Muzzles. Marvellous, Mean Or Misunderstood?

By Michelle Robertson

I remember listening to a colleague’s radio show some time ago. Reactive dogs were being discussed and muzzle use was briefly mentioned.

I have always been under the misguided & ill-informed impression that muzzles were only ever worn by “bad” dogs, their only function to  prevent bites. And it soon transpired that I was not alone in my assumption as almost everyone I spoke to thought the same. A recent twitter poll sampled 168 dog guardians They were asked if they thought that we should be training our dogs to accept muzzles 65.5% of respondents said they see no need for muzzle training although many were very understanding of some of the reasons why a muzzle may be worn. Bad news for dogs as those assumptions of ours stigmatise muzzle wearing & could potentially limit the use of a thoroughly useful piece of kit.

So, why might a muzzle be needed?

When dogs are in pain, they can be grouchy, sometimes it can hurt when they arebtouched, picked up or when they move. Under these circumstances they may act out of character & lash out, perhaps a nip or bite may be delivered. If you are needing to administer drugs to your unwell dog, change a dressing or similar the wearing of a muzzle keeps everyone safe. Similarly, if your dog is feeling unwell & needs to visit the vet for an examination a muzzle is a
good idea. Your vet will thank you for it as it will allow your vet to conduct a thorough examination & reach a swift diagnosis without the risk of a bite happening.

Humans have different personalities & dogs are no different. Some are brave, while others are naturally shy & some a little anxious. The shy dogs may become fearful when faced with new situations which can puzzle them & make them wary. A worried dog can lash out in its anxious state and deliver a bite out of fear. With the help of a trainer or behaviourist you can work with your dog, under their guidance to help build your worried dogs’ confidence. A muzzle could be a very useful tool during training sessions with your professional guide.

Some forms of facial surgery may require a dog to wear a muzzle post-surgery.

Sadly there are also laws which require dogs to wear a muzzle in public purely because they look a particular way. You may have heard of breed specific legislation. In my opinion, a most unfair piece of law which deems dogs as dangerous even when they have done nothing wrong.

As a dog ages it can develop doggy dementia & have fearful episodes even in familiar situations. The dog may lash out as it becomes more worried, so again, a muzzle can be a good way to protect the dog & others.

Some dogs are world class scoffers of any material that might smell close to edible when out on walks. I have been told that some guardians have used a gentle muzzle to protect their dog from hurting itself by ingesting harmful litter or similar.

And lastly, some dogs just do not like other dogs. It may be that are lead reactive or dog selective or they may dislike every canine they meet. They may have a deep-seated fear of people who look or even smell a particular way. If they have had a negative experience with a human, it is not unreasonable for a dog to be worried whenever they are in the presence of someone who looks or smells like the person who did something to hurt them. A muzzle is a dog’s best friend in these scenarios as it keeps everyone safe.

So, a muzzle does not mean a bad dog. It means a good practice.

If you are considering muzzle training trainers & behaviourists will be able to give you help & guidance. I always recommend consulting a professional whenever possible. And take your time, be patient with your dog. Being approached with a strange looking & smelling object & trying to cover their face with it will be quite alarming to them. We want them to positively respond to the muzzle.

If you decide to begin your training, we wish you all the best with it. Do not forget to let us know how you get on.

Please can I ask you to share this conversation & get talking about muzzles in your dog communities, so that the dogs who are trained to wear them are not misunderstood & mislabelled “bad dogs”

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