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Should I Be Scared of Muzzles?

Updated: May 3

Two dogs on a hike wearing muzzles

Envision yourself strolling along the road, taking in the beautiful scenery. Suddenly, a dog with a vicious-looking muzzle approaches you with its owner. Although the dog appears composed, the muzzle indicates otherwise...right? How do you proceed? Turn around and run? Cross the road? Scream at the owner to keep their dog away? Why would this owner ever consider taking it outside if it needs to be muzzled? They know their dog is dangerous, don't they?

A dog wearing a muzzle is not what the world would like us to think it is - a danger. As trainers, and as muzzled-dog owners, we see this as a tool to enhance our dogs' way of life, not diminish it. If you see a muzzled dog on the road, this is an opportunity for you to uplift the owner and support those who are attempting to treat their dogs well, rather than demonize them. To be frank, muzzled dogs are not bad dogs! Similar to a leash or collar, a muzzle can be a tool that helps owners and dogs enjoy a cozy, secure life in an unsafe world. In addition to praising dog owners who go above and beyond to give their pets positive outdoor experiences and wonderful life characteristics in less-than-ideal circumstances, we should also teach people how to properly engage with a dog wearing a muzzle, and to really understand why it might be there in the first place.




Ruby the lab in a wire basket muzzle

Why Do We Muzzle Dogs?


There are a variety of reasons why a dog may need a muzzle, typically the least of which being human-based aggression. Let’s look at some of the other reasons:




Eating Non-Food Objects


Some dogs suffer from a medical condition known as pica or geophagia. Compulsively chewing and potentially consuming non-food objects (i.e. dirt, sticks, socks) may not be simply a dog acting up or

acting out. Pica is a medical problem that a vet would diagnose, and an owner would have to manage throughout the dog's life. Eating and ingesting these objects can be harmful or even fatal to a dog and the best solution is to keep them from getting those objects into their mouths while outdoors - hence a muzzle. There are specialized muzzles for pica and geophagia, but in many cases a standard muzzle works as well if the owner is especially vigilant!


Precaution


Some dogs don’t have any actual problem, however it is always good to desensitize them to various tools. You never know when you may need to put your dog on a muzzle, potentially at a vet, groomer, or other high stress situation. It is much better to be prepared for that situation than to have it come on suddenly and cause your dog more anxiety by putting a piece of equipment on them they do not understand. Training a dog to put on, walk in, and relax in a muzzle are excellent foundational steps.

Likewise in countries where muzzles are required for certain breeds, it is good to be readily prepared so your dog can continue living a fulfilled life even with their new limitations!


small dachshund in a clear muzzle and sweater

Aggression/Reactivity


As much as we would always love to say that no dog is a problem dog, that would be a lie. However, that does not mean that they should be barred from experiencing a normal life. A dog can be aggressive or reactive for many reasons; trauma, genetics, nerves, etc. When reactivity or aggression is the case, we cannot scold the owner to seek a trainer - training can help, but it is not a “one and done” solution. It is important to note that for most reactivity cases, especially towards other dogs or people, a trainer cannot fully fix aggression (and anyone that tells you otherwise is trying to sell you something). We as trainers, give solutions and exercises to boost confidence and create safe routines for the dog in question - and ultimately will recommend muzzles in situations that may be partially out of an owner's control. While a walk seems simple, if another dog is off leash - or if a child runs up to the fearful dog - it is up to the owner to advocate, not always for the dog to control their fear. 

Walking with a muzzle adds another layer of protection for dog and owner - it can be a confidence booster for a dog who can now allow their owner to take more control, and it can be a stress reliever for an owner who used to always be on alert for the next thing to ruin their walk. In this instance a muzzle keeps everyone safe and calm, and allows the muzzled dog to continue to get positive experiences out in the real world. 


Doesn't a Muzzle Hurt the Dog?


dog showing a full pant in a muzzle

A properly fitted muzzle should never hurt a dog, and should have the ability to be worn for extended periods of time. A true muzzle, not the wrap ones you see in a vet’s office, should allow for a dog to have a full pant to regulate their body temperature. Depending on the use of the muzzle will depend on the material, vinyl may be used for bite-proof muzzles, cloth for pica, metal for reactivity - however this does not mean you should assume and make a decision based on that!

Regardless, as long as the muzzle is sized correctly, it is good for a dog to use on most outings, regardless of reason. An educated owner will also know their dog's limitations and plan accordingly to enhance their dog’s time and not take from it. 


Dog doing agility in a wire basket muzzle

These are not cruel tools and a dog properly trained on a muzzle should feel just as comfortable with it on or off. A well-trained dog may even be excited when their owner grabs the muzzle as this means they will be going out on a fun excursion! No dog should feel bad to wear a muzzle and no owner should feel ashamed putting their dog in one!


What Should You Do If You See a Muzzled Dog?


Now that you have a little knowledge under your belt, what do you do if you encounter a dog with a muzzle? The simplest answer is nothing. If a dog is on the muzzle the best experience you can give it is a neutral one. Unless an owner expressly asks for your attention or assistance with socializing - the kindest thing you can do is to ignore the dog! You can compliment the owner and their efforts, and help them advocate for the dog if others try to intervene or disrupt the muzzled dog's nice day.

If you find a situation where you have to put your own dog in a muzzle, take it slow. Consider reaching out to a trainer to help you streamline the process or finding groups online who can help guide you if you are worried about doing it wrong. At Final Call Dog Training, we believe no dog is a bad dog, and that a muzzled dog is one who is prepared to take on the world - with a little extra help. If you are interested in understanding and conditioning your dog to a muzzle, consider reaching out to us today where we can help you put their best paw forward!


*All images in this blog were generously shared by proud owners who love their muzzled-up pups!


dog in a large clear muzzle
Dog in a muzzle movement brand muzzle

Handsome Pitbull in teal muzzle




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