Being the pet parent of a reactive dog can be a challenge for everyone, including your dog. Dogs are reactive for a number of reasons, but for most dogs, reactivity when out and about on walks is typically due to anxiety or leash frustration, and not because they are just bad or aggressive in general.
It’s tough as pet parents to watch our dogs exhibit negative behaviors when out and about that are so unlike the behaviors they exhibit with us. Have you noticed that your gentle and loving dog becomes panicked or aggressive at the mere sight of another dog across the street? Or perhaps you have found that bringing your dog to the vet’s office is a cause of nerves for both you and Fido.
Will he growl? Will he nip? Will he bite?
Fear and pain bring out the worst in us, whether we are human or pups, but as humans, we have the ability to communicate our concerns and work through them. Our dogs, on the other hand, rely on us to keep them safe and advocate for them.
A muzzle?! But muzzles are so scary to look at and worse, aren’t they inhumane?
The stress of having a dog who can be unpredictable in certain situations is a very real issue for more dog parents than you may realize, and this is one reason it’s so important to remove the stigma from dog muzzles.
Today, we are going to talk about the best, most comfortable muzzles for reactive dogs, and also learn why muzzles can actually be a positive thing for both you and your dog when handled properly.
Let’s get started!
What Are Dog Muzzles?
If you’re here, then chances are you already know what a dog muzzle is. But in case you don’t, a dog muzzle is a piece of equipment that is used to temporarily cover your dog’s nose and mouth so that he cannot bite, chew, excessively lick, etc.
Basket Muzzles like this one are some of the safest and most humane.
There are a number of different types of muzzles and people use muzzles for a number of different reasons, and not all of those reasons include aggression.
Different types of dog muzzles can be used for different purposes, and include:
- Plastic Basket Muzzles
- Metal Basket Muzzles
- Soft Muzzles
- Leather Muzzles
- Grooming Muzzles
- Make-Shift Muzzle (For Emergencies)
Unfortunately, over the years, muzzles have become a symbol for what many consider to be a “bad dog”.
This is actually not true at all.
Some dogs may need to wear muzzles during training to help keep them from chewing furniture or licking at wounds, while others may need muzzles to help keep leather car seats intact during drives, doggy road trips, or whatever other journey your dog takes with you in the car.
Other dogs wear muzzles to keep them from eating harmful things off the streets or sidewalks during walks.
And of course, some dogs need muzzles to help prevent someone from getting hurt during reactivity or aggression. With that being said, it’s important to note that even the best behaved dogs can behave unpredictably in fearful or tense situations.
In fact, many veterinarians routinely use soft muzzles in their day-to-day examinations, as even the sweetest dogs have been known to nip out of pain or fear.
Many of my clients’ dogs wear muzzles even though they have never bitten before. Some may chew through their leashes during walks when they hear loud noises or see other dogs across the street and need the muzzles to help protect their leashes and walking equipment from damage.
But in the case of a reactive dog, (a dog who may react aggressively or fearfully towards other dogs or people in public), the muzzle type I recommend would be a plastic basket muzzle.
Before we discuss basket muzzles and why I favor them over other types of dog muzzles, I want to discuss the common misconception that dog muzzles are cruel or inhumane.
Are Dog Muzzles Cruel Or Inhumane?
I love you for asking this question and being such a compassionate pet parent, but my answer to you is absolutely not!
When dog muzzles are used appropriately, they are not cruel and in fact protect your dog from not only hurting others, but also hurting himself.
If your dog is reactive, fearful, aggressive, or otherwise unpredictable in certain situations, a muzzle may be necessary to help keep him and others safe.
Muzzles may look scary or cruel, but when used appropriately they are safe and humane.
With that being said, muzzles do become cruel and even dangerous to your dog’s health when they are not used properly.
For example, if you leave the muzzle on your dog for prolonged periods, if you use a soft muzzle that completely closes your dog’s jaw during a walk or run, or if you leave your dog alone while wearing his muzzle, then the muzzle is not being used properly.
Remember, muzzles are for short-time wear only and you should never leave your dog wearing a muzzle unsupervised.
Should My Reactive Dog Wear A Muzzle in Public?
As I mentioned above, there are several types of muzzles and several types of situations that may call for a muzzle.
To determine if your reactive dog should wear a muzzle in public, consider his behavior when in public and the way you feel when walking or monitoring him.
Some clients of mine have had specific experiences where their dog had a negative encounter with a person or another pet, and that is why they have chosen to muzzle their dog when out and about.
Other clients opt to be proactive and muzzle their reactive dogs just in case.
Since I am a firm believer in setting our dogs up for success, I always think being proactive is the best plan of action.
