How Long Can a Dog Wear a Muzzle?
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The use of a muzzle in dogs is sometimes an unfortunate necessity. For example, some jurisdictions have laws requiring dogs to be muzzled on public transport. Dogs with traumatic backgrounds or with poor socialization may need to be muzzled when walked in busy areas. Some people think they should be putting their dog in a muzzle when it is not necessary. For example, some people want to protect their belongings while away from home, muzzling their dogs when leaving them alone for extended periods of time.
Keeping a muzzle on a dog for prolonged periods can be confusing and potentially dangerous for your dog. It is important to ask how long can a dog wear a muzzle? Should we leave a dog home alone with a muzzle? AnimalWised answers these questions to know the best guideline for using a muzzle on your dog.
Types of dog muzzle
Before we learn about how long a dog can wear a muzzle, we should look at the different types of muzzle. Since they offer different levels of comfort and have differing methods of action, it will help us to know what is best for our dog. The main types of muzzle are:
- Basket muzzle: this is a cage which covers the snout of the dog, but has enough space for plenty of air to come through. The dog cannot bite anyone or touch anything outside of the muzzle, unless they have a tongue long enough to get outside. It prevents biting, but allows the dog to bark or even drink water. It can be made from many different materials such as metal, plastic, silicone or even biothane.
- Occlusion muzzle: these are muzzles usually made from a strong fabric such as nylon. It wraps around the snout of the dog and prevents them from opening their mouth, although it should not be on so tight that their mouths are clamped shut. The nose is exposed for breathing purposes.
- Homemade muzzle: less common are homemade muzzles. These can be made from a variety of different materials and there is not consistency as it depends on the person. They vary in humaneness, with some being cruel and painful. An example might be taping the dog's mouth shut.
There are also different muzzles adapted for different dog breeds. These vary in shape and size according to the shape, size and length of the dog's snout. For example, a Greyhound muzzle will need to be longer than one which is designed for a Chihuahua.
Why do dogs need muzzles?
It is fairly safe to say that most dogs would not wear a muzzle by choice. They are restricted by what they can do and, importantly to many dogs, what they can eat. While many muzzles are made to be as comfortable as posible, having anything put round their face and neck can prove distressing. Just how uncomfortable a muzzle will be for a dog depends on its design and the individual dog. With such difficulties, there must be a good reason to wear a muzzle. Here are some of them:
- Going to the vet: going to the vet can distress a dog at the best of times. If a dog is particularly nervous or requires an invasive procedure, the muzzle may be used for the protection of both veterinary staff and the dog itself. Learn more about this process with our article on how to choose a good vet.
- Grooming: similar to going to the vet, a dog may not enjoy being groomed, so a muzzle is used for protection. It is also useful to help the groomer do a better job without the dog getting the way (even if the dog simply wants to show affection).
- Emergency: if you find an injured or abused dog, you might need to take them to veterinary care immediately. However, trauma and confusion can make them scared and dangerous, so a muzzle needs to be put on them for both their protection and the rescuer's.
- It's the law: unfortunately, some areas have breed-specific legislation which means certain breeds are considered ‘dangerous’ and are required to wear muzzles when in public. Also, some places require all dogs to wear muzzles on public transport to protect passengers.
- Aggression: if they have experienced trauma, has had poor socialization or there is any reason why a dog would be aggressive, they may need to be muzzled when around people they don't trust.
- Training: some dogs may need to be muzzled during training until they can be trusted without it. Even some security dogs which are well trained will use a muzzle to ensure they don't behave inappropriately.
Misuse of muzzles for dogs
We need to be careful with muzzles as they are not always used in the appropriate way. Even when used appropriately, there are some negatives to using a muzzle. Keeping the muzzle on for too long is one of them, but there are more. Part of the issue is that muzzles are used to treat behavioral problems, but many people confuse the tool for the treatment.
Treating a behavioral problem with a muzzle, especially aggression, is not effective. You are only stopping related behaviors, not affecting the root issue. In fact, it can make the situation worse once the muzzle is taken off. Here are some of the consequences when a muzzle is misused:
- Damage can be done when trying to remove it, especially if taken off by someone the dog does not know or trust.
- Muzzles are never 100% effective and some dogs are quite adept at removing them.
- The dog can create negative associations with the muzzle, so even when it is put near them they can react badly.
- If we put on a muzzle, but do not treat underlying problems, it can worsen over time rather than being cured.
- Certain muzzles need to be used for specific purposes. Nylon muzzles are often used for short periods for grooming or the vet, but these are not suitable in all conditions. If a dog is not able to drink water or pant, this is particularly dangerous in hot weather.
- If the dog considers the muzzle a punishment tool, instead of a positive one, it can cause aggression or other behavioral problems.
- Muzzles can increase a dog's stress levels, weaken their immune system, make them more susceptible to illness (fungal infections or obesity for example), depression in dogs and impaired learning.
Can I leave my dog home alone with a muzzle?
