Several types of muzzles are currently available for dogs, and many dog owners find there is a need for a muzzle at one time or another. The length of time a dog can wear a muzzle depends on both the muzzle and the dog. You first need to select the correct muzzle for your dog and the situation. You then need to train your dog to accept the muzzle, and observe the dog with the muzzle on before deciding the best maximum length of time your dog should wear it.
Reasons to Muzzle Your Dog
You might find your dog needs a muzzle for several reasons. During a veterinary exam or while being groomed, a muzzle ensures that your dog can't interfere with the procedure or behave aggressively towards the people handling him. Many dogs experience fear at the vet or groomer and in some cases this can lead to aggression, even in dogs that are not normally aggressive. Dogs can use muzzles to prevent them from biting and licking an injured area, as an alternative to the "Elizabethan Collar" commonly supplied by vets. A muzzle can be more comfortable and will be less in the way than the traditional collar.
A dog sometimes requires a muzzle when she eats or chews inappropriate items, such as rocks, sticks or feces. Some trainers use muzzles during training exercises for police and protection dogs. Finally, dogs that are aggressive may need a muzzle when out on a walk or at the dog park to prevent them from harming other dogs or people. Determining the situations in which your dog needs a muzzle for is the first step of choosing the correct muzzle for your dog.
Types of Muzzles
When you have a good idea of the situations where your dog needs a muzzle, think about whether your dog will be supervised or unsupervised while wearing the muzzle. There are two basic types of muzzles: occlusion muzzles, which hold the dog's mouth closed; and basket muzzles, which allow the dog to pant, breathe, and open her mouth freely.
Occlusion muzzles are the soft nylon muzzles you will often see used at vets or groomers. They should never be used for long periods. Because occlusion muzzles don't allow the dog to open his mouth, he can't pant or drink. If left unattended, a dog wearing an occlusion muzzle can overheat or even die. These muzzles are great for keeping in the car or an emergency kit, but someone should always be with a dog to free her if she shows signs of dehydration or distress.
Several different types of basket muzzles are available, depending on the dog, the situation and the amount of money you want to spend. Leather basket muzzles, also called police-style training muzzles, are very expensive but are strong and safe enough to allow muzzle fighting during training of police and protection dogs. The thick leather weave lets the dog pant and breathe, but prevents her from biting you or other dogs.
Wire basket muzzles are made of wire formed into a basket around the nose and mouth of the dog, usually with a leather strap that holds the muzzle around his nose and a strap behind the ears. This type is the best choice if your dog will be wearing a muzzle for a long time or will be unsupervised. This type of muzzle gives your dog the ability to breathe, pant and drink water freely but prevents her from biting or eating anything she shouldn't. You can also find wire basket-style muzzles made from plastic, which are a little less durable but should be perfectly sufficient if aggression and biting is not your primary concern. For an aggressive dog or in a situation where the dog may try to bite a person or another dog, a wire basket muzzle is best because plastic can break if subjected to enough force. Note that wire or plastic basket muzzles are not good for the kind of training done with leather police style muzzles, because you or another dog can get hit by the hard muzzle and get bruised or battered.
For occasional muzzling of your dog, plastic basket muzzles made from a flat sheet of perforated plastic can be a good option. This type of muzzle is especially suited for occasional walks, trips to the groomer or vet, and for situations where you'll be supervising the dog. Because this type of muzzle doesn't have a separate strap that tightens around the nose, there is a greater chance that the dog could get the muzzle off. The plastic basket muzzle of this type would make it a bit harder for your dog to drink water and wouldn't be a good choice if you are muzzling your dog daily.
Leather soft-sided muzzles and heavy leather muzzles that attach with a strap between the ears are not good choices for most situations. These muzzles can be heavy, can come off easily and can be thin enough for your dog to bite through the muzzle.
Getting Comfortable With a Muzzle
When you have decided on a type of muzzle, work with your dog to get him comfortable wearing it. One way to introduce the muzzle is to place a cookie or treat inside it and to then allow your dog to eat the cookie out of it. You can work up to having the dog wear the muzzle for short periods, and then longer periods. Observe your dog while she wears the muzzle and note anything she has trouble doing. If she is able to paw off the muzzle, you may need to tighten it or purchase a smaller size. Don't leave your dog in the muzzle for long periods until you are confident he can't get the muzzle off, and that he can breathe, pant, and drink well while wearing it.
Things to Remember
If your dog has aggression issues, a muzzle may not be the ultimate answer. A muzzle can make a fearful, aggressive dog feel more vulnerable than she does already, and while it may prevent the dog from biting, can contribute to other aggressive behavior. A dog behaviorist can help you and your dog work through aggression and fear so that a muzzle is rarely needed. If you intend to use a muzzle regularly for long periods, it is a good idea to check with a vet or dog trainer to make sure you are doing everything you can to make your dog as comfortable and safe as possible.
Muzzle as Last Resort
Avoid leaving your dog muzzled when you are not there to supervise. If you are muzzling your dog to prevent her from getting into something while you are gone, consider changing the environment and removing the threat. Remember that there will always be a chance your dog can get the muzzle off, and that basket muzzles in particular can get caught in fences, holes and other small spaces.