After an upsetting time at the vet recently, I have been asked to use a muzzle on my two-year-old dog, as he showed aggressive behaviour in the waiting room to other dogs, and also to the vet in the consulting room. He has never worn a muzzle before and I have no idea how to go about introducing one. Is the aggression something that can be overcome with time and training, or will he have to be muzzled forever from now on?
Nick Jones advises…
In some cases, the use of a muzzle is an essential piece of equipment to ensure the safety of others, and to protect the dog from his own potential actions. The long-term hope when addressing such cases of aggression is that the muzzle can eventually be removed once the dog is reliably showing good behaviour in situations that were previously giving concern.
One of the biggest hurdles to overcome with muzzle use is getting the dog to accept it, and to walk nicely on the lead without frantically trying to remove it with his paws. This is what’s likely to happen if you just put on the muzzle and try to go for a walk the very first time. Dogs that have previously worn a head harness may be more accepting of a muzzle, but otherwise you’re likely to need to spend a week or two getting your dog used to wearing one.
The type I most often use is the Baskerville Ultra, which is made of a soft rubberised material, and is sufficiently open to allow panting, drinking and eating. It doesn’t have sharp plastic edges like some muzzles, and fits most breeds well.
Schedule three five-minute sessions each day, where you’re going to feed your dog high-value food treats or a portion of his daily food allowance. To start with, let him move about freely, and holding the muzzle in one hand and the food in the other, allow him to look at or sniff the muzzle. When he does, reward him immediately. Dogs that are more relaxed with the muzzle may well let you place it over the nose briefly on the first session; others are more wary of this and so it will inevitably take you longer. In any event, take your time, and avoid placing the dog under any kind of pressure.
Once your dog is showing signs of accepting the presence of the muzzle, try placing a lead on him, and either sit on the end of the lead or place it under the leg of a chair to keep him a little closer to you. Begin to introduce the muzzle gradually, building your way up to fastening the neck strap, and then walking your dog around the room, then the garden, and then in the street. Keep calm, and have a positive approach at all times.
There is a video on YouTube showing me introducing a muzzle to a Labrador. He was very food-driven, so we made good progress on the first session. Go to goo.gl/TF6Lyx
I would also strongly advise you to seek the advice of an experienced canine behaviourist with regard to his aggression issues. The sooner you begin to address these, and the specific circumstances in which problems occur, the better.