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Muzzle training for dogs who need party hats

Updated: May 24

A pitbull dog receiving treats through a muzzle in a dog park.
Piper dog receives a treat through a muzzle after receiving vaccines.

Recently, someone reached out to me with a question about muzzles: Have I ever used them? 


When I worked in rescue, for example, we had a young, energetic, enthusiastic pitbull (Piper dog) who loved to play tug. All great! The trouble was that she was also blind. 

In her zest for life, she’d get really excited to hear your voice and suddenly your shoelaces, pants, or sleeves would become tug toys. She was a strong girl and could tug you down. It could really be alarming!

Step one was not to let Piper practice her game with you. For the longest time, I’d change from my tennis shoes with laces into rubber boots when working with Piper (there were no laces or pants legs for her to grab!). It also meant no games of tug until she had a really reliable “drop it” and using a toy with a different texture from my clothing!

I also trained Piper to wear a muzzle on walks. On walks she tended to get really excited when she heard your voice and instead of sniffing ahead, she’d jump back at you for an exuberant game of tug. The muzzle was key for the walker’s safety and enjoyment! And it meant Piper got more walks.

A muzzle was a key tool for Piper. I also used them for dogs who were nervous meeting some new people, dogs who were nervous meeting some new dogs, and dogs who were nervous with some medical procedures.

The person who asked me about muzzles also wanted to know what kind I would recommend –and I’ll share some of those here. 

First, though, my biggest recommendation about muzzles is this: muzzle training.

Whenever possible. And do your best to make it possible! Train the dog to enjoy wearing the muzzle first. Be especially sure that their first experiences with the muzzle are brief and sweet (the dog is getting lots of treats and happy talk).

Teaching a dog to like something new is usually a pretty straightforward and fun process.

Teaching a dog to like something they’ve already decided they fear or hate, is a long, slow, process which requires a lot of patience.

If a dog’s first experience with a muzzle is scary or unpleasant, there could be a long and difficult road ahead for muzzle-training.

Generally, avoiding instilling fear in animals should be a huge priority -- and it’s a big thing to keep in mind when you are getting a puppy, raising an adolescent dog, or bringing home a new rescue pup. It’s a reason why it can be better to hire an expert fear free trainer like myself sooner than later!

Here’s a go-to video by trainer Chirag Patel on muzzle training: Teaching a Dog to Wear a Muzzle.

Note that getting the dog to wear the muzzle and getting the dog to be comfortable walking around in it are two different steps. Take your time! Make sure when you get to the later stages of training the muzzle is secure. If the dog learns they can easily paw it off, that’s a problem.

If you aren’t that familiar with muzzles, but find yourself with a dog who needs one, here's a great resource for more information and support:

And there's a Facebook group: Muzzle Up, Pup!

For muzzle types, make sure you get one you can deliver treats through (a key to making this a party hat!).

This one worked for many of the rescue dogs I worked with:

The Baskerville Ultra Muzzle For a truly bite proof muzzle, consider a wire basket muzzle:

You can also get fancy custom-made muzzles in pretty colors:

The Muzzle Up Project wrote a great blog post about choosing a muzzle: Finding the Best Muzzle for Your Dog.

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