Understanding Muzzle Grabs: Should You Grab Your Dog's Snout?

Updated on August 6, 2019
alexadry profile image

Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and the author of "Brain Training for Dogs."

Dogs "bite" each other on the snouts fairly often, but dog owners probably shouldn't mimic this behavior during training.
Dogs "bite" each other on the snouts fairly often, but dog owners probably shouldn't mimic this behavior during training. | Source

Among canids, it's not unusual to see one animal grabbing another by the muzzle. Whether done gently between two dogs that know each other or more roughly during a dispute, this behavior is quite normal and has also been noted in wolves and dingoes in the wild. But what does this behavior really mean? Why do dogs do this? When is it most likely to occur? As with many other canine behaviors, it really depends on the context.

What Is a Muzzle Grab?

Dogs are frequently put their mouths around other dogs' snouts and faces. Usually, this is done without much pressure and does not cause physical harm. This behavior is known as a muzzle grab.

Muzzle Grabs in Puppies

You may see this behavior occur in different circumstances starting from an early age. During weaning, mother dogs may begin to resent nursing due to the emergence of their puppies' sharp teeth. You may see mothers use muzzle grabs to discourage their pups from nursing.

Sometimes, an adult dog will engage in muzzle grabbing behavior to inform a rambunctious puppy that his behavior is rude or undesired. At times, pups even seem to solicit muzzle grabbing from adults. Unlike what was previously thought, mother dogs don't pin their pups down; rather, the pups submit voluntarily. For more on this, read about "alpha rolls." Through experience, pups soon learn to use muzzle grabs in play, and this teaches them how to apply the basics of bite inhibition.

Muzzle Grabs in Adult Dogs and Wolves

When adult dogs are playing, you may see them taking turns muzzle grabbing each other. Of course, this takes place after the dogs have expressed their playful intent through meta-communication.

Among wolves, gentle, inhibited muzzle grabs may be part of a ritual greeting. This behavior is also occasionally observed during low-key challenges, like disputes over who gets access to a particular resource. More rarely, wolves engage in agonistic muzzle grabs which, according to Wolf Ethogram (Wolf Park, Indiana), consist of "grabbing the muzzle and applying enough force to make the grabbed wolf whimper."

Muzzle biting in wolves is often accompanied by other threat behaviors which may also elicit whimpering. Roger Abrantes, BA in Philosophy and PhD in Evolutionary Biology, notes that muzzle grabs are used mostly "to confirm a relationship rather than to settle a dispute."

Some wolves use low-pressure, non-violent muzzle grabs to greet others of their species.
Some wolves use low-pressure, non-violent muzzle grabs to greet others of their species. | Source

Should Owners Hold Their Dogs' Mouths Shut?

It is tempting for dog owners to mimic behaviors they see in their pets, especially when attempting to moderate unwanted behaviors. You'll often hear people say, "if your dog barks, tell him to hush by grabbing his muzzle and firmly holding on," or "if your puppy nips, grab his muzzle and apply pressure." Those who advocate for these methods do so in an attempt to "speak the same language" as their dogs. This may make sense to many, but the results are often deleterious.

First off, we are not dogs! We certainly don't go to parties and sniff other people's butts or urinate on our host's carpet in order to send "pee-mail." We are humans, and as such, we shake hands and use Facebook or Twitter to socialize. We don't shake hands with dogs or send them e-mails to communicate. Dogs are well aware that we are not the same type of animal as them.

Secondly, when we apply muzzle grabs to dogs, we teach them that hands are bad and that biting is the best way to keep them away. This is why I often get cases of nipping dogs that don't want hands anywhere near their faces and puppies that never learn to stop biting.

When I ask owners what they did to try to stop their dog's biting, they often tell me "a trainer (or the vet) told me to grab him by the muzzle or the scruff every time he bites." Doing this actually tends to exacerbate biting behavior because it teaches dogs two things:

  1. Hands are unpleasant.
  2. I can bite hands to keep them away from my face.

This modus operandi can take a significant amount of time and effort to undo. After these behaviors are learned, it can be difficult to create positive associations with hands so that owners can do normal things like pet their dog, wipe its eyes, or put its collar on without getting nipped in the process. If you have a pup that tends to nip, learn some force-free methods to reduce biting behavior, and consult with a force-free dog trainer/behavior consultant.

Muzzle Grabs at the Wolf Park

Physiology of Muzzle Grabs

As humans, we often forget that dogs use their mouths in a similar fashion to the way we use our hands. If we are walking a toddler in a supermarket and they throw a temper tantrum because they want to go see the toy section again, we usually use our hands to guide the toddler away, explaining that we cannot go there again, but that if we hurry, we can bake some cookies later at home. Dogs lack our manual dexterity and language, so they use their mouths instead. Muzzle grabs can help them redirect other dogs' undesirable behaviors.

As horrific as a muzzle grab may seem, veterinarian, consultant, and author, Myrna Milani, notes how the shape of the dog's muzzle seems to have evolved to "enable a dog to grab and hold another dog by applying four small points of pressure, thereby protecting the other from the crushing force of the premolars and molars."

Dogs' muzzle areas are mostly composed of skin and bone. If a dog grabs another's muzzle and feels bone, he should instinctively stop applying pressure, especially if the other dog responds appropriately and freezes rather than resisting. Fortunately, most dogs get the message and display an appropriate response.

