Everything you need to know about muzzle training your dog

With the recent announcement that it will be illegal for XL Bully dogs to be out in public without a muzzle from 31 December 2023, it’s essential for owners of the breed to start muzzle training their dogs as soon as possible.

But vet charity PDSA says muzzle training can be useful for all breeds of dogs, as muzzles can be used for many reasons.

“Muzzles can be extremely useful for nervous dogs, dogs that pick things up on walks, trying to eat what they shouldn’t, dogs with a high prey drive or for certain procedures at the vets,” explains PDSA Vet Nurse Nina Downing.

“Muzzle training can be daunting, and it’s tempting to try to skip training and just put the muzzle on your pet – but this will most likely scare them and make it an uncomfortable experience. Wearing a muzzle and muzzle training should always be a positive experience for your dog.”

PDSA’s step-by-step guide to muzzle training your dog

Step 1 – Introduce the muzzle

  • Positively introduce the muzzle by placing it on the floor with ‘high value’ (yummy) treats in and around it.
  • Give them their meals next to the muzzle for a few days.

Step two – Nose in the muzzle

  • Once your dog is comfortable with the sight of their muzzle (i.e. they don’t react, or react positively to it), start encouraging them to put their nose into it by giving them treats through the gaps.
  • Start with gaps close to the opening of the muzzle, then gradually move the treats further into the muzzle until your dog is happy to take one from the end.
  • Repeat this over several training sessions until your dog is totally comfortable putting their nose right to the end of the muzzle. Ideally, they should think ‘treats’ and voluntarily put their nose into the muzzle when they see it.

Step three – Hold the straps

  • Start holding (but not fastening) the muzzle straps behind your dog’s ears and give them a treat.
  • Hold them for just a few seconds before gradually building up the time.
  • Repeat until your dog is totally comfortable having the straps held behind their ears.
  • If your dog shakes the muzzle off, don’t tell them off. Go back a step, take the training a bit more slowly, and remain patient.

Step four – Leave the muzzle on

  • Fasten the muzzle and give your dog a treat through the gap in the muzzle. As soon as they have finished their treat, take the muzzle off.
  • Repeat this process, gradually increasing how long your dog wears the muzzle for each time.
  • Try a little walk around the house/garden with the muzzle on, when calm reward them with a treat.
  • Remove it if they seem stressed at any point.
  • Try putting the muzzle on in different situations, such as outside your house, on a walk, with another dog around, whilst at the park, and at the vets.
  • When your dog is used to their muzzle and happy wearing it, you should be able to put it on and go for walks without any problems.
  • Keep making it a positive experience with regular treats and rewards.

Step five – Keep practicing

  • Even if your dog only needs to wear their muzzle occasionally, it’s worthwhile putting it on regularly and rewarding them with a treat so they remember it’s a good thing.

“Never rush or use a muzzle as punishment for your dog,” adds Nina. “It should always be a positive experience for them. It’s also important to never leave your dog alone with their muzzle on as they could get caught up and injure themselves.”

Choosing the right muzzle for your dog

“It’s important to make sure your dog’s muzzle fits comfortably and doesn’t come off easily,” adds Nina. “Your chosen muzzle should allow your dog to open their mouth to pant and drink, allow excellent airflow so your dog doesn’t overheat while wearing it, and it should be made of a durable material that won’t break.”

Nina recommends a basket muzzle, which you can buy in most pet shops and also from the PDSA Pet Store. Find out more information on how to muzzle train your dog and choosing the right size muzzle for your dog on our hub page.

PDSA is the UK’s largest vet charity providing a vital service for pets across the UK whose owners struggle to afford treatment costs for their sick and injured pets. For many vulnerable pets, PDSA is there to help when there is nowhere else for their owners to turn. Support from players of People’s Postcode Lottery helps us reach even more pet owners with vital advice and information.