The best dog muzzles will allow your dog to breath, pant, and take treats.
If you believe your dog’s reactivity may at some point turn to aggression, if you have difficulty controlling your dog during walks, or if your dog does not do well with other dogs or strangers in general, then considering a muzzle for him when out in public may not be such a bad idea.
What To Look For In A Good Dog Muzzle for Reactive Dogs
Remember, not every muzzle is for every situation. In this article, we are strictly discussing the best types of muzzles to use for reactive dogs.
This means you will likely be traveling with your dog while he is wearing the muzzle, whether you are taking him on an outing, going for your evening walk, or even visiting the vet.
Soft muzzles like this one are not ideal to use for reactive dogs on dog walks.
For dogs on the move, a muzzle that allows your dog to open his mouth is the safest and most humane choice as it allows your dog to take treats, drink water, and, most importantly, pant.
Panting is a massive part of your dog’s natural cooling system. The prolonged inability to pant for a dog can lead to a number of health concerns like heatstroke.
A soft muzzle, like the one shown in the photo above, is certainly not the right choice for a reactive dog on the move.
Still, even though I highly recommend plastic basket muzzles for reactive dogs, there are other types of muzzles that are not basket muzzles that allow your dog to move about safely and pant, drink water, take treats, and sniff.
I will give you some options of those below along with several of my favorite basket muzzles for reactive dogs.
Regardless of which muzzle you choose for your reactive dog, I recommend looking for muzzles that are made of high quality material, allow your dog to open his mouth to drink water, breathe, and pant, and can be properly adjusted to fit your dog’s unique snout size.
A good dog muzzle for reactive dogs should fit snugly around your dog’s snout but not so snugly that it presses against his nose or prevents him from opening his mouth.
Muzzles should also be made with your dog’s comfort in mind, meaning the edges that press against his face and around his snout should be lined with rubber or fabric that will not irritate or pinch him.
So, what are some of my favorite muzzles for reactive dogs?
1. Barkless Soft Basket Muzzle
This product by Barkless embodies everything I love about basket muzzles. I have used this product with several of my more reactive four-legged clients and I like that it is both comfortable for the dog while also being secure.
This is a basket muzzle that also attaches to your dog’s collar, so I would recommend a muzzle like this for those of you with dogs who are especially reactive or who try to lunge or shake their way out of their harnesses when they become triggered or are over threshold.
2. GoodBoy Gentle Muzzle Guard for Dogs
As I mentioned above, while my favorite, tried and tested muzzles for reactive dogs are plastic basket muzzles, I do like that this muzzle is soft, allows for the same types of important functions as basket muzzles, but doesn’t restrict your dog’s snout.
First and foremost, this muzzle is less “scary” looking, as it doesn’t look like a traditional muzzle and could almost be mistaken for a head harness or gentle leader.
And while I love that about this muzzle, I would still only recommend it for dogs who are less aggressive and more reactive.
This means I would recommend a muzzle like this for dogs who simply bark or pull excessively, and not dogs who have not had a previous aggressive incident, who are obviously aggressive towards people or dogs on the street, or who try and chew through their leashes.
One of the benefits of having a basket muzzle is that it not only prevents your dog from biting, but it also prevents things from getting into your dog’s mouth, unlike the above soft muzzle, which is why it may not be the best choice for every reactive dog.
3. JeonbiuPet Silicone Adjustable Basket Muzzle
This is a basket muzzle that is very similar to the first one on this list. Made of soft silicone, this adjustable basket muzzle is good for dogs with different snout lengths.
It is easy to use as well. I have used this product a number of times but should note it does not attach to the dog’s collar and instead clips behind your dog’s ears.
Still, when fitted properly, this muzzle should be secure on your dog’s snout.
4. W&Z Silicone Training Dog Muzzle
I like this basket muzzle as it still offers full coverage for your reactive dog without impeding his breathing, panting, and water-drinking abilities, but also because it has less “basket” coverings, for lack of a better word.
This is an excellent muzzle for those of you planning on training or counter conditioning your dog to becoming less reactive.
This muzzle allows for you to easily slip your dog treats during walks or outings when a trigger is nearby to help him better associate the things that frighten him with something positive.
5. SHUNAI Breathable Basket Muzzle
The above dog muzzle may look pretty heavy-duty, but one of my favorite things about it is actually how ventilated and open it is. I also like how wide it fits around the snout, allowing your dog to open his mouth comfortably and pant.
This muzzle also allows for easy drinkability. You can even feed your pet both treats and dog food with this muzzle!