What Do the Experts Say?

There seems to be some dispute over how to classify muzzle grabbing behavior, with some experts suggesting it's social, some portraying it as agonistic, and others classifying it as pacifying. In my opinion, it doesn't fall into any specific behavioral category because its use depends on its context.

As we've learned, canines use muzzle grabs with each other frequently, and most know how to respond to them. Problems arise when humans try to use dog-specific behaviors when dealing with their own pets.

This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.

© 2014 Adrienne Janet Farricelli

Comments

    0 of 8192 characters used
    Post Comment
    • profile image

      RMartin 

      21 months ago

      I use muzzle grips with my dogs and they see that as affectionate....they actually look for it!!!

    • profile image

      Rebecca Martin 

      24 months ago

      My dog actually looks for me to grab her muzzle she actually engages me to grab her muzzle Softly some said it is a sign of affection also or it can be

    • Camille Harris profile image

      Camille Harris 

      5 years ago from SF Bay Area

      My puppy does this ALL the time to my new (old) dog. She does it especially when we try to pet the new guy. Glad to know what it signifies!

    • alexadry profile imageAUTHOR

      Adrienne Janet Farricelli 

      5 years ago

      When my dogs are tired of playing sometimes they'll be side-by-side lying down and will play "who gets to muzzle grab the other." They have discussions as they do this with their mouths open and almost sound like "Chewbacca".

    • grand old lady profile image

      Mona Sabalones Gonzalez 

      5 years ago from Philippines

      Very useful lesson about muzzel grabbing. I used to wonder about that.

    working

    This website uses cookies

    As a user in the EEA, your approval is needed on a few things. To provide a better website experience, pethelpful.com uses cookies (and other similar technologies) and may collect, process, and share personal data. Please choose which areas of our service you consent to our doing so.

    For more information on managing or withdrawing consents and how we handle data, visit our Privacy Policy at: https://pethelpful.com/privacy-policy#gdpr

    Show Details
    Necessary
    HubPages Device IDThis is used to identify particular browsers or devices when the access the service, and is used for security reasons.
    LoginThis is necessary to sign in to the HubPages Service.
    Google RecaptchaThis is used to prevent bots and spam. (Privacy Policy)
    AkismetThis is used to detect comment spam. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide data on traffic to our website, all personally identifyable data is anonymized. (Privacy Policy)
    HubPages Traffic PixelThis is used to collect data on traffic to articles and other pages on our site. Unless you are signed in to a HubPages account, all personally identifiable information is anonymized.
    Amazon Web ServicesThis is a cloud services platform that we used to host our service. (Privacy Policy)
    CloudflareThis is a cloud CDN service that we use to efficiently deliver files required for our service to operate such as javascript, cascading style sheets, images, and videos. (Privacy Policy)
    Google Hosted LibrariesJavascript software libraries such as jQuery are loaded at endpoints on the googleapis.com or gstatic.com domains, for performance and efficiency reasons. (Privacy Policy)
    Features
    Google Custom SearchThis is feature allows you to search the site. (Privacy Policy)
    Google MapsSome articles have Google Maps embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    Google ChartsThis is used to display charts and graphs on articles and the author center. (Privacy Policy)
    Google AdSense Host APIThis service allows you to sign up for or associate a Google AdSense account with HubPages, so that you can earn money from ads on your articles. No data is shared unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Google YouTubeSome articles have YouTube videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    VimeoSome articles have Vimeo videos embedded in them. (Privacy Policy)
    PaypalThis is used for a registered author who enrolls in the HubPages Earnings program and requests to be paid via PayPal. No data is shared with Paypal unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook LoginYou can use this to streamline signing up for, or signing in to your Hubpages account. No data is shared with Facebook unless you engage with this feature. (Privacy Policy)
    MavenThis supports the Maven widget and search functionality. (Privacy Policy)
    Marketing
    Google AdSenseThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Google DoubleClickGoogle provides ad serving technology and runs an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Index ExchangeThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    SovrnThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Facebook AdsThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Unified Ad MarketplaceThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    AppNexusThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    OpenxThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Rubicon ProjectThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    TripleLiftThis is an ad network. (Privacy Policy)
    Say MediaWe partner with Say Media to deliver ad campaigns on our sites. (Privacy Policy)
    Remarketing PixelsWe may use remarketing pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to advertise the HubPages Service to people that have visited our sites.
    Conversion Tracking PixelsWe may use conversion tracking pixels from advertising networks such as Google AdWords, Bing Ads, and Facebook in order to identify when an advertisement has successfully resulted in the desired action, such as signing up for the HubPages Service or publishing an article on the HubPages Service.
    Statistics
    Author Google AnalyticsThis is used to provide traffic data and reports to the authors of articles on the HubPages Service. (Privacy Policy)
    ComscoreComScore is a media measurement and analytics company providing marketing data and analytics to enterprises, media and advertising agencies, and publishers. Non-consent will result in ComScore only processing obfuscated personal data. (Privacy Policy)
    Amazon Tracking PixelSome articles display amazon products as part of the Amazon Affiliate program, this pixel provides traffic statistics for those products (Privacy Policy)
    ClickscoThis is a data management platform studying reader behavior (Privacy Policy)