Keeping a Muzzle On

(preventing dog from removing muzzle)

Some dogs are very skilled at removing a muzzle. Here is a method for minimizing that risk by securing the muzzle to a body harness.
WARNING : this is not utterly fool-proof. If the dog does get the muzzle off, injuries to a person or animal may result. Be sure that the strap back-tying the muzzle to the harness is quite short to minimize this risk. For seriously dangerous dogs, always work under the supervision of a very well qualified behaviorist who is highly expert in treating aggression problems.

Preventing a Dog from Removing a Muzzle

Pam Green, © 2008

Some dogs are far too clever at removing a muzzle. But when one is using a muzzle in training situations or behavior modification for a dog who has some kind of aggression problem, it is really critical that the dog NOT be able to remove the muzzle. For such a dog, using a muzzle may be the only hope of safely working towards changing the dog's behavior for the better and thus avoiding having to permanently incarcerate the dog or euthaniz (execute) him.

The reason for trying to work with the dog muzzled is that with the option of biting taken away, the dog may be more open to trying some other tactic, perhaps a tactic naturally occuring to the dog or perhaps a tactic being taught by the trainer. That alternative tactic might be one which the dog finds inherrently rewarding or it may be one for which you will supply an external reward. The hope is that the new alternative behavior might become rewarding enough to the dog that the new behavior will come to be preferred over the old aggressive one.

I came up with this method more or less out of desperation. As they say, necessity is the mother of invention. The dog involved was same-sex dog aggressive towards two of my dogs and towards some dogs met on walks. I was hoping to get him to learn to play or at least co-exist with one or both of the dogs he had previously aggressed against so that he could have more social time in the house, rather than living full time in my outdoor kennel run with only on-leash walks as an outlet. .This seemed like a not unreasonable hope since the dog loved to play and had played well with other dogs.This dog was also one of those who are very skilled at removing a muzzle, so I was having to keep him on leash on country walks where he could otherwise have been off leash and thus able to run back and forth.

The method is simple . I used a strap to connect the over-the-ears strap of the muzzle to the back ring of a body harness. This strap has to be fairly short, because if it is too long, the dog can still pull the muzzle off. It shouldn't have to be so short as to hold the dog's head unnaturally high, but it does need to be short enough that the dog cannot bring his head much below a normal posture.

The photos illustrate how the muzzle is attached to the harness. The right hand photo shows the muzzled dog playing with another dog (who is holding a white fleece toy in her mouth), and the connection strap can be seen clearly.

WARNING : this is NOT absolutely fail-proof. I'd suggest letting the dog wear this muzzle-harness combination for some time, letting him make every effort to get it off, before you bring the dog into any training or other situation in which failure of the muzzle to remain in place could result in injury to a person or animal. Even if the muzzle remains securely in place , this does not prevent the muzzled dog from acting aggressively and inflicting some injuries by body weight and impact.

Any time you are working with a dog who is significantly dangerous, you should be working under the advice and supervision of a very well qualified behaviorist. The muzzle by itself won't accomplish much ; you need to use the oppertunity created by the muzzle to work on a training or behavior modification program.

showing muzzle back-tied to body harness. showing muzzle back-tied to body harness.


So how did this work out ?
I tried first with the dog with whom my problem dog had previously had only one altercation ; the dog with whom he had more frequent and more serious altercations was crated in another part of the house, away from the action.

The first three or four play sessions went very well. My problem dog played enjoyably with a dog he had previously aggressed against. I was starting to feel I had been rather clever. Unfortunately at the fourth session, while I was temporarily out of sight, another fight broke out. The muzzled dog battered away at his opponent for several minutes, without inflicting any physical damage but casing a lot of stress to the other dog who would much rather not be fighting. When the chance came, I slipped a noose over the head of the muzzled dog and was able to lead him away. So from now on this dog can have house time only when both of his target dogs are crated out of harm's way. He does get along well with my two other dogs, one of whom is the bitch he is shown playing with.

Not every invention is a successful invention. Still I think this method will have value in some situations. If you are going to try any kind of work that requires a muzzle for safety , it's worth making a maximum effort to make sure the muzzle is not removed by the dog, and this method does seem quite effective in that regard. Even in a vigourous fight, my back-tied muzzle remained in place.

Some dogs will not try to fight when muzzled. They may well fight again when the muzzle is removed however. Some dogs will try to fight anyway when muzzled. My guess is that the more thoughtful dogs are the ones who won't try to fight while the muzzle is on, and that it is the more impulsive dogs who will fight anyway.

For reasons why you might be using a muzzle in the first place, see "Muzzle it !", an article about use of muzzles in ordinary life situations and for behavior testing and behavior problem solving. Only those situations where unexpected removal of the muzzle could cause danger are ones in which the method of back-tying the muzzle to a harness would be needed as an extra measure of safety.


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site author Pam Green copyright 2003
created 4/24/08/td> revised 4/24/08
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