Let’s be clear about one thing right from the start. A muzzle won’t train your dog. It will not teach your dog to stop biting or chewing, nor will it teach him to love small children, tall men with beards, hats and umbrellas, or your veterinarian. A muzzle is a behavior management tool, properly used as a temporary measure to protect humans (or other dogs) when dogs have to be handled in situations that are too stressful for them to tolerate. A muzzle is also a flashing neon warning sign that it’s time to do some serious counter-conditioning and desensitization so the dog in question can be handled in normal situations without resorting to muzzling. Dogs should not have to be muzzled for basic vet exams, grooming, nail-trimming, or other routine maintenance procedures. (See “Dreading the Vet,” WDJ June 2000.)
However, there are times when muzzles are useful. Muzzles can keep our animal care professionals safe when an aggressive dog must (regrettably) be treated prior to the successful completion of a behavior modification program. (Bear in mind that this is likely to cause a setback in the training program.) Even a well-socialized, friendly dog may bite when in pain, so a muzzle is always appropriate when handling a dog who is injured. Muzzles can also provide a safety zone within which we can implement desensitization and training programs for aggressive dogs without risking our own lives and limbs. Note: a dog who will wear a muzzle as part of a training program needs to be acclimated to the muzzle in the same way we would acclimate him to a head halter. (See “Head Halters Right and Wrong,” WDJ June 2000.)
Since we do need to use muzzles sometimes, we thought it appropriate to review some of the products currently on the market to determine what we like and don’t like about them. There are two basic types of muzzles – soft muzzles and basket muzzles – and a few that fall into a “miscellaneous” class. The important qualities of a muzzle are:
• Comfort for the dog
• Safety for the dog
• Ease of application and adjustment
• Security once in place on the dog
• Effectiveness in preventing biting
• Durability for long term use
We evaluated eight different muzzles based on these criteria. In general, we found the soft muzzles far superior to the basket muzzles. Across the board, our test dogs all accepted the soft nylon muzzles much more readily than the basket muzzles. While none of the dogs looked happy about wearing something on their faces, most of them made active attempts to remove the basket muzzles, and just displayed a general air of gloom when wearing the soft muzzles. (We did not acclimatize any of our test dogs to any of the muzzles prior to testing.)
Before we comment on individual products, we need to discuss the use of muzzles as it relates to our selection criteria. “Safety for the dog” is one of our most important considerations. However, we have ranked each muzzle for its safety to the dog if used properly. ALL muzzles present a high risk to the dog if used improperly.
None of the soft muzzles we examined seem to present a risk of injuring a dog who was trying to remove them, but all of the soft nylon muzzles restrict a dog’s respiration, which greatly compromises his ability to cool himself through panting. These muzzles should not be left on the dog for longer than 10-15 minutes at a time, less if the weather is warm and/or humid, or if the dog naturally has respiratory problems (such as the short-faced breeds, like Pugs.)
Advantages of fabric muzzles
Speaking of safety, we found it interesting that all of the soft nylon muzzles had packaging that contained instructions for proper, safe application and fitting, as well as appropriate warnings about not leaving muzzles on dogs unattended, or for long periods of time. In contrast, none of the basket muzzles came with any safety warnings or fitting instructions.
All of the fabric muzzles we examined are made of durable, washable nylon, with a simple nylon strap and plastic buckle that snaps close behind the ears. They can all can be shaped to stay open while the dog’s nose is slipped into the cone. If you adjust this type of muzzle to the dog’s approximate size before you slip it onto the dog’s nose, you can tighten the strap with relative ease while the muzzle stays on and prevents biting. When properly fitted, it is very difficult for a dog to remove any of the soft nylon muzzles we tested.
The soft muzzles are designed to allow the dog to eat and drink to a limited degree. This makes them ideal for use in behavior modification programs, since the dog can open his mouth just enough to accept treats. However, it also means that if a person were extremely incautious there is the possibility that the dog could pinch flesh with teeth and break skin, although probably not inflict a severe bite unless someone actually stuck their fingers in the dog’s mouth.
