A significant percentage of my clients come to me because they have dogs with aggressive behavior. Often they ask me if their dogs should have a snout. My answer is almost always: “Good idea!” In either case, however, we have a serious discussion about why the client might want to use a snout, when and how the dog’s aggressive behavior shows up, and – this is clincher – whether the client is ready and able to take the time take conditioning your dog to love the snout before he starts using it.
Why and when to use a dog muzzle
The “why” seems obvious: you are using a snout to keep your dog from biting someone – human or other animal. Moron! However, there are some circumstances when it is appropriate to use a snout and many others where it is definitely not.
Let’s start with the situations when it is definitely not appropriate to blow your dog’s nose.
So, DO NOT use a snout on your dog
It is never appropriate to blow your dog’s nose so that you can get him over the threshold in an avoidable situation. Here are some examples:
- “Oh man, the grandchildren are coming over and Muffy might bite them. Muzzle her so the kids can have fun with her and she won’t bite her. Instead, use either careful management to keep you and the children safe from each other while the boys visit them, send them to a friend’s home for a day, or mount them for an extended grandchildren visit.
- “My friend wants to take her dog to the dog park and she wants us to come with her, but Rocky, who loves my friend’s dog, might bite the other dogs in the park. Let’s blow his nose and take him away.” NO! Rocky is not allowed in the dog park. Ever.
- “Chomper is guarding his bowl. Let’s blow his nose and show him we can take his bowl away because he has to learn that people are boss. ” NO NEVER!
When the time is good to use the snout
Here are some suitable times a snout could or should be used:
Emergencies. Any animal in pain can bite. If your dog is injured and in need of exercise or treatment, it is highly recommended that you blow his nose. This, of course, will be easier and less stressful for everyone during an already stressful event if you took the time to convince them that a snout is wonderful.
Procedure. If your dog is in need of treatment or evaluation by your veterinarian for an unexpected condition, or at home treatment for an injury, and there is a good chance that he will bite during the procedure, he must be silenced for everyone’s safety.
Muzzles should be used for emergency or unavoidable procedures as needed. If your dog needs to be silenced for routine grooming or grooming, there will need to be some counter conditioning work to help him learn to love (or at least happily tolerate) these events!
Note: While veterinarians often use “sleeve” mouths, these are not recommended because they interfere with your dog’s ability to gasp and take treats, and they can be very stressful for dogs. Most vets allow you to use your own high quality snout.
Public safety. A snout is a great tool if you know your dog may be trying to bite a toddler who is rushing to hug them, a well-meaning canine person who insists that “all dogs love me,” or a dog off the leash, jumping up to say hello.
Even if your dog is on a leash, you are still responsible (and she will be in big trouble) if she bites someone who invades her room. If you muzzle her when you take her out in public then everyone is safe (and she has no problems!). It also tends to keep people away since they (often correctly) assume that a dog who has to wear a snout would prefer not to be social.
Of course, you need to strictly protect her to prevent humans and other dogs from interacting with her, even if she is muzzled. The muzzle itself is just a backup.
In a behavior change program. A snout can be a useful tool in situations where the behavior changes you’ve made make you 99.9 percent sure that everything is okay, but you want extra insurance.
Suppose you’ve worked with aggression issues between your own canine family members, or you’ve done a lot of counter-conditioning with your dog’s dog-reactive behavior, and you think you’re ready to let him interact with other dogs. Perhaps she has been terribly aggressive towards your grandchild in the past and you went to the lengths of CAT (Constructional Aggression Treatment) to convince her that she loves the toddler and you think it is time to get her to let meet.
This is the ideal time and place for your dog to wear his popular snout. Not only does this prevent the tiny 0.1 percent chance of a tragic “oops,” it also helps you relax so that your stress doesn’t add to your dog’s stress on that first interaction. (Remember, stress causes aggression!)
10 tips to teach your dog to love a snout
All “could or should” situations are based on the assumption that you took the time to teach your dog to love his or her snout. You will use classic conditioning to give your dog a wonderful, happy connection with their muzzle so that all muzzle experiences are as positive as possible. Here’s how:
1. Buy a good quality basket finish.
(See the muzzles We Love Most). Good basket mouths allow your dog to breathe, wheeze, eat and drink, thereby reducing mouth-related stress and preventing overheating.
Measure your dog to ensure a perfect fit. Most muzzle websites have a size chart that can help you take the correct measurements and order the correct size. The best websites customize your dog’s snout. For more information on how to find the right snout for your dog, see the MuzzleUp project.
2. Show your dog the snout.
Don’t even try to put it on! Just hold it up and feed your dog a tasty treat from the other hand. Hide your hand and muzzle behind your back, show them again, and feed them.
Repeat this step until, when you pull the muzzle out from behind your back, her eyes light up and she searches for the treat. She now thinks snout = delicious stuff!
3. Feed treats in the snout.
You can slide quality treats through the front of the snout or use squeeze cheese through the straps. The most important thing is that your dog willingly stick its nose up its snout. They don’t press their muzzle on their nose. When she pulls back, don’t follow her with your snout, just wait for her to come back to you.
