Party Hat Education!
When dealing with dogs with behavioral concerns, we utilize muzzles, or as we call them "party hats" often. Many people have an unfortunate stigma associated with the use of muzzles when training or handling dogs, and we hope to help educate people about how useful and lifesaving this tool can be! Feel free to contact us at any time if you have any questions we do not answer with the information below!
When do we use muzzles?
We have found muzzles to be useful in a large number of situations. Many dogs may only show aggression in certain situations, whereas others have the potential to be unpredictable. We are able to use muzzles to help keep us, other animals, volunteers, and members of the public safe while we either train a dog to work through their behavioral issues, or manage a dog's behavior in their daily lives.
Some dogs only require their muzzle be on while they are in a situation that predictably makes them more likely to be defensive or aggressive. For example, a dog may be wonderful with people and other animals but very anxious when having their nails clipped or when being examined by the vet. In situations like this, having a dog used to wearing a muzzle can calm down everyone's anxiety throughout the situation. It allows the veterinary staff to feel safer and take their time to help the dog feel more comfortable. Other instances when we use muzzles are when doing introductions with dogs who are selective about their other dog friends, or when introducing a fearful dog to a new person for the first time.
Some dogs in our sanctuary sanctuary program have shown aggression in the past, so these dogs are muzzled whenever they are around staff members, and they are never exposed to volunteers or other members of the public. They may be wonderful dogs 90% of the time, however having the dog muzzled keeps everyone safe for the 10% of the time they may behave aggressively.
What kind of muzzles do we use?
We use a few different types of muzzles, but all are basket muzzles. Basket muzzles allow dogs to be able to do everything they would normally be able to do without a muzzle, except bite. Dogs are able to eat, drink, pant, bark, growl, sleep, etc. in these muzzles without feeling limited. For the dog, there is not much difference in learning how to be comfortable in a head halter as in one of these basket muzzles. Depending on the nose structure of the dog we may go with an Italian basket muzzle, a Baskerville muzzle, or a custom metal muzzle. All that really matters is that the dog is unrestricted from normal movements, comfortable, and unable to bite.
Pike wearing his baby blue Baskerville muzzle.
Merc wearing his custom made metal muzzle.
Our executive director and founding board member's pack includes 5 dogs, 3 of which regularly wear muzzles. Buck (the dog in front is wearing his Italian basket muzzle).
Why do we call them "party hats?"
Many people have a negative stigma associated with even the word "muzzle." Some owners who have dogs that would benefit from being muzzle trained simply balk at the word. By referring to them as "party hats" we help to remove any negative energy we may have when asking the dog to put them on. It is very difficult to say "party hat" and not at least smile when presenting it to the dog, and this positive energy on the part of the handler can make a dog more at ease with muzzle training. We also like to say that "party hats" allow our dogs that normally are left out (due to their behavioral quirks) to party like the other dogs! Muzzles allow dogs that may have had their activities restricted (such as hikes, car rides, or walks around town) without a muzzle to enjoy a more fun and full life safely!
Are muzzles humane?
Yes! Muzzles are one of the most humane ways a handler, owner, or trainer can approach a dog with behavioral concerns. There are many handlers that approach aggression with their own aggression, either by being physical with the dog or using the leash or collars in an inhumane way. This is never an acceptable or fair way to deal with any level of aggression. Muzzles allow handlers the safety and space to be able to address a dog's aggression in a slow, humane and safe way. Dogs are able to do everything they normally would be able to do without a muzzle except bite when they are wearing our basket muzzles. Dogs must also be properly trained to wear a muzzle, rather than having one just put on them. As long as a dog is happy, comfortable and well acclimated to wearing a muzzle there is nothing inhumane about using one, and in fact we have seen them save many dogs' lives.
How to we teach dogs to wear muzzles?
We are firm believers that dogs should be slowly acclimated to the use of a muzzle and only go forward at a pace they are comfortable with. Our goal is to have the muzzle be seen as a positive training tool in the eyes of the dog. To do this we take small baby steps and use food to get the dog to first be near the muzzle, then start feeling comfortable putting their nose in on their own. Once a dog masters this step, we start to get them used to the strap of the muzzle and having it put on and taken off. Next, we get them used to wearing the muzzle for longer and longer times, maybe taking them for a walk in the muzzle or doing some obedience training while they wear it. Soon, the dog starts to see that when the muzzle comes out, they are given great treats and then allowed to go on an adventure! Every single dog on our property that is trained to wear a muzzle is happy and excited to see us coming with one, and willingly puts their own nose in it, excited to see what will come next! If a dog is nervous about the muzzle at any point in our training we slow down and do not progress with it until they are comfortable. Sometimes it takes several days to acclimate a dog to a muzzle, but it is much more important to do so in a way where they are enjoying the process than to force them past their comfort level.
How can you learn more about muzzles?