Fabric muzzle ratings
We can’t really say that either of our two top-rated muzzles is significantly better than the other; they both have unique features that we appreciated. Between these relative equals, we’d pick the Mikki Muzzle, which is widely available for a few dollars less.
The Mikki Nylon Fabric Muzzle, is made by Classic Products of Oxnard, California. The dog’s comfort, of course, is one of the most important selection criteria for a product such as a muzzle. The Mikki Muzzle scores high on this mark. While the product’s nylon is slightly stiffer than some of the other brands, this muzzle also has a soft strip of padding sewn on the inside of the front opening which offers an additional degree of comfort. As with all of the open-ended fabric muzzles, a dog wearing this muzzle can still eat treats and lap water.
The Mikki Muzzle comes in nine sizes, including one for Boxer-type brachycephalic dogs. The product is the least expensive of all the soft muzzles we examined.
However, the Cozy Quick Muzzle, made by Four Flags Over Aspen of St. Clair, Minnesota, may be more comfortable for the dog. Four Flags makes slightly greater provisions for the dog’s comfort, including the use of a softer (less stiff) nylon fabric. Also, the upper rim of the “sleeve” that fits over the dog’s nose (the part of the muzzle that rests below the dog’s eyes) is lined with a comfy piece of synthetic sheepskin to prevent rubbing. While the faux-sheepskin fluff could possibly get in the eyes of a shorter-muzzled dog, this can be remedied by trimming the fluff with scissors while still leaving ample padding on the inside of the muzzle.
The Cozy Quick Muzzle is available in an impressive 16 sizes; this wide range provides for a secure fit on any dog. While this product is slightly more expensive than the Mikki Muzzle, it is still reasonably priced.
Four Flags Over Aspen also offers a product called the Quick Muzzle – basically the same product as described above, without the coziness; we prefer the cozier model. This product lacks either the padding at the nose-end that the Mikki Muzzle offers or the sheepskin at the eye-end of the higher-priced Cozy Quick Muzzle. Like the Cozy Quick, this muzzle is constructed of softer nylon than the Mikki Muzzle. The Quick Muzzle, however, is offered in 18 sizes, including two sizes specially designed for short-faced dogs. Only the higher price keeps this product from our top rating.
The Pro-Guard Softie, made by the Custom Cable Company of Brooklyn, New York, offers the first big differences seen in the fabric muzzles. Instead of an open-ended cone, this product ends with a nylon mesh cup that fits loosely over dog’s nose. Because this muzzle has a screen sewn over the nose opening of the muzzle, it does not have to fit the sides of the dog’s muzzle as snugly as the other products we examined. However, the screen totally precludes its use as a positive training tool, since the dog cannot eat treats. For this reason, the Pro-Guard Softie would be a good muzzle to use for emergency protection, but not for a behavior modification program.
The design offers other advantages. First, the closed end minimizes the small potential for biting present with the open-ended muzzles. Plus, the looser fit allows for greater ease of panting than the more tightly fitting conical soft muzzles.
On the other hand, the product is available in only four sizes, which limits the accuracy of its fit. And in terms of durability, the design makes the product vulnerable to rips to the mesh screen, which would negate the muzzle’s value in bite prevention.
About basket muzzles
While the soft nylon muzzles seemed to be more comfortable – as judged by the reactions of our test dogs – basket muzzles offers one advantage to the dog that learns to accept them calmly: These products are designed to fit much more loosely around the dog’s muzzle, enabling him to open his jaws more widely to pant and breathe, while continuing to offer protection from bites. But dogs cannot drink easily while wearing basket muzzles, so, as with the fabric muzzles, these products should not be left on the dog for extended periods.
One danger of these muzzles – one not seen with the fabric muzzles – is that because of the pattern of openings in the wire, a frantic dog could easily get a toenail caught in the wire and rip it off. None of the basket muzzles we reviewed were accompanied by any safety warnings.
