Everyone will have their own personal opinion on whether muzzling a dog is a good or bad thing. Many people I speak to who do not like muzzles, often have a bad association with them. This may be due to an experience with their own dog who became very distressed when wearing one (e.g. for a vet visit), or due to the misconception that all dogs who are muzzled are “dangerous” which leads to the dog and owner being judged.
In my opinion, ALL dogs should be muzzle trained. Ideally training should commence with puppies, as no one can predict when their dog might need to be muzzled in the future. Any dog that is frightened or in pain, may react aggressively if it feels it has no other option. The worst thing that can then happen is for of the dog to have a muzzle placed onto its face, having never experienced one before.
Some of the most interesting feedback from a puppy class I used to run, was how pleasantly surprised the owners were when up to a year later, their dog accepted a muzzle without a problem. This was after just 10-15 minutes of the first stages of muzzle training (placing a treat at the back of the muzzle and letting the puppy place its head in to retrieve the treat) when the puppies were between 10 and 14 weeks of age. This shows that allowing puppies to have a positive experience with a muzzle may help them to accept a muzzle later in life.
If a dog is introduced to a muzzle properly and time is taken to make the experience fun and positive, most dogs will accept a muzzle very well. The video below from The Blue Cross shows how easy and fun muzzle training can be.
As described on the video, the best design of muzzle is the ‘Baskerville’ style, as this allows the dog to pant, drink and eat (treats can be posted through the muzzle). It also enables the dogs muzzle to be seen by both humans and other dogs, which is important for communication (i.e. it is still possible to see if the dog has a tightly closed muzzle, is tense through its face, or is panting, all of which may indicate the dog is stressed).
In order to ensure that you choose the correct muzzle, seek professional help on how to fit one correctly. Most pet store staff should be able to help and if not contact a local trainer or behaviourist. Whether you are muzzle training the dog so it can wear a muzzle on a daily basis, or muzzle training it for that unexpected event, the correct fitting is essential. If the muzzle is too loose it can be easy for a dog to pull it off the end of its nose. If the muzzle is too small, it can restrict the dog’s ability to pant and this can be very dangerous, especially if the dog is wearing the muzzle in the heat, for prolonged periods of time, or during exercise.
When looking at the situations where muzzling a dog maybe beneficial, it quickly becomes evident that muzzles have many uses, and are not just used in cases where the dog may react aggressively:
- If the dog comes into conflict (with people, other dogs, other animals), there is less likely to be significant damage caused.
- Muzzled dogs are often given more space. If the dog is anxious or fearful this can be of huge benefit to reduce the intensity of the perceived threat, thus reducing the likelihood that the dog will need to respond aggressively.
- Muzzles can provide peace of mind to owners who are concerned about their dog’s response to situations. This can help the owner to relax, which may inadvertently help to reduce the dog’s reaction.
- If the dog has a high predatory drive and is catching and killing prey, the muzzle is likely to reduce the damage caused.
- Dogs who have a high drive to scavenge may put themselves at risk and need regular trips to the vet (e.g. digestive problems, blockages). Dogs who have food intolerance's will also be at greater risk, along with the dogs that will eat anything, including dangerous non-food items.
As with all management strategies, there are also negatives to muzzling a dog and again these need to be considered;
- Some people unintentionally place muzzled dogs into situations that are too difficult, with the knowledge that they are less likely to cause any damage (e.g. during interactions with children). This is VERY dangerous as it may increase the dog’s levels of anxiety or fear, which in turn may increase the dog’s reaction (and next time they may not be muzzled!). Dogs that are muzzled can also still cause injury (i.e. they can still cause severe bruising with a muzzle and can jump up, either knocking someone over or causing damage with their claws)
- Some people may place judgement and avoid muzzled dogs, but as already discussed, this may not be such a disadvantage!
- A muzzled dog is less able to defend itself in a conflict.
- If the dog has not been properly muzzle trained, the muzzle may cause the dog to become anxious and stressed. This can lead to the dog becoming desperate to pull the muzzle off (which can cause injury), or the dog may become inhibited (i.e. the dog doesn’t want to move or engage in any normal activities.)
In order to ensure that a muzzled dog is a safe and happy dog, it is therefore essential that not only is the dog properly muzzle trained and has a correctly fitted muzzle, but situations that would normally be avoided, continue to be avoided even once muzzled (unless the dog requires emergency treatment by a vet).
Muzzling is a management strategy and should only be used in combination with professional help (e.g. If the dog requires a muzzle due to its response to people on walks, work should be carried out to change its perception of people as a potential threat).
It is NOT appropriate to use a muzzle to prevent a dog from barking, or to reduce destructive behaviour (e.g. chewing). These along with other stress-related behaviours need the underlying motivations to be addressed.
If you have any questions about the information above, or concerns about your dog’s behaviour, please do not hesitate to get in touch.