MEETING LUCI AND MAKING A PLAN FOR THE MUZZLE
I was contacted by an owner in Garland who needed training for her 14 month old yorkie, Luci. Luci’s name, she told me, was short for Lucifer; I love a challenge. The first time I met Luci, I was forewarned about her bad behavior. The owner was struggling with aggressive behaviors while her guests were at the house. On multiple occasions Luci had charged and bitten guests in the home. Several times, she broke the skin and drew blood. Luci also would lunge and bark at strangers while out on walks. Luci was no longer able to accompany Mom to the Pet Store, and car rides had become a time of audial torture, when ear-piercing barks and screeches echoed through the car cabin. Any pedestrian would send Luci into a fit of shrieking rage. Luci finally bit a child, and the owner decided that they needed to invest in training to deal with this dangerous behavior. Despite Luci’s small stature, she was serious about her attacks.
My first meeting with Luci and her owner was an enlightening experience. I discussed the seriousness of Luci’s behavior and that even though she was small, her barking, shrieking, and biting was now a thoroughly established and habitual bad behavior. A larger dog would likely have already lost their lives due to behaviors of this type. It was important to me that Luci’s owner fully understand the risks and implications of this type of aggressive behavior. We need to address this behavior in the same way that we would with an aggressive Pit Bull or German Shepherd. Just because Luci was a Yorkie, did NOT make this behavior more acceptable or tolerable.
The likelihood was that this would be a very long road to recovery. We determined, after extensive planningand discussion, that the owner was willing to dedicate the time to managing and solving this problem through training. It is vital to my decision in taking on a dog as a training client that the owner be fully committed to this training plan. The first step in our plan was to make training safer for everyone involved.
We took multiple measurements of Luci’s head with a fabric tape measure. Mom held Luci while I carefully took measurements. I used the following measurements to make the template webbing.
- Around the closed muzzle
- From tip of nose to side of jaw hinge (along the side of face)
- From tip of nose to the base of the eyes
- From tip of nose to back of head
- Around the neck at the base of the ears and jaw
- From the tip of the bottom jaw to the neck at the base of the skull
Based on the measurements I took, I knew that purchasing the appropriate size was going to be a challenge. I joined a few Facebook groups to help gather more information, hear personal accounts with products, and potentially find someone who had gone through a similar process with a very small aggressive dog. I joined Muzzle Up, Pup! – The Pro-Muzzle Community, Muzzle Training and Tips, and The Muzzle Exchange. I also actively sought out articles about Muzzle Training and Fitting.
If you’re a beginner, check out these articles:
- “Muzzle Training for Dogs” by Debra Horwits, DVM, DACVB & Gary Landsberg, DVM, DACVB, DECAWBM
- “Breaking The Stereotype: Positive Basket Muzzle Training” Published by the Animal Hospital of North Asheville
- “Controlling Dog Aggression By Using A Dog Muzzle” Published by K9Aggression.com
Everything I read told me that fitting a muzzle for a dog under 5 pounds would be a challenge, and that the Baskerville brand carried one of the smaller baskets on the market. I also read that the Baskerville Ultra is not considered a “Bite-Proof” muzzle for determined aggressive dogs. Luci was definitely determined, but I felt that her large overbite would negate the risk of biting through the design. Consulting the sizing chart, we made the decision to purchase a Size 1 Baskerville Ultra.
I feel like this chart doesn’t take all things into consideration in terms of fit. For example, it doesn’t consider pant-room or make a measurement consideration for the full open-mouth pant. Because of Luci’s shortened lower jaw, her open-mouth pant is less spacious than some, and it was a lesser concern. This muzzle is supposed to be “moldable” to a certain extent as well, so my hope was that we could manipulate it as needed for a better fit. Luci will typically wearing this muzzle in temperature controlled spaces, and generally not for periods of time lasting longer than 2 hours.
THE MUZZLE ARRIVES
After ordering our muzzle, we waited 5 days for arrival. When it arrived, Luci’s Mom was concerned that it was uncomfortable, a poor fit, and much too bulky for Luci’s head and frame. Admittedly, it was quite a disappointment to behold upon first sight. It looked UNCOMFORTABLE. Upon closer inspection, we realized that the basket size was actually workable, but the straps were much too rigid, thick, and generally made the basket unwearable. Additionally, the brand logo made the webbing more difficult to fit. The added complication of so many plastic strap adjusters really made accurate fitting an impossibility. The straps kept slipping out of place as we adjusted adjacent pieces, and Luci was wholly uncomfortable with the bulkiness of the headgear. We kept finding ourselves saying, “If it weren’t for this [insert expletive of choice here] webbing…” until we were purple in the face. This seemed like a waste of money and time. Also, it simply looked RIDICULOUS. We were disheartened and our team morale had taken a blow.
But…maybe I could modify it myself?
- Fat Square Cotton Fabric
- Fabric Tape Measure
- Colored Thread
- Sewing Machine
- Small Snaps
- Fabric Glue
- Paintbrush (optional for glue application)
I took Luci’s muzzle home and began reading up on muzzle alterations. I couldn’t find a specific article or manual that walked through this process, so I was determined to document my own experience.