The biggest disadvantage of the basket muzzles is that most dogs object to wearing them much more strenuously than to the fabric muzzles, given that basket muzzles are rigid, and tend to bang around on the dog’s face as he moves.
Basket muzzle ratings
The banging action is least objectionable from the Polypropylene Basket Muzzle offered by J-B Wholesale Pet Supplies, Inc., of Oakland, New Jersey. Because this product’s basket is made of plastic, it wears more lightly on the dog’s face. It’s too bad that the product is available in only four sizes, especially because adjusting the fit is more difficult than it should be due to the use of a plastic slip buckle instead of a plastic snap. This could prove tricky with a struggling dog.
Once securely fitted to the dog, however, the Polypropylene Basket Muzzle offers a double safeguard against biting in the form of a plastic insert in the end of muzzle. A second layer of mesh, positioned about a half-inch from the end of the muzzle, puts a double layer of distance between the dog’s teeth and his intended victim. It does, however, make it very difficult to feed treats to the dog through the mesh, so its application as part of a behavior modification program is limited.
Unfortunately, while we liked this muzzle in terms of comfort for the dog (for a basket muzzle), its lightweight construction is much less durable than the metal baskets. Our test model arrived in a box with two of the plastic bars already broken. A dog who really fought this muzzle “tooth and nail” could probably destroy it pretty quickly. On the other hand, it was the least expensive of the basket muzzles we evaluated; you get what you pay for.
The Wire Muzzle offered by Jeffers Pet Catalog, a plastic-coated wire basket that fits loosely over dog’s nose, is more typical in terms of durability (good) and weight (too heavy). The product has a leather loop on the underside of the muzzle that a (narrow) collar would go through, and a leather strap that fastens behind dog’s head. Despite the extra fastening point, the weight of the metal basket caused our test dogs noticeably more distress than with the plastic basket. This could probably be overcome to some degree with proper desensitization before actually using the muzzle.
This product is available in only four sizes. The metal tongue buckle requires even more fussing to close than the plastic slide buckle on the Polypropylene Basket Muzzle. Also, the plastic-coated wire bars are spaced far enough apart that treats could be dropped through more easily than the plastic basket muzzle. (It would require some practice on the part of both dog and owner to perfect their treat-dropping/consuming technique). While this is a good thing in terms of using the muzzle for behavior modification, it also means that someone could conceivably stick a finger through the bars and be bitten.
We found more problems with the Wire Basket Muzzle sold by Drs. Foster & Smith, a bright silver-colored metal basket muzzle that fits loosely over the dog’s nose. Our test dogs hated the faux-leather strap that attaches to the top of the basket and goes straight up between his eyes over the top of his head, attaching to his collar. Another strap fastens around the dog’s neck. This is the heaviest and bulkiest of the basket muzzles, which must have had something to do with their strong objections.
We had objections, too. In our opinion, the wide gaps between the wire bars could rip a toenail or even trap an entire paw. And with only three sizes available, getting a secure fit might be difficult. Once on, it would probably prevent bites as long as you didn’t insert your fingers between the bars.
Other muzzle designs
In addition to the tried and true styles of muzzle design discussed above, we occasionally see muzzles with unique designs come onto the market – but we haven’t seen one worth its purchase price.
One such product is the Velcro Muzzle made and sold by Drs. Foster & Smith. It’s just two long Velcro straps connected by a wide, short elastic strap. One strap fastens around dog’s neck, the other fastens around the dog’s nose. Due to its minimal nature, our test dogs resisted this muzzle least of all the ones we tested. They could eat, drink, breathe – and we’re sure they could bite without impediment. The nose strap fits so high up on the nose that it does little to restrict biting. The only danger would arise from too-tight application of one or both straps. There are no instructions for use included in the packaging.
Perhaps this product would be useful when a muzzle is required by law (such as on public transportation) but absolutely not necessary (as with a well-socialized, well-traveled, friendly dog.)
-By Pat Miller