4. Increase the duration.
If your dog will voluntarily offer to stick his nose up his nose (ideally he shoves his nose up his nose) gradually increase the duration by feeding, pausing, and then feeding several times while holding his nose in his mouth.
5. Play with the straps.
Now while you shut up with one hand and occasionally feed them treats, play with the straps a little behind your dog’s head as if preparing to strap them on.
6. Condition your dog for the sound of the snapshot.
If your snout has a snap button rather than a buckle and your dog may be startled by the sound of the button, take the time to adjust it to the sound regardless of whether you put the snout on. Hold it up for her to see, snap the push button in, and feed her a treat – until the sound of the push button lights her eyes and she searches for the treat.
7. Short-circuit the push button or buckle.
This can be difficult. To start off, how do you feed treats while you close the snap or buckle with two hands?
Perhaps you have a partner who can help you by feeding the goodies while you manipulate the hardware. If not, you can smear peanut butter or cheese on your fridge door or on a vinyl floor to keep your dog happy while you snap or buckle up.
Alternatively, you can try the Chase ‘n Chomp Sticky Bone, which can suck on your floor, wall or fridge door.
8. Leave the muzzle on longer.
Gradually leave the snout with your dog for long periods of time, making sure he is happy (feeding food!) While he’s on. Over time, you can reduce the frequency of treats, but always be ready to treat occasionally to keep them happy.
9. Update the positive mapping.
Make sure to do “Happy Muzzle” sessions on a routine basis so she doesn’t just snout for bad / scary times. Once you’ve conditioned her to love her snout, wearing her only for trips to the vet’s office will change her association from positive to negative, and you’ll have to start over. A good rule of thumb: give your dog at least 10 happy muzzle experiences for each stressful one.
10. Watch this video.
This youtube video by the excellent trainer Chirag Patel (from Domesticated Manners in London, UK) is a great tutorial for teaching your dog to love a snout.
Okay, now it’s time to get to work! Check out our favorite muzzles, measure your dog, order one, and convince him it’s the best thing since sliced chicken!
Best dog mouths
We asked our trainer network to tell us about their favorite mouths. We expected to hear about a variety of different muzzles, but there was an overwhelming consensus on only two brands. Here are the two and some comments from our trainers about them:
The Baskerville Ultra estuary
The Baskerville Ultra Muzzle is widely known for safety and comfort. The rubber material can actually be heated and shaped to better conform to your dog’s face shape. Our trainers say:
Kelly Fahey, PMCT2, Dogsmith from Hunterdon, Pittstown, NJ
“The Baskerville snout is my first snout. It enables your dog to gasp, drink, and eat. There are other basket style muzzles on the market, but they don’t seem to have room to feed treats while you work with your dog. I also like the extra strap on the Baskerville snout. It attaches to the dog’s collar for a more secure fit.”
Jessica Miller, CPDT-KA, PMCT, CNWI, Go to Pawsitive Dog Training, Clear Spring, MD
“The Baskerville saved us when our house was flooded. My dog Handel had to be carried across a knee-deep river, lifted into a truck by a firefighter (whom he tried to bite), walk through a flooded city, surrounded by other stressed people and children who were stationed in a church for an hour as we couldn’t get out and then had to live in my mother’s house for three days before we could find a new place to live. I could feed him, he could drink, I knew he wouldn’t overheat and I was sure it wouldn’t come off or fail. If we hadn’t had his mouth, almost anything would have been impossible and I’m afraid to wonder what could have happened. It was also a lovely light blue color that contrasted with his dark fur so that strangers could see that he needed space.”
Cindy Mauro, CPDT-KA, Cindy Mauro Dog Training, Northern NJ
“I work a lot with dogs that have to be muzzled. My favorite is the Baskerville snout. With this snout, the dog can easily eat, drink, gasp, and bark treats. There’s little fuss with proper mouth training. “Good things happen with your nose drawn.””
The Bumas snout
The Bumas mouth is made to order. It can be customized with fewer or more straps (depending on your dog’s anatomy and the level of security required), and you can customize the color of each strap on the snout. However, these muzzles are very expensive. If we had a dog that had to snout a lot it might be worth the cost, but it’s probably not practical for a dog who only needs to snout to the vet once or twice a year.
“The Bumas snout is my number one choice for flat-faced dogs. It comes in many custom colors so you’ll be happy to wear beautiful glasses. The colors tend to appear “friendlier” on the dog.”
Laura Dorfman CPDT-KA, PMCT1, Konas Touch, Chicago, IL
“The Bumas fits a lot of different shaped dog faces, and I like the colors too.”
The author is Pat Miller, CBCC-KA, CPDT-KA, is Whole dog journalTraining editor. She lives in Fairplay, Maryland, which is where her Peaceful Paw Training Center is located. Miller’s newest book is Beware of the Dog: Positive Solutions to Aggressive Behavior in Dogs.