A muzzle is a piece of equipment which is fitted over the dog's snout and fastened securely, in order to control the mouth. Different types of muzzles work in different ways - some prevent the dog from opening their mouth at all, while others enclose the muzzle area within a small cage, to allow the mouth to open but prevent the dog's mouth and teeth from making contact with external objects or people. It's a common misconception that muzzled dogs are always muzzled due to aggression or a tendency to bite- while muzzles are often used to guard against this kind of behaviour, there are often other reasons for muzzling dogs as well, and so you should not jump to conclusions about a muzzled dog- nor necessarily dismiss out of hand muzzling your own dog due to any negative preconceptions you may have.
So, why might you need a muzzle, and what kind of muzzle is best? Read on for more information.
Aggressive dogs which will try to bite if approached or have a propensity to go for people or other dogs should always be muzzled outside of the home. However, muzzling only suppresses the problem and provides a first line of protection against injury, and muzzling should not be used in place of correct training and addressing the root cause of your dog's behaviour. For instance, what would happen if your dog escaped from the house, or managed to remove their muzzle? Do you feel safe around your dog when they are un-muzzled? Muzzles should be considered as a training aid and used as part of a holistic approach to addressing negative behaviour patterns and aggression in your dog. Consult your vet or a canine behavioural expert for help with training and identifying the causes of aggression in your dog.
Nervous dogs or those with a tendency to snap when approached by strangers should always be muzzled in any environment which may bring them into contact with other people or trigger defensive aggression and snapping. While all dog owners know that it's good manners and important for their safety to talk to the owner of any dog and ask permission before approaching it, the general public are often not so well versed, and of course children will often come up to a dog and want to say hello without knowing any better. Even if you know your dog only snaps in warning or will nip at the skin without causing harm or injury, this can be extremely distressing to be on the receiving end of, and it is not acceptable to simply deal with behaviour of this kind by telling the injured party "it's ok, he'd never actually hurt you." Firstly, you cannot ever know this with complete certainty, and secondly, you have a duty as a dog owner to protect other people from preventable distress or injury caused by your dog, a responsibility you should take very seriously.
If your dog has a tendency to chase potential prey or has strong hunting instincts (such as with many types of terriers, as well as greyhounds, whippets and lurchers which were all historically bred to catch prey) then it is wise to consider muzzling your dog whenever they are roaming freely in an open space off the lead- even if they are totally fine around people and very friendly. An un-muzzled dog that moves quickly and can actually catch prey such as rabbits and other wildlife or even roaming domestic cats can potentially kill in seconds- with a correctly fitted muzzle they will be unable to cause significant harm. As with aggressive dogs, if you know your dog has a tendency to pursue prey, you should work on training this out of them. That being said, the hunting instinct is extremely strong in some dogs, and any dog may on occasion get caught up in a chase and not respond to being recalled, which is why even well trained dogs which generally leave wildlife alone or come when called may be muzzled for the protection of smaller animals
If your dog is something of a canine dustbin and will eat anything he comes across when out on a walk, you may want to muzzle him when you're outside of a controlled environment in order to stop him from snacking on the various detritus he finds on the way. Not only is this a good idea if your dog is prone to being overweight, but also in order to stop him from picking up and devouring potentially dangerous or unsuitable foods or substances outside of the home. Dogs can be very quick to pick up scraps and abandoned food, particularly if they know they are not meant to do so. Muzzling to prevent your dog from doing this can be a positive move both for their safety and for your own reassurance that you will not have to play the 'what has he eaten now? Was it dangerous?' game every time you go out for a walk.
The two main types of muzzle available on the market are the mesh or cage muzzles which allow the dog to open his mouth and pant as normal while guarding the teeth behind a sturdy barrier- and strong nylon fabric muzzles which are cone shaped and fit snugly over the nose and mouth to prevent the dog opening his mouth at all. The latter type of muzzle prevents your dog from panting, and so is not suitable for using for anything beyond a short period of time and for a specific purpose, such as while in the vets or while being groomed. You should never seek to muzzle your dog for an extended period of time- always think of your dog and his comfort, and of course, remember to remove the muzzle frequently to allow your dog to drink water, and to eat.
Muzzles are available in many different sizes to fit all types and breeds, even specially shaped muzzles for brachycephalic dogs (dogs with squished up faces, such as boxers, bulldogs and pugs). If possible, try a few muzzles on your dog before buying, in order to ensure a perfect fit which is both comfortable for your dog and provides the appropriate protection.
Finally, remember that muzzles are not foolproof- Dogs can sometimes remove muzzles by pawing at their head, particularly if they mange to catch a dew claw under the strap, which will often pull it off. Ensure that the muzzle fits snugly but comfortably, and always supervise your dog while muzzled in order to prevent removal- both in order to ensure the ongoing effectiveness of the muzzle, and to prevent your dog from injuring himself while trying to remove the device.
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