Muzzles

Muzzles…

There are so many negative things thoughts about muzzles and often people dislike them without knowing all the facts.  Of course, there are different types and they should be used in different ways for different purposes and they are not something anyone would want to use all the time.  However, there are times where they are beneficial and with the right muzzle, the experience does not have to be unpleasant for the dog – although personally, I too would not want the dog to have to wear one for extended periods of time.  Unfortunately with some breeds this is necessary and so the dog might be wearing a muzzle for a longer period if out on a decent walk.

My personal opinion is that not all breed specific dogs need muzzles and that not all breeds classified as dangerous, are.  I’m not a supporter of breed specific legislation, and although the subject is a huge one under debate, still the majority of “dangerous dogs” are so because of their humans and not because they were or are dangerous because of their breed.  But that’s a whole other subject!  Sadly, they must wear muzzles and a ridiculous law in Spain says that all dogs over 20kg should wear muzzles (!)

For me muzzles should be a temporary thing, used when necessary or as part of a training process, working toward when a muzzle should not be needed.  The muzzle itself is not a long term solution but an aid in a training or rehab programme, or a piece of equipment used for example when a situation calls for it – such as at the vet, or if a dog has been injured, when a usually calm or placid dog may bite out of fear or pain.

For this reason alone, everyone should train their dog to a muzzle!  However, the muzzle has many other benefits and uses and can be a dog’s best friend in a number of situations.

It is, for example, the safest way to help fear-aggressive and even aggressive dogs socialise under supervision as part of a learning or rehabilitation programme.  It is a short term solution during the process, not a long term answer because it doesn’t solve the problem but it does keep everyone (dogs and humans) safe during the process.  Many people think that a dog can not socialise properly in a muzzle, when in fact the truth is the exact opposite.  Dogs that show aggression or fear aggression can rarely get close enough to other dogs in order to just be a dog – sniffing and greeting becomes impossible for them, often because the owners are terrified the dog is going to bite.  muzzleHowever, off leash, dogs often respond much better – but most owners would be even more terrified of letting their “aggressive” dog off leash!  Muzzled, and I reiterate, supervised, and following a training programme, the muzzle allows a dog to learn to be a dog.  From experience I have also found that the muzzle can have an amazing calming effect on the dog wearing it.  A dog that opens its mouth to start barking raises its own energy and that of others around it, including the humans involved.  This creates stress and tension in both species which in turn increases the likelihood of an incident occurring.  Because a dog wearing a muzzle that is a little more restrictive in these cases can’t get into the wild barking, bearing teeth mode, it already has the chance to remain calmer and engage the brain rather than the braun!  The muzzle in effect is the dog equivalent of “think, before you speak (bark), before you act (bite)”

  • A muzzle can prevent an aggressive dog from biting.
  • It prevents an injured dog, such as one just hit by a car, from biting through pain – although getting it on in the first place can be an issue, I admit!
  • Unlike an Elizabethan collar (the plastic cone we jokingly call a lampshade that goes over a dog’s head after an operation or to stop it licking a wound etc) a muzzle will work well and has the huge advantage that the dog won’t slam into doorways (or the backs of your knees) as it does with the collar.  Dogs have little judgement with the collars on and if they do crash into things, often the plastic shatters.  They can sleep better with the muzzle and can still access a kennel if they live on one.  Of course the type of muzzle for use in these situations is the basket type where a dog can still drink, pant or vomit if it needed to do so.
  • Dogs suffering from separation anxiety are prone to destructive chewing and ingestion of inedible materials. A muzzle can help prevent this and as mentioned earlier can act as a calming device.  It does NOT fix separation anxiety and the dog is still under stress.  It will also not fix pacing, circling, scratching or escaping but it can help during the retraining process.
  • When taking on an adult dog or foster dog that hasn’t been exposed to meeting other dogs in a social situation before, it helps as part of the socialisation process and will be of benefit if you don’t know how the new dog will react to new and different situations.  The calming effect can also come into play in these situations and mean the difference between positive first experiences and traumatic ones.
  • If your dog is less child friendly but you are in a situation where children are around, it helps bring peace of mind to both the owner and the parents, but it also has the added effect of helping others to just keep a bit of distance as people usually show a bit more respect around the dog’s personal space when it is wearing a muzzle.
  • Bringing a new dog home to join a group of dogs can be stressful. Muzzles can be used until everyone learns to play nicely.  Also, when dogs are outside with space that’s one thing, but once they are inside the house, the reduced amount of room can create some friction until everyone has settled.
  • If a dog dislikes strangers at first and needs just a little time to adjust to them, a muzzle can provide a level of calm for nervous visitors.
  • A muzzle can help stop your dog from eating stuff you would rather he didn’t while out on the walk!!

Muzzles should be chosen for a purpose and best fit for the dog.  A restraining muzzle which limits the amount the mouth can open is the kind used by a vet or on an injured dog, but should not be used for exercising or long walks.  It would then be better to use a basket muzzle. Basket Muzzle
However, not all muzzles fit all dogs because face shape and snout size vary.  A muzzle that is correctly fitted will not affect the dog’s breathing.  The dog should still be able to open its mouth but just not so wide.  They must be adjustable and also when training should allow for treats to be given as rewards.  If the dog is going to be wearing it on a longer walk or training session, it should be able to pant, drink and if it needs to, vomit.    

Unless it was an emergency, where a dog has been in an accident and you just want to try and get a muzzle on to keep the dog and handler safe, a dog should always be trained to a muzzle nicely using positive reinforcement to make it a pleasant experience – ultimately we want to aim to where the dog doesn’t need to wear a muzzle.  Of course, if we all train to a muzzle, then even the dog that is in an accident should be familiar with the experience and thus make it easier for its rescuers to use one! 

So do the right thing – prepare your dog and yourself by doing some muzzle training!