If you are wondering whether you can keep your dog at home alone with a muzzle, there must be a reason for it. You shouldn't let them roam around on their own without supervision, with or without a muzzle. If they are kept inside the home or securely within the limits of your property, there shouldn't be concern over other's safety. What might be concerning is the damage to property while you are away.
Especially in younger individuals which have not yet been through proper education, dogs can become destructive. The reasons for property destruction may simply be a way to play or as part of exploratory behavior within their environment. It is relatively normal and teaching them to stop is an important part of basic dog training and development.
If the dog is destroying things because they are bored, under-stimulated or missing their guardian (often due to separation anxiety in dogs), then these behavioral problems are not normal. There are ways to help deal with them, but putting a muzzle on them is not a suitable one. It's not even an effective one. The dog can still scratch or knock things over.
Here are some of the specific reasons a dog might be destructive at home:
- Puppies: puppies play and explore as a way to understand their world. They may play with your shoes or destroy other items in the home just as a way to test their world.
- Separation anxiety: when a dog is cared for by a guardian, they become attached. When the guardian leaves for a time, the dog might feel abandoned or insecure that something will be taken away from them (this could be food, love or anything they have come to rely on). Destructive behavior can result from feelings of frustration or fear.
- Stress: dogs can become stressed for various reasons. There may be an individual in the home which is stressing them out, they may have a parasitical infestation, not be getting enough walks or have had poor socialization. Stress often leads to destructive behavior as a means of venting frustration.
- Hyperactivity: how active a dog is depends on various factors, including breed and individual physiology. If they are not given enough means to expend excess energy, they can be hyperactive and destructive.
- Boredom: if your dog is not given enough physical and mental stimulation, they may become destructive just to relieve the boredom.
If you leave a muzzle on your dog, then you are not treating any of the above problems. In fact, you are likely adding more frustration and creating future behavioral problems. If you are gone for a long time, a whole work day for example, then you will prohibit their ability to eat and some muzzles can make it difficult to drink. This can pose a very serious threat, especially in hot climates. There are different types of muzzle for different circumstances, but the fabric ones can seriously inhibit the dog. Wire muzzles or basket muzzles are more comfortable and may allow the dog to drink water, but none are good for long periods.
You should not put a muzzle on a dog and leave them unattended. It both worsens existing problems and creates new ones. One is that they will likely associate the muzzle with negative feelings, making it harder to use it effectively in the future. You will need to discover the underlying cause of the problem and treat it. The best way to do this is to first take them to the veterinarian to rule out a health problem. You should then take them to a canine ethologist or dog trainer to determine and treat behavioral problems.
How long can my dog wear a muzzle?
Your dog can wear a muzzle indefinitely, but they definitely shouldn't. The threats they cause to the dog's well being when worn for significant periods of time can be very damaging. They should only be worn for short periods and only when needed. Basket muzzles can allow the dog to drink water, but the dog still cannot eat or do many other things. If they are at the veterinarian, you should be able to trust the vet to put it on and take it off. It is they who will decide how long the muzzle should be worn in these circumstances.
If you are on public transport, in a park or anywhere the dog should be wearing a muzzle, then you shouldn't remain there for more than about an hour. This time is a good rule of thumb. You shouldn't need to walk the dog for much more than an hour. Training for more than an hour can make the dog tired and even cause stress, although this will depend on the individual dog and their temperament. The hour guideline should be enough to do most things with your dog. If you want to go on a longer walk, then you can take them somewhere they don't have to wear a muzzle.
This hour long rule is a general guide. If they need more time, then they can have it, but the purpose of limiting its use is to ensure they are not feeling punished or dominated. Instead you will need to train your dog how to use a muzzle without feeling negatively towards it. This means positivizing the muzzle with treats, avoiding inappropriate situations and gradually getting the dog used to it. To know all about how to do this you can read our guide on how to train your dog to use a muzzle.
How long a dog can wear a muzzle also depends on the type. The 60 minute rule for muzzles applies generally for basket muzzles. However, occlusion muzzles are more more restrictive and can cause serious discomfort for the dog. Some experts suggest an occlusion muzzle should not be worn for more than 1 to 5 minutes for certain procedures. If the task required takes longer, it is better to use a basket muzzle. This will depend on the comfort of the dog.
Can a dog wear a muzzle overnight?
If we take into consideration the hour guideline for wearing muzzles, then a dog certainly should not wear a muzzle overnight. The reasons are the same as leaving a dog home alone with a muzzle. It can be a serious source of stress, it prevents them eating and they cannot carry out their natural and healthy canine behaviors. When you add the fact that they can disturb their sleep, a dog should never wear a muzzle overnight.
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1. Herron, M. E., Schofer, F. S., & Reisner, I. R. (2009). Survey of the use and outcome of confrontational and non-confrontational training methods in client-owned dogs showing undesired behaviors. Applied Animal Behavior Science, 117: 1-2, 47-54.