I am no seamstress, so this was very much a learning process for me. I initially began looking for a thick ribbon that I could fashion into an acceptable webbing for the muzzle. I found that ribbon would not be sturdy enough for what I was needing, and it was limited in it’s customizability. As I walked through Joann Fabrics, I was at a loss for where to begin. I paced the aisles several times before I settled on some Dritz brand Sew-On Snaps and some Fabri-Tac Fabric Glue. At least I knew I would use those.
Upon checkout, the woman at the register saw the muzzle basket in my hand, and asked me about my project. I’m sure it wasn’t a common thing to see. I explained to her my issue, and (lo and behold) she had some great advice! She recommended that I make my own straps from fabric rather than trying to find a ribbon that was pre-manufactured. It was going to be very difficult to find a ribbon that I could easily modify (without compromising it’s integrity) in the proper dimensions. The woman at Joann’s recommended that I use any 100% cotton fabric folded in order to create a sturdy, flexible, and washable strap. I chose a dog-themed fabric that was 100% cotton. A fat square was more than enough fabric for me to make multiple versions of the webbing for Luci.
I constructed one long strap and then broke it down into the pieces that I needed to put together the muzzle. I cut a 2-inch strip of fabric. I did not measure the exact length, but I can confidently estimate that it was not more than 24 inches of fabric. I used an iron to crease the 2” fabric in half. Demonstrated in the pictures below, I folded the outer edges of the fabric in toward the inner crease and pinned it in place for sewing. I closed the open end first, and then top-stitched it along the other side of the fabric to complete the usable strap.
Learning to use the sewing machine presented some interesting hurdles all on its own. I YouTube’d the crap out of sewing machine tutorials, only to find that my machine (a Singer gifted to me by my grandmother) was apparently much MUCH older than most people are using nowadays. Not gonna lie, those videos made me feel old. lol My machine had no digital functions, and I was forced to visit the printed User’s Manual for more assistance. Good Lord. It sucked, but it helped.
I worked with the basic layout of the design that the manufacturer provided. With accurate measurements on Luci’s head, I was able to alleviate the need for the plastic strap adjusters. Removing the adjusters also left a slight change in measurements for the fabric I was using as it made the entire strap more form-fitting, soft, and flexible. While the original layout included webbing that was stitched onto the basket, I wanted our improved version to be removable. I needed something that was sturdy and would stay attached even if Luci rubbed her face on things or pawed at it. It was important that it was secure enough to be safe for her to wear also. I didn’t want the potential for small parts to be swallowed, and I wanted it to be easy to remove and reattach. At the end of each strap, where the fabric would connect to the basket, I folded over the end and sewed it in place with a small loop. I will attach one half of the snap to this piece, sewing onto only one layer of the strap loop. This way, the snap threads will not be exposed to Luci’s face on the inside when attached to the basket. I want to minimize any irritation to her face and protect the small functioning parts that keep our webbing intact.
I analyzed the existing webbing and decided what joints were completely necessary. I was able to ultimately remove the plastic strap adjusters because I have specific measurements. Muzzle manufacturers have to make the muzzles adjustable in multiple ways in order to fit the maximum number of dogs. But I was just trying to fit ONE dog. Almost at completion, my webbing looked like this:
Some final thoughts…
I became repeatedly frustrated with the sewing machine throughout this process. It was faster and more reliable than hand-stitching, but it was a little out of my current skill wheelhouse, and I needed to take multiple breaks. It would have been helpful to have Luci with me while I was making adjustments to the webbing, but ultimately I was only able to take her initial measurements and then test the completed template for needed adjustments. The turn-around on this project would have been much shorter if Luci had been a Board and Train client. As an in-home training client, it was a slower process.
Even the finished product, though it was a SIGNIFICANT improvement over the original design, was still not perfect. I look forward to the opportunity to repeat this project with different patterns of fabric. My hope is to make a Christmas-Themed webbing as a gift for the Holidays. Despite this project not turning out perfectly, I was very proud of the things I was able to accomplish for Luci. The owner still struggles with family/friends questioning the utility of a muzzle for a dog Luci’s size. I had to continually remind Mom that Luci’s behavior is not reliant on her size. It is important that we do not allow bad behavior to repeat simply due to size. Aggressive biting is unacceptable, no matter the stature of the animal. There is a lot of risk associated with the continuation of aggressive behaviors, and this is something that we can prevent with proper management and long-term training. It was even more important that the owner learn to interpret Luci’s triggers and how to manage bad behaviors when they happen. I am proud that we were able to address several major concerns and smooth the rough edges. Now:
- The webbing fits more appropriately.
- The webbing is lighter and more flexible than before.
- The straps are less bulky and I was able to get rid of the plastic strap adjusters all together.
- The Webbing is easily removable and machine washable.
- I was able to incorporate a cute and fun pattern that made the muzzle look less “frightening”
It’s worth noting that all of this work was just the beginning of Luci’s journey. A muzzle is not a solution, simply a management tool. Statistically speaking, all management tools will eventually fail. Without the muzzle, Luci will definitely still attack guests in the home. Ultimately, training is the answer. However, in the meantime, it is important to keep all participants involved in training safe…including Luci.