Dog Muzzles: Why, When and Which To Use

Dog muzzles can really split opinions. There are people who don’t agree with them, believing them to be cruel and unnecessary. Others who have used them correctly may argue that they have changed both their and their dog’s lives.

Some people may also not understand why and when dog muzzles are used. If they see a dog in a muzzle, they may believe the dog to be aggressive or reactive, when in actual fact many dogs with muzzles aren’t necessarily wearing one to stop them from being aggressive towards other dogs.

Why a dog may be wearing a muzzle

They may look intimidating, but muzzles aren’t always worn just because a dog is vicious or aggressive. Muzzles can be worn for a variety of purposes:

  • Because the dog can become frightened of new scenarios and potentially bite (such as at the vet)
  • A dog may be reactive and act negatively towards other dogs if overwhelmed
  • It stops dogs from picking up anything on walks with their mouths (discarded food and litter, stones and sticks, animal waste)
  • Trainers may recommend muzzles for some dogs to calm them down and prevent them from sniffing and being distracted
  • The owner may have just adopted the dog and wants to socialise them without risks
  • Certain breeds, such as greyhounds and other sighthounds, can have a naturally high prey drive which may take months or years to shake (or they may never get over)
  • Some owners may want other owners of dogs to give their dog a wide berth – muzzles can be more obvious to other owners than colour coded leads, harnesses and reflective jackets

So, while muzzles can indeed prevent reactive dogs from biting or snapping when they are overwhelmed, feel threatened or need to defend themselves, they aren’t always used for this reason.

People’s misunderstanding of muzzles may mean they don’t realise their own dog could benefit from a muzzle, or that they avoid other dogs in the park when they don’t have to.

Breed and bite history requirements

There are no breeds that are required to wear a muzzle by law in the UK, unlike in countries such as Ireland where there is a “restricted list” of breeds that require a muzzle and strong lead when in public.

But certain breeds are recommended to wear a muzzle. Dogs with high prey drives, such as greyhounds and other sighthounds, and dogs with an unclear history who have been rescued from abuse, are also recommended to be muzzled when in public. This is until the new owner or rescue centre can paint a good picture of their reactions and behaviours to other dogs, humans and scenarios.

Any breed which has a history of being bred for fighting may benefit from a muzzle when around other dogs or in confined spaces. This includes Staffordshire Bull Terriers and other Bully breeds.

The Dangerous Dogs Act of 1991 singled out the Pit Bull Terrier, Dogo Argentinos, Japanese Tosa and Fila Brasileira as breeds that pose a danger to the public. However, they have since been banned in the UK.

There are certain exceptions which may mean a dog belonging to one of these breeds which poses no obvious risk to the public can be placed on the Index of Exempted Dogs (IED) list. If on this list, you must:

  • keep it on a lead and muzzle at all times when in public
  • neuter the dog
  • ensure it is microchipped and kept up to date
  • keep it in a secure place so it cannot escape

These are rare occasions, however. Bar this scenario, there are no breeds that are required by law to be muzzled in the UK. The responsibility of muzzling is placed in the hands of the owner.

Dogs with a history of biting may also be required to wear a muzzle in public. If it has still been deemed as a safe dog by the authorities, it may be a requirement.

Rottweiler dog in a plastic rubber muzzle lying on the floor
Dogs should still be able to pant, breathe and drink in a muzzle. If they can’t, it is too tight

When should a dog muzzle be worn?

Obviously, the most common time to wear a dog muzzle is when on walks. Dogs on walks could encounter a number of scenarios that require them to wear a muzzle, such as:

  • Other dogs which you are unable to avoid passing, such as in small areas
  • Dogs with poor recall running over to your dog
  • People approaching your dog without asking
  • Other animals, such as cats or wildlife, being close
  • Foreign objects which could be picked up and eaten, from discarded food to stones, sticks, dirt and foliage
  • If they are off the lead and you want to ensure there is no risk of them reacting/picking up anything

Dogs can also wear muzzles when on visits to the vet or dog groomer. Usually, soft muzzles are used for this (more on this below). You may want to take a precaution and muzzle your dog in preparation for the vet or groomer if they have previously been nervous in such situations. Or, some vets may ask you to muzzle your dog in future visits if they have had a bad experience.

Muzzling your dog could also mean they are calmer in situations like this. If they need vaccinations or claws clipping and know they can’t react with their mouths, they will likely be easier to deal with.

