Types of muzzles
When teaching your dog to wear a muzzle, first you need to find one that fits properly. Depending on the use, different muzzles will fit differently. For example the "mikki muzzle", which is the fabric muzzle many vets use, is made for short duration use. With only one purpose, to keep the dog from being able to bite. So it fits very snug, and the dog can't even open its mouth. An agitation muzzle, which is used when a dog is actively fighting a person, has one primary function. Do NOT come off during the fight. This muzzle is usually leather, heavy duty, and allows the dog to open their mouth to a point, but still has some limitations. While a dog can drink with it on, it's not a good idea as it gets the leather wet. Also long term wear can result in rub sores, generally from the leather getting wet from drinking or panting. NOTE: I'm not a fan of the style of agitation muzzle in the photo below, because it lacks a strap that goes around the dogs neck. I used that photo to point out what is IMO a flaw, but also to show the material and style overall. The last main category is a basket muzzle. Generally made from plastic or wire, they also will prevent a dog from biting. These tend to have the loosest fit with the dogs being able to open their mouth, drink water, and even eat food if the basket openings are large enough. This is also the most comfortable muzzle for long term wear such as surgery recovery, dealing with aggression issues in a household, etc. The straps on the basket muzzles below are also a good style of strap for an agitation muzzle. These muzzles should not be used for agitation work though, as they can easily allow the decoys fingers to slip into the muzzle, resulting in an accidental bite.
I have quite a few muzzles because one of the sports I compete in. The one on Ares and a very similar wire basket muzzle one are my favorites. The one in the photo is a good, but not great fit. You can see how the back corner of the muzzle fits right into the corners of his mouth. For longer term wear, this would not be ideal. The muzzle would need to be tightened up, so the corner of the muzzle covers his mouth completely and the "point" is closer to his cheek. However, if you look closely you can also see that his nose is already at the end of the muzzle, so if the straps were to be tightened to cover his mouth, it would be smashing his nose and uncomfortable to wear for any length of time. The benefit of a wire muzzle is that you can bend it some to help improve fit.
Learning to wear the muzzle
- To teach your dog to wear a muzzle I like to start with holding the muzzle and squeezing it a little so it opens up the sides. Drop a treat in there and let the dog jam it’s face in to grab the treat. Repeat this over and over and over until as soon as the dog sees the muzzle it jams it’s face right in. You can do this with training treats, or use the dogs meals assuming you feed kibble. Toss 4-5 pieces of kibble in at a time, and let the dog just eat it's meal right from the muzzle.
- Once the dog is jamming it's face in, I hold it the same way but with the straps ready to go over the head. Toss the treat in and when the dog puts its head in I put the straps over for just a few seconds then take it right off and give them another treat.
- Once the dog is used to the muzzle staying on for a few seconds after the food is gone, I move to sticking a treat that I’ve cut long and thin in through the front of the muzzle so they can eat it. As they eat the first treat, I will have a second one ready to stick in. At that point you’re just working on duration. Do this on leash, so you can prevent the dog from getting the muzzle off if they suddenly decide to fight it. If the dog does try to get the muzzle off correct that immediately. When they sit calmly, reward them.
- Once we’ve gotten that far I’ll take them for walks with the muzzle on, or play games with them. If the dog has good drive I’ll throw a big ball out there and kick it around and let the dog hit it with the muzzle and chase it since they can’t grab it. Things like that just to make them comfortable in it. If the dog is on leash, so you can prevent it from attempting to take the muzzle off, you can leave it somewhat loose. If you are playing off leash games with the dog, make sure prior to starting that they cannot remove the muzzle. Pull on it, wiggle it around, move it similar to how a dog would trying to paw it off, etc. Many of the basket muzzles won't stay on with a determined dog, if they only have one strap going behind the ears. If you purchased that type of muzzle, you can jury-rig a strap by putting a buckle collar on the dog, fit snug up below its ears. Then run the strap of the muzzle either through the metal ring on the collar, which is positioned behind the ears, or just around the collar. That way if the dog tries to get the muzzle of, the collar will prevent the muzzle strap from being able to go over their ears and come off.
This is also something I like to use a halti for. With the muzzle many times the dog just doesn’t like something new on its face. Same reaction you see when putting a collar on a puppy for the first time. They scratch, rub, etc due to the new sensation. So I’ll put a halti on the dog and play fetch or tug with it until it ignores it. That’s a nice first step to the muzzle training.
While you can order muzzles online, you can also purchase them at many local pet stores and "feed and farm" type stores. If you are lucky, there might even be a working dog oriented pet store in your area. When possible I suggest you and your dog go to one of these stores to purchase a muzzle. That way you can have the dog try it on in the store, and purchase one with a correct fit. If your dog is going to be wearing this long term, due to surgery, behavior modification, etc a correct fit is EXTREMELY important.