Vicious, snarling, trying-to-bite-your-head-off dogs aren't the only ones who need to be muzzled. Nervous, timid, fearful, arthritic and injured dogs should also be gently and humanely muzzled during grooming to protect themselves and the groomer.
Reasons to Muzzle
Even the most calm and gentle dog can snap or bite during grooming if she is overwhelmed by fear or pain. Young dogs who are not used to being groomed may become fearful and try to protect themselves by snapping and biting. Older dogs often have tender joints or sore spots that aren't apparent until the joint is flexed or the sore spot is touched during grooming. They may not intend to bite, but do so in reaction to unexpected pain. A muzzle allows the owner or groomer to safely teach a fearful dog that grooming can be a pleasant experience, and work gently around tender places on older or injured dogs. Aggressive and overly dominant dogs who do not accept regular handling can also be safely groomed through the use of a muzzle.
Types of Muzzles
Muzzles designed specifically for grooming are typically made of nylon and fit snugly around the dog's entire jaw and nose, with an opening at the end for breathing. These muzzles allow access to most of the face for grooming and are easy to put on. Full muzzles are similar to grooming muzzles, except that they cover the end of the nose so there is no chance for the dog to nip. They are usually made of nylon or leather, with vents along the sides and at the end to allow the dog to breathe. While providing a little more safety, they usually cover more of the face and have wider straps behind the ears, making it more difficult to groom around the muzzle. Basket muzzles have a small wire or plastic mesh fitting that goes over the dog's entire jaw and nose. They allow a dog to pant, drink and receive treats. They can be more difficult for grooming, however, because they are bulky and tend to bump the groomer's arms and hands while she is working.
For a muzzle to provide protection it must fit properly. Nylon and leather grooming and full muzzles should be snug, giving the dog only just enough room to open his mouth for breathing. A muzzle that is too large may appear to provide protection against bites, but a dog will be able to open his mouth enough to bite. Basket muzzles should fit securely around the base of the dog's jaw with no gaps.
While basket muzzles can be left on a dog during exercise and regular activities, grooming and full muzzles should only be used as a temporary measure during grooming or treatment. When a muzzle that keeps the jaw closed is in place, the dog cannot pant and could easily overheat or become stressed from being unable to breathe easily. This type of muzzle should only be in place for a short time and removed when the dog is not being handled.
While using a muzzle is a humane way to keep both the groomer and the dog safe, some dogs become panicked when muzzled, some owners dislike them and sometimes a muzzle is not available when needed. Working slowly and patiently, and completing the grooming in small steps works with some nervous dogs. Pain relievers given prior to grooming may help injured or older dogs. Your veterinarian may also prescribe a sedative to keep the dog calm enough for grooming without a muzzle. If a muzzle is needed and not available, a long strip of gauze or thin cloth can be wrapped around the dog's nose and jaw and tied securely behind the ears as a makeshift muzzle.