The different types of dog muzzle

If you need a muzzle for your dog, there are generally three different types available to buy. The best depends on the breed of your dog and the scenario they are in. Some important rules, though:

  • Never restrict their ability to breathe or pant. Dogs pant to lose body heat. If their mouth is too tightly restricted, they won’t be able to do this
  • Ensure it isn’t too tight. A dog may be uncomfortable, making them tenser. They could also paw at the muzzle, loosening it
  • Certain breeds may need certain specialised muzzles, such as those with long or short snouts

How to choose a muzzle

As mentioned, there are generally three different types of dog muzzles. Each is for different breeds and scenarios:

Basket Muzzle

A basket muzzle is ideal for when a dog is outdoors. The dog’s snout and mouth are covered by this large basket, but they can still pant, lick their lips and breathe. Great for when they could potentially bite, catch prey or try to eat something off the floor.

They are available in multiple sizes and lengths, as well as strengths. Also, look at the bar spacing – depending on the problem, you may need a muzzle with small gaps in the bars which will prevent your dog from picking up rubbish on a walk, or one with large gaps like that below could be fine if it is just to stop potential reactions.

Plastic basket muzzles are the norm, but metal ones are available if you need more protection. Our recommendation is the Baskerville muzzle, below.

Company of Animals Baskerville Ultra Muzzle for Dogs

Soft sleeve muzzle

These are perfect for short-term use. They offer a tighter grip around a dog’s muzzle, so they can’t really open their jaws as much and can’t bite but you can still access their nose and mouth. This is recommended for vet visits or similar, quick scenarios. Avoid during longer-term use, such as walks.

Pawise Muzzle with Net Insert

Short snout muzzle

Flat-faced and Brachycephalic breeds (such as pugs and bulldogs) don’t have a snout that is long enough for a traditional muzzle. They also really need to be able to breathe through their mouth on occasion due to their restricted airways.

These custom dog muzzles may look terrifying as they cover a large part of the dog’s face, but they do the same job and are safe for your dog.

NEVER put a dog in a muzzle because it is cute or part of a costume. There are muzzles available on sites such as Amazon and eBay which are decorative, in the form of duck beaks or with a decorative tongue hanging out/bare teeth on show. Muzzles should only be used in behaviour cases

How to get a dog used to wearing a muzzle

The key here is desensitization or gradual exposure over time. Your dog needs to learn that wearing a muzzle is not a bad thing, but this may take time.

Never suddenly spring a muzzle on a dog, as this can cause fear. Allow your dog to sniff the muzzle and get used to what it is and how it feels. When they are showing positive signs towards the muzzle, you may be ready.

Use positive reinforcement and treats. High-quality treats which they are rarely given, such as cubes of meat or cheese, are great. You can also clicker train if they know what this is.

  1. Hide the muzzle behind your back and get them to sniff it or touch it
  2. After a while, when they are reacting positively to the muzzle, you can try to put it over their nose. Get all straps out of the way and slowly place it over their nose, with the treat at the other side of the muzzle so they have to put their nose through it to get the treat
  3. You may be able to fasten the buckles at this stage, but may need to wait and give it a few other tries
  4. Once your dog is finally wearing the muzzle, reward them every ten seconds or so. Remove after one minute, or when they are uncomfortable. Repeat
  5. Increase the amount of time they spend wearing the muzzle, while decreasing the number of treats they get
  6. When you’re walking with your dog wearing a muzzle, keep rewarding them until they get used to it being the norm and you can reduce their treat intake. It may take them a while to get used to not being able to use their jaw to pick up things, but they will soon adapt

You can add a cue word to the mix, such as “muzzle up”, so they know to get ready for it going on. Or, using it every time they walk will mean they soon see it as part of the routine. You may also wish to give them a treat every time it is put on, even years after they get used to it. Whatever helps!

Dog Muzzle FAQs

Can a dog wear a muzzle to prevent barking?

Please do not use a muzzle to prevent barking. A muzzle that prevents barking will be too tight – it would require shutting their jaws completely. They cannot pant to cool down in this situation. Dogs can also be stressed and vomit or suffocate in these situations.

If your dog barks, they need training and positive reinforcement to prevent barking, not a restriction of their mouth.

Can a dog wear a muzzle instead of a cone?

Elizabethan collars or cones are used after surgery to prevent a dog from chewing or licking at a wound. However, dogs can pull them off, or be generally uncomfortable wearing them. They can make it hard to eat and sleep.

But dogs shouldn’t really wear muzzles for such long periods. A muzzle can also prevent them from being able to drink and eat of their own free will – obviously not ideal for a dog. Plus, they can still stick their tongue through a muzzle if they have an extra-long tongue! A muzzle that doesn’t allow them to lick should not be used as it is too restrictive, especially over long periods.

Dogs should also not be left unattended wearing a muzzle, so how will you be able to monitor them overnight? They could become strangled or get stuck on something.

We prefer the idea of an inflatable collar. It doesn’t allow them to turn their neck around and bother the wound, but also isn’t as restrictive as a traditional cone. Avoid using a muzzle around the home if possible.