Today's blog is about one of the most misunderstood tools in the dog world - MUZZLES! Muzzles have a terrible reputation with the general public, and often elicit feelings of fear. I want to help give muzzles the reputation they deserve, and so without further to do, let's dive in!
What does the general public think when they see a dog with a muzzle?
I posed this question to my personal friends, as well as customers - in order to see the kind of reputation muzzles have within my circle. A lot of the responses were in line with the kind of bad reputation I expected muzzles to have.
Here are a few of the responses:
- Bitey McBiterson
- The dog has bitten someone in the past
- Hide yo kids, hide yo wife, run
- Makes me sad!
- their owners are jerks!
Nothing here surprises me, this is the reputation muzzles have. It is how they are often portrayed in popular culture, and sadly it is often what we see in the news as well. Stories of scary dogs needing scary muzzles.
However, I had a few responses that made me super happy! Responses that showed the reputation of muzzles isn't completely bad - and that the knowledge of what muzzles really are is out there.
- Safety. Responsible dog owner.
- Good! His parents are being smart and responsible. Not afraid at all.
- Responsible owner! And they probably want some space
- That they're a biter (but have a responsible owner)
Literally each one of those responses touch on RESPONSIBILITY! I love it.
Let's talk about some of the reasons why dogs wear muzzles:
Muzzles are, above all, a safety tool. A preventative measure. So yes, they are mainly used to prevent dog bites. However, not every dog who wears a muzzle is an aggressive or threatening dog. Let's talk about that.
Muzzles for dogs with a bite history/aggression:
- This is what most people think of when they see a dog with a muzzle.
- The dog has likely bitten a person or a dog, and has either gotten a muzzle on their own will to prevent future incidents (good for them) or has been given a muzzle order and is following it (good for them)
- The bite likely occurred due to the dog being fearful & therefore feeling the need to protect itself by acting aggressively
- The muzzle allows for the human to do appropriate counter conditioning training without fear of a repeat incident, allowing the dog to build confidence and become less fearful/less reactive/less aggressive
- Did I mention good for them? Because GOOD FOR THEM!
Muzzles for reactive dogs with no bite history:
- these are the real MVPs of responsible dog owners
- No bite history, but using .a muzzle as a preventative measure
- Not only does this allow for safely training of your dog, but because people are scared of dogs in muzzles - it will keep dogs at an appropriate distance and ensure you are able to train UNDER THRESHOLD which will make training more efficient and likely lead to quicker results
- Good for them
Muzzles for otherwise friendly dogs with poor bite inhibition:
- Bite inhibition is a dogs ability to bite without actually breaking skin
- Puppies begin to develop bite inhibition as babies with their littermates, and learn from feedback when the bites are too hard
- Puppies continue to learn through socialization at young ages, both through human interaction and playing with other dogs. Not all dogs get the appropriate interactions as babies and puppies and do not develop proper bite inhibition
- Some dogs are predisposed to having poor bite inhibition because in the past they may have been bred to have a strong bite
- All dogs mouth and bite, but not all cause the skin to break. Dogs with poor bite inhibition can cause damage with what appears to be very little trigger because they do not know what is too much. For example, at the dog park it is VERY normal to see 2 dogs get into a row after some rough play. We hear lots of growling and see lots of snarling teeth & contact - but neither dog comes out with any punctures. This is NORMAL dog behaviour. However, when a dog with poor bite inhibition gets into a normal row, they are likely to cause damage.
- This is difficult and dangerous to train as adults, as we do not want to expose humans or other dogs to bites, so management is the best way to go. By management I mean preventing the dog from having access to biting. So this either means remove all contact from the dog. No park. No group walks. No saying hi on the street. OR put a muzzle on the dog. Allow the dog to go to parks, be in the group, say hi to others! The chance the dog will get into rows is just the same as any other dog there - these dogs I am talking about aren't unfriendly - they just can't control the strength of their bite like others. This allows them to have all the same experiences, but keeps them and other dogs (and humans) safe.
- GOOD FOR THEM!! This one is tough, because you have a dog that is okay with socialization and you're looking out for them and the public.. but people are going to look at you like you and your dog are evil.
Muzzles for dogs who eat EVERYTHING off the street:
- There is so much on the sidewalks that can potentially be dangerous for our dogs to eat. Garbage, chicken wings, dead pigeons, sticks.. Some dogs are more likely than others to GRAB & SWALLOW
- Again, for dogs who have a history of eating things off the street (and potentially have resource guarding or a poor DROP IT command), managing the situation and preventing them from having access to the dangerous goodies the sidewalks have to offer is a lot easier than trying to deal with the dog eating garbage constantly. With a muzzle, you are preventing the dog access to eating this stuff. They can still sniff & enjoy themselves, but they can't actually consume the stuff.
- At home, you can do training on the resource guarding/DROP IT behaviours, but can also rest easy knowing your dog is safe on their walks.
Muzzles for dogs who consume sticks/mulch at dog parks:
- omg, guys. This is a real thing! A little wood never hurt a dog, but there are dogs who will absolutely guzzle down sticks/mulch when off leash at a park, and this can get dangerous.
- Sticks can get lodged in dogs mouths. If you have a dog who is constantly chewing on sticks, your likelihood of this happening would be increased
- Sticks/wood doesn't get digested well (if at all) and can damage the digestive tract
- PREVENTION people, prevention. A muzzle would keep these wood guzzlers safe. Still allowing them to play and have a great time, while preventing them from going to town on all the wood out there.
Why the bad reputation is extremely dangerous:
If you knew you should to do something that was the right thing to do (but optional), but were going to be judged by pretty much everyone you encountered, you would certainly think twice about it - wouldn't you? This is what happens with dog parents who's dog would benefit from a muzzle. They know wearing a muzzle would benefit their dog (and potentially other dogs/people) yet they are too scared to face the judgement that comes along with that, so they opt to risk it. What happens next is there is a dog that could encounter a stressful situation that may result in a bite because the world is so judgemental we are afraid to do what's right & what's safe.
Also, lets be real - there are some JERK owners out there... but they are not the owners of dogs who wear muzzles. They are the owners of dogs who would benefit or require a muzzle, but they don't give a shit and let their dog go muzzle free. These are the dogs who are likely to have repeat incidents, and are a danