Dog wearing basket muzzleDog muzzles for an aggressive dog

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 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.

On this page:

  • What is the best muzzle choice for your situation.
  • Size and fit considerations.
  • What problems there are with using a dog muzzle to stop biting.
  • How and when to use a muzzle.
  • Getting your dog used to wearing a muzzle (very important).

1. What is the best muzzle for biting dogs

Finding the right muzzle can be challenging as there are a number of them on the market ranging in type and quality. Here is a rundown on the main types of muzzles available for biting dogs and how and when to use them.  We also discuss which brands consistently get the best reviews by users to help you make a decision.

Occlusion Muzzle

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

german-shepherd-dog-with-muzzle-200“Occlusion” muzzles that shut the dog’s mouth completely. Using a tight nylon muzzle may increase anxiety and fear (1) and should only ever be used short-term. They are often made of fabric. They may be fine for temporary use such as at the vet or grooming.

However, because dogs cool themselves when they are panting, these muzzles can pose a threat to the dogs wearing them, 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.

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

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.

 

Police style or “Agitation” dog muzzle

  • USES: teaching dogs to bite for police or protection training

An example of an agitation dog muzzle for Large Shepherds on Amazon.

These 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, they are also the most expensive. You can see different types and prices on Amazon for “agitation training” muzzles. You also need to consider how well ventilated the muzzle is that you are looking at.

An important consideration is how easy you can feed treats through. Some muzzles will allow you to put a popsicle stick with peanut butter, spreadable cheese or pureed meat, but if you are using a muzzle with behavior modification or training, the ability to give a teat to your dog is essential.  Some plastic muzzles can be cut through to make giving teats easier.

 

Basket Muzzles

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

An example of a basket muzzle on Amazon.

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. The best muzzle to use in terms of minimizing anxiety and fear is a basket-type muzzle. (1) (2) It allows the dog to pant and open their mouths which is extremely important for any dog that is exercising, needs to wear one 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
  • plastic
  • softer variation usually made of some kind of fabric such as nylon.

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 you are doing with your dog. In some cases the dog has been able to get the lower jaw out and get teeth stuck. If a dog is really determined to bite, they may be able to bite through a soft or cheap plastic muzzle.

Which Type of Muzzle is Best For Your Dog?

This leaves the wire basket muzzle or one of the better quality plastic ones as the better choice for reactive or aggressive dogs. 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.


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Some of the plastic muzzles can be cut at the front to make a larger hole if you want to give them treats through the muzzle.

“Cute” of “Funny” Muzzles

The idea is great, but sadly, they are only good for short-term situations where the dog is unlikely to pant. If the temperatures are warm, or a dog is likely to be anxious, they should be avoided. These muzzles should not be used for walking or any situation where a dog needs to pant, unfortunately. Like the occlusion muzzles, they may be fine for temporary use such as at the vet or grooming. Unfortunately the cute concept may encourage kids to approach.

Many have reported that these muzzles are too easy for the dog to pull off.

Choosing a brand

How we decided

Surprisingly, finding the right brand appears to be more difficult that you would think as there is a great number to choose from. Because Amazon is one of the largest retailers online and now sells just about anything you could want, we partly used Amazon’s selling ranks, rating, number of reviews and quality of reviews to determine which brand is receiving the best user reports on a large-scale basis. In addition we researched what people were saying on a variety of forums. Finally, we reviewed some veterinary behaviorist advice.

Muzzles ranked highest

Jafco Muzzles are the first choice of some veterinary behaviorists and many training professionals. (1)  Consistently the Dean and Tyler brand wire basket muzzles on Amazon are receiving excellent reports for quality and value. (We have no affiliation with any brand, it is simply the result of our research). Once bought you should never need to buy one again.  Baskerville Ultra Muzzles (look for the size that fits your dog- this one links to a size 5!) also scored well for dogs with larger heads.

The Dean and Tyler brands have good fitting guides on their site, and you can usually find them for less on Amazon than buying direct (we have heard from at least one person that buying direct did not go smoothly, but that may have been a one-off situation).



The DT Freedom Muzzle is their most spacious basket muzzle and has received excellent reviews and is suitable for medium to extra-large dogs. They also have a “winter” version which is the wire covered with rubber which is 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.

 

 


The DT Muzzle is good for small (Yorkshire terrier size), up to larger dogs such as big Schnauzers, Bouviers, etc. 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.

 

 


Jafco Muzzles are high quality muzzles that are used by Veterinary Universities, PennVet Behavior Medicine Clinic 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.

 

 


Baskerville Ultra Muzzle (look for the size that fits your dog – this one links to a size 5) is not a wire muzzle but is another option although primarily designed for wide-headed dogs such as Staffordshire Bull Terriers, pitbulls, etc.

It has received good reviews and you can 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 easy to feed treats through.

The downside is that it has 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 about 6 different sizes.

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

2. Size and fit considerations

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.

Dogs need to be desensitized and counter conditioned to wearing them 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! See Tip 5 below.

Measuring a dog to wear a muzzle

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

3. 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:

  • 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.  Dogs with eyes that stick out more such as Pugs, Pomeranians, French Bull dogs etc. are at risk for having a eye popped out during a fight for example.
  • People have the tendency to use a dog muzzle instead of avoiding the situation that causes the aggression. Exposing your dog to the things that trigger his or her aggression will cause your dog to be more stressed and dread the situation even more the next time, making the overall problem worse. 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).
  • A child should never be left alone with a dog, muzzled or not. A muzzled dog can still cause injuries, and a child can make poor choices.  You risk in having your dog feel even worse about children and becoming a greater danger to them in the future.
  • A head halter does not prevent biting, but may offer control much more control over lunging if you have your dog on leash.  Combining the two has been done, but it is a lot of the face of the dog and may cause some frustration

Muzzles and 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.

 

4. When and how to use a dog muzzle

HOW:

  • Train your dog to enjoy wearing a muzzle (see Tip 5 below for how).
  • 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.

WHEN:

Vet visits

Vet visits can be stressful to dogs for a number of reasons and bites are more likely to happen. 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.

During training or behaviour modification

You should avoid the things that trigger your dog’s aggression except when doing behavior modification. However, even in this case, your dog should not be so close that his or her anxiety is triggered (see the importance of getting your dog’s attention at the first sign of arousal). A muzzle should be used as a safety precaution only.

To help encourage people to keep their distance

Muzzles can encourage people to keep their distance which can be helpful. If you are interested in this, you might want to 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. Getting your dog used to wearing the muzzle

Some people ask does muzzling an aggressive dog will make aggression worse?  It’s always worth keeping in mind that any kind of frustration will make aggression worse.  There are three concern areas where a muzzle can increase frustration.

  • Putting the dog muzzle on and taking it off can frustrate your dog is not desensitized to the process
  • When the muzzle feel strange. Until your dog learns to get used to the muzzle it can feel strange and bothersome.  Again, desensitizing your dog to wearing the muzzle goes a long way toward getting your dog comfortable.
  • When the dog muzzle has been on too long. Muzzles should not be left on for long period of time.

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.   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.

Here is a link to an excellent video showing you how to train your dog to wear a muzzle

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 dog training food tube and use a blender to puree your dog’s food to put into it.  Kong Stuff’n products that come in a variety of food types (such as peanut butter, sweet potato) are another good alternative for those people who don’t have the time. We’ve linked to a variety bundle but check out all the options.

How to handle dog aggression

Dog muzzles can be used to control biting, and 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.

Muzzles do not treat your dog’s aggression or reactivity in any way.  If a muzzle strap were to break or the muzzle get pawed off, you still have a dangerous dog on your hands.

You are far better off making your dog a safer pet with a systematic approach than relying on a muzzle only. Here are some basic steps:

  1. Learn how to identify signs of stress or anxiety to help you act before the aggression even starts.
  2. Create a prevention and management plan to help you avoid the circumstances that are causing the aggression.
  3. Set up his or her life in such a way to passively improve the aggression (although these benefits will likely be mild – at least the aggression won’t get worse).
  4. Help your dog learn to cope better with the thing that is triggering his aggression with a treatment plan designed to keep his anxiety below “threshold” through humane treatment methods.

This is a far more humane way to deal with the problem, and most dog aggression can be improved if you only use the right methods.

If you are interested in learning more about treating dog aggression check out the ebook The Dog Aggression System Every Dog Owner Needs.

Alternatives to Muzzles

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.

When using crates and tethering, care must be taken that the trigger of 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.

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.

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, 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 ecollar on an aggressive dog – see 5 methods to avoid in dog training).  This prevents your dog from practicing the aggression.

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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