First published 7/17
There is a new movement among trainers and veterinary behaviorists to make the use of basket muzzles more accepted. There is a very negative stigma attached to muzzling, and dogs that are muzzled are typically seen as vicious. The Muzzle Up Project is the heart of this movement and seeks to encourage acceptance and educate people about the use of muzzles.
Why muzzle? Aggression is one of the most challenging aspects of canine behavior. Aggression is a behavior problem, but really, it is not just one problem. Aggression is a behavioral response, typically to stressful situations. The situation is a little different with every dog. When dogs are being aggressive, it is not because they want to be the boss or they are mean. There is something about that situation they don’t feel good about. When aggression gets them out of that situation, they are more likely to have more episodes of aggression. In reality, treating aggression is not that much different than treating other behavioral responses except for one big difference. Aggression is dangerous, and an aggressive dog puts all those in contact with him or her in danger in situations where they are likely to become aggressive. Muzzling makes these dogs safer, but muzzling alone is not the solution. Aggressive dogs need to be properly desensitized to a muzzle, and careful work with counterconditioning and desensitization needs to be done to address the underlying problem.
As a veterinarian, I have to do things to dogs that they don’t particularly like. Sometimes, a little bit of time can show a potentially aggressive dog that they don’t need to be afraid of what is happening, but sometimes, we need to muzzle dogs to give injections or cut toenails or draw blood. Muzzling can actually make the experience less stressful if you are firm, calm, and gentle. We do what we need to do and take away the risk of a bite. It gets done quickly, then it is over. If we fight and struggle with a dog, it makes it that much harder to treat that dog the next time we see it.
When a dog bites, it is self-reinforcing. Every time that dog has a bite episode, it makes another bite more likely. When a dog snaps or bites in reaction to something or someone he doesn’t like, that thing stops or that person goes away, and they don’t have to deal with it anymore. Then the biting behavior is successful for the dog, even if punishment follows. I would NEVER recommend punishing a dog that has bitten someone. A dog that has bitten is in an aroused state, and by adding more energy to the situation typically makes it worse.
My dog HATES the muzzle! The first step is properly introducing your dog to the muzzle. This doesn’t mean that your dog tolerates the muzzle or lets you put the muzzle on him without a fight. If your dog is properly introduced to the muzzle, he will run across the room to stick his nose in the muzzle. Believe it or not, this is possible with proper introduction. Does this behavior occur if your dog thinks bad things are going to happen when the muzzle is around? NO. Will this behavior occur if you rush things and put the muzzle on him before he LOVES the muzzle? NO. Will your dog look forward to having the muzzle on if he does fun things when the muzzle is on? YES! Can your dog eat treats and carry around toys with the muzzle on? YES!
How can I make sure that I am introducing my dog to the muzzle properly and using it in a way that he doesn’t learn to dislike the muzzle?
If you have a dog with aggression issues, and you think he or she could benefit from using a basket muzzle, the best thing to do is to find a qualified veterinarian, trainer or certified animal behavior specialist who can help you get started on the right track! For more information, go to The Muzzle Up Project on Facebook or watch a video on counter conditioning your dog to a muzzle on YouTube.