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The ins and outs of muzzling your dog: the purpose is to help prevent injury to people or other animals. Here's how best to use one.

Let's face it: The idea of strapping a muzzle on your dog may feel like a scene out of a horror movie to you. "Many pet owners have preconceived ideas about basket muzzles, such as 'It makes my dog look like Hannibal the Cannibal, '" says E'Lise Christensen, DVM, a resident in the Animal Behavior Clinic at Cornell University's College of Veterinary Medicine.

The truth is that a muzzle--if used correctly--is not a cruel device but may be a lifesaver. It's a good idea to jettison the negative image, take a positive approach and translate those positive feelings to your dog. "Every dog should be trained to comfortably wear a muzzle, so that if you ever need to use one the dog understands the concept and is not fearful, " Dr. Christensen says.

If you teach dogs that muzzles are treat baskets, they will believe it, she explains. "If you teach them that muzzles mean bad things are coming, they will believe that instead. It is best to take the initiative and teach your dog what you want him to learn."

The purpose of a muzzle is simple: to prevent injury to people or other animals. While how to use and -just as important--not misuse a dog muzzle will be different for every animal, a muzzle should never be used to punish a dog, Dr. Christensen emphasizes.

"If you dog growls, snarls, nips or bites, talk to your veterinarian or a board-certified veterinary behaviorist about when it is appropriate to use a muzzle for your dog, " she advises. (Note: a muzzle will not prevent aggressive behavior.) "Misuse is using a muzzle only when aversive things are about to happen, or muzzling a dog to punish him after an aggressive event. In emergency situations, of course, it is acceptable to use a muzzle even if your dog isn't trained to wear one, but that isn't ideal, " she says.

What Type Is Best?

Muzzles differ in style, material and shape, and trying to choose the appropriate muzzle for your pet can be confusing. "I recommend plastic basket muzzles most of the time, " Dr. Christensen says. "They are comfortable, easy to wash, lightweight and generally well tolerated. They allow pet owners to give treats and see the dog's facial expression. Many dogs also learn to drink water through them, and if appropriately fitted, they should not restrict a dog's ability to pant. This type of muzzle should not touch the front of the dog's nose or mouth, " she adds.

Your dog's safety is a vital consideration. For example, cloth or nylon fabric muzzles should not be used for long periods of time or on a regular basis, because they usually do not allow dogs to take treats, drink or pant efficiently, she notes. These types of muzzles also do not allow people to see their dog's facial expression.

In addition, if your dog is a short-nosed breed, check with your veterinarian before using a muzzle. You will need to choose one that fits appropriately and does not obstruct the dog's ability to breathe. To teach your dog to be comfortable wearing a basket muzzle, Dr. Christensen suggests the following step-by-step method, which can be accomplished over a series of days or weeks. Take cues from your pet: Is she relaxing, accepting and coping? If not, slow the process down.

(1) Place a small amount of squeeze cheese or peanut butter on the outer edge of the muzzle. Let your dog stick her nose into the muzzle slightly to lick at the cheese.

(2) Progressively put the cheese midway into the muzzle a few times, and then place a larger amount of cheese at the inner tip of the basket muzzle. Allow her to lick it off with her nose all the way in the basket. Repeat this process until she appears relaxed and happy (ears forward, not stiff, tail neutral or up).

(3) Buckle the muzzle while your dog licks the cheese and then remove it right away. Gradually leave it on for longer periods of time.

(4) With the muzzle on, you can reward your dog with long treats like green beans, canine treat strips, crackers or hard bread sticks. Be sure to praise your dog when you remove the muzzle.

Dr. Christensen, who works with many aggressive dogs at the Animal Behavior Clinic, believes muzzles can be a lifesaver for canine patients that would never be safe around other people without them. "Many of my patients live happy lives with basket muzzles, especially when they are taught that wearing the muzzle means that treats and positive attention are sure to follow, " she concludes.

Types of Muzzles and Their Uses.

Muzzles, like dogs, come in an array of sizes and shapes. Pet supply stores and Web sites offer a cross section of styles to fit most dogs. Check with your veterinarian and shop around to determine the right muzzle for your dog. Note: Never leave a muzzled dog unsupervised. Basket muzzle--allows a dog the most liberty to pant and drink. A popular style on the market combines a lightweight molded plastic basket with a nylon strap.

Nylon fabric muzzle--generally soft and flexible in various standard and adjustable designs that may include breathable mesh or fleecy interior padding for added comfort. Look for one that inhibits biting but allows panting and drinking.

Leather muzzle--traditional style and shape prohibits biting.

Head collars--while it may look similar, this popular apparatus used to control dogs during walks is not a muzzle.

Emergency muzzle--An injury or severe health problem can cause even the sweetest dog to bite a beloved human companion. In a moment of panic, a normally friendly dog may not recognize her owner, and a thrashing dog may accidentally bite the nearest arm.

"Biting is the only way a traumatized dog can express fear and pain, " says Andrea Oncken, DVM, board-certified in veterinary emergency and critical care and medical director at Dove Lewis Emergency Animal Hospital in Portland, Oregon. "Pet owners often drop their injured animals off at our hospital before they head to the emergency room to have their bite wounds stitched up, " she says. "It happens all the time."

To protect yourself from being bitten in an emergency, you can quickly create a temporary muzzle for your dog. Don't have a commercial muzzle on hand? Grab a roll of gauze from your first-aid kit. Other soft, long strips of material around the house--such as a nylon stocking, cloth or even a neck tie--will also work. (As a last resort, a soft belt can be used briefly until a temporary muzzle can be put in place.) Never use tape!

Place the material strip over the top of your dog's nose, loop beneath the lower jaw, and gently pull both ends of the material back up and behind the dog's ears. (Pre-looping the material before placing on your dog may help speed the process. Use as large a loop as needed to safely get near your dog, and then tighten.) Tie snugly but not too tightly. Remember to talk calmly and reassure your pet. After handling or while transporting, loosen or remove the muzzle to allow your pet to pant. Don't use a muzzle if your dog is vomiting or experiencing breathing problems. Use an emergency muzzle only for short periods of time. Types of Muzzles and Their Uses
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Title Annotation:BEHAVIOR
Author:Easterly, Susan
Publication:Dog Watch
Date:Feb 1, 2006
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