6. The Company of Animals Baskerville Ultra Muzzle
This is another basket muzzle brand I love for all the important reasons. Your dog can eat, drink, breath, and pant in this muzzle while also keeping you feeling safe and secure while walking him.
This muzzle clips behind your dog’s ears but can also be attached to his collar for extra security.
7. JYHY Short Snout Dog Muzzle
Okay, I’m not going to lie. This muzzle is a little bit hilarious looking and almost makes the dog in the photo look like a tiny bank robber.
All giggles aside, there are some snippy little flat-faced dogs out there who require muzzles from time to time.
Since short-nosed dogs like French Bulldogs, English Bulldogs, and Boxers suffer from brachycephalic syndrome, which already makes them more susceptible to heat stroke and breathing issues, it’s extra important to make sure you use breathable muzzles on flat faced dogs which allow them to open their mouths and pant.
This muzzle fits those hard-to-fit faces of flat-faced breeds and is made of breathable mesh. It also keeps the nose exposed.
However, I do want to reiterate that you should never leave your dog alone with a muzzle on his face, especially a breed with a shorter snout, and you should only use the muzzles for short periods of time.
8. Birdwell Enterprises Plastic Coated Nylon Muzzle
Not all dog muzzles have to be black! I love that this high-quality product comes in several cute colors while most importantly serving as a safe way to travel in public with your reactive dog.
While this muzzle is still made of comfortable plastic, it is a bit more heavy-duty than some of the other muzzles on this list and is best for dogs who put a bit more wear and tear on their belongings.
9. Crazy Felix Nylon Dog Muzzle For Small Dogs
Even though this muzzle is marketed to dogs from small to large, I would recommend this mesh muzzle for small to medium sized dogs who do not exert as much energy during walks or who are not walked as far or exercised as hard.
While this muzzle is breathable and does allow for your dog to open his mouth, pant, and yawn, it does not allow for eating or treats, so this is not an ideal muzzle for those of you looking to train your reactive dog during walks.
10. Pettycart Soft Basket Muzzle For Medium and Large Dogs
Last but not least is the Pettycart soft basket muzzle. This is mostly for medium to large sized dogs and allows for panting, treating, and drinking.
It fits securely and has the basket design I love, so I would certainly recommend this for reactive dogs who are on the move often.
How To Condition Your Dog To Wearing A Muzzle
Training your dog to wear a muzzle isn’t going to be the easiest thing you’ve ever done, but it doesn’t have to be as difficult as you may think. In fact, if you use positive reinforcement methods and introduce your dog slowly and gently to his muzzle instead of forcing it on him, it may even be a breeze!
Check out this wonderful video showing how to properly introduce your dog to a basket muzzle so that he loves wearing it!
Notice that the trainer is using high-value treats like fresh chicken as opposed to your everyday run of the mill dog treats? I love using foods like chicken, hotdogs, and beef as a motivation for dogs and find those methods work quickest.
Remember, it’s easier to get your dog to wear his muzzle when it becomes something he wants to do and isn’t afraid of.
When training your dog to adapt to muzzle use, it’s important that you don’t force the muzzle over his face. Instead, allow your dog to view the muzzle as something good and positive.
If your dog has had a negative experience with a muzzle in the past, you may have to work extra hard to condition him to wearing a muzzle again.
Help your dog learn that muzzles are not so bad by moving slowly. Counter conditioning techniques using positive reinforcement, praise, and lots of patience work best.
Of course, you should avoid using punishment or scolding if your dog is wary of his muzzle or refuses it. Remember, punishing your dog will only reaffirm that the muzzle is something to fear and will not help you get him to wear it any quicker.
Helping your pooch have a positive experience with his muzzle is key to making the muzzle using experience much more bearable the both of you.
What is your opinion on muzzles for reactive dogs? Do you have any questions or comments? I would love to hear from you! Leave me a note in the comment section below with your thoughts.
Madison Guthrie (also known as Sonny Mackenzi) is a pet care specialist and positive-reinforcement trainer who works most closely with anxious and reactive dogs. Born and raised in Littleton, Colorado, Madison developed a love for animals at an early age and spent most of her childhood outdoors rescuing stray pets and helping to rehabilitate injured wildlife. Along with animals, Madison also developed a love for writing and music. Over the past five years, she has worked to use her passions to help the pets and pet parents in her community build stronger bonds and live happier, healthier lives together. Currently, Madison lives in South Pasadena, California where she owns and operates Miss Madison LLC, a marketing company that focuses on helping privately owned veterinary establishments and pet care companies grow and thrive. She also works as a dog trainer at My Dog Spot, which is an award-winning pet care and training establishment in Pasadena, California.