How to muzzle train a dog: the complete step-by-step guide

Written by Napo HQ
Reviewed by Rachel Rodgers
21st Nov 2023
Are you thinking about how to muzzle train your dog? Many people might be looking into it because of the recent XL Bully ban, but it's actually a useful bit of training for most dogs.Muzzle training often gets a bad rap because of misconceptions about their use. It might seem like a last resort only meant for aggressive dogs, but it's not true. It can be helpful for all dogs!
Muzzle training isn't about restricting your dog's freedom or happiness. In fact, it gives them more freedom by allowing them to be in different situations safely for them and those around them. Which can be reassuring for your dog and you.

What are the benefits of muzzle training?

There are 6 key benefits to muzzle training a dog. They all focus on the safety of your pup, and the people and animals they meet. These benefits are:
  1. Fewer biting incidents.
  2. Promotes positive training.
  3. Happier vet and groomer visits.
  4. Safer social interactions.
  5. Safer emergency situations.
  6. Stops them eating things they shouldn’t.

1. Fewer biting incidents

The main reason for using a muzzle is to reduce the chance of dogs biting or nipping. This is especially important if your dog is anxious, scared, or reactive in certain situations. A muzzle acts as a protective barrier so your dog can't hurt themselves, other animals, or people. It's a responsible way to avoid any potentially hurtful situations. While no muzzle is 100% bite-proof, a dog can sometimes escape or bite through the. But a muzzle combined with behavioural training, works together to reduce the risk.

2. Reinforce other training

Muzzle training can be a part of positive reinforcement training for other problems. Like if your dog is reactive to other dogs. It helps build trust between you and your dog. And combined with other training, it helps your dog understand how to stay calm and react in ways you expect.

3. Happier vet and groomer visits

We know trips to the vet or the groomer can be a bit scary for our furry friends. Muzzle training helps reduce unpredictable behaviour which can help professionals work quickly, calmly, efficiently and more precisely around their dog knowing there’s less risk of being nipped.

4. Safer social interactions

If your dog is nervous in new places or situations, a muzzle can be a helpful safety precaution when introducing them to pets or people. Even if your dog's usually friendly, unfamiliar situations can cause unpredictable reactions. Muzzles let your dog socialise with less risk. This can help you feel more relaxed taking your dog into a new situation which can help them stay calm.

5. Safer emergency situations

In an emergency, having a muzzle on lets first responders or vets confidently give your pet immediate help, because there’s less risk of them being bitten. Even if your dog is stressed or in pain.

6. Stop them eating things they shouldn’t

Does your dog have a knack for trying to snack on things they shouldn't? While most muzzles have a gap at the end so your dog can eat, drink and pant comfortably, certain muzzles designed to prevent scavenging can stop your pet from quickly eating something without you noticing. So if your pup has a habit of eating things they shouldn't, like poo, this could save you getting your hands dirty.

When should you start muzzle training

You can start muzzle training at any age, including with puppies. Ideally, you should start muzzle training before you ever need it. A slow, gentle introduction and proper training is important to help your dog feel less anxious when wearing a muzzle.
Suddenly putting your dog into a muzzle without muzzle training can make them very scared and anxious, which can make things worse. Also never use a muzzle to punish or silence your dog. It’s unethical, dangerous, and can make your dog anxious around a muzzle which will make it harder to muzzle them in the future.

How to muzzle train a dog step by step

To get started with muzzle training you’ll need to focus on exposure, small steps, and positive reinforcement. Muzzle training means if your dog does have to wear a muzzle, they won’t get anxious or irritated and try to take the muzzle off.
Here's a simple guide to get started:

1. Choose the right muzzle

While there are different types of muzzles available, we recommend a basket muzzle. These often have a gap at the end and let your dog eat, drink, and pant comfortably even while wearing their muzzle. Measure your dog to make sure you find a muzzle that fits. You can also ask your vet or a behaviourist or vet for personal recommendations for your pup.

2. Introduce a muzzle to your dog slowly 

Each time you bring the muzzle out, let your dog sniff and investigate it without any pressure to wear it. Don’t leave the muzzle lying around for your dog without you there. Instead, be intentional with bringing it out and putting it away.

3. Give lots of treats along the way 

When your dog shows interest in the muzzle, reward them with treats and lots of love. This teaches them that their muzzle = good things!

4. Move to the muzzle being on

Once your dog is comfortable being around a muzzle, let them get very nosey (literally) and start putting their snout into it. A dab of your pet’s favourite spread can encourage them to put their snout in. Start with a few seconds, and slowly increase how long the muzzle is on.
Always follow up with lots of treats and praise. And let your pooch get used to having the muzzle on before you try to do up any straps.

5. Practice, practice, practice

As your dog gets used to wearing their muzzle, let them wear it for longer. Keep reinforcing that their muzzle = fun, happy things. Like walks, playtime, and treats. Make sure your pooch has lots of time getting used to their muzzle and has loads of positive experiences while wearing it before using it for things they might be nervous about, like the vet or the groomer. 

6. Ask for help along the way

If you're struggling with muzzle training your dog, or just need some support as you do it, you can always ask a professional dog trainer for help. They can provide tips and tricks specific to your dog. The Animal Behaviour Training Council (ABTC) can put you in touch with certified trainers who can support you with compassionate, science-backed muzzle training. 
Remember, every dog is different. Some might take longer to get used to a muzzle than others. Remember to be patient and give lots of positive reinforcement. And make sure your dog is comfortable during the muzzle training process.

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