.e. leashing a dog to yourself or to an anchor in the house), putting a dog in a room away from the trigger of his or her aggression and outright avoidance are all alternatives to using a muzzle as a way to control an aggressive dog. Care must be taken to ensure dogs don’t become frustrated or bored.

Strong tall indoor gates (#ad – see a variety on Amazon) can provide a great deal of peace of mind when children are around or people come to visit. They can also be a good way to separate dogs who are not getting along.

Fences can be a great help to separate your dog from others. We recommend a metal based gate for indoor use that is tall enough that your dog can’t jump it or get under.

Ensure that the other people or dogs that trigger your dog’s aggression can not come so close that your dog becomes anxious. Otherwise there is a distinct possibility that your dog will feel trapped and this can make his or her aggressive response worse.

Head halters

A head halter is another alternative for handling an aggressive or reactive dog. Head halters provide a lot of control over the head. While it’s possible for a dog to bite with a head halter, you can also gently pull up on the head halter causing the mouth to close.  

You will need to desensitize your dog to wearing a head halter just as you would a muzzle.  It’s far easier to direct his or her attention away from the thing they’re concerned about: much easier than using a flat collar (do not use a choke, prong or e-collar on an aggressive dog – see 5 methods to avoid in dog training).  This prevents your dog from practicing the aggression.

Regardless of whether your dog is aggressive, due to leashing, we often put our dog into situations where they cannot escpae. Dogs have few tools at their deposal to ward off threats if their warning systems, such as barking or growling fail. Training your dog to wear one is a muzzle can be useful for situations where your dog might be experiencing pain or fearful situations and may be an excellent idea any time children are around.

You might also be interested in

6 Other Ways to Keep Others Away From Your Dog

5 methods to avoid in dog training

Using a head halter for an aggressive dog

References

(1) Reisner I, DVM, PhD, Diplomate ACVB, On Your Best Behavior: Dog Bites: Protecting Your Staff & Clients, Todays’s Veterinary Practice, September/October 2011, (Volume 1, Number 2)

(2) Penn Vet Basket Muzzle handout, Training Topic: Basket Muzzles, University of Pennsylvania School of Veterinary Medicine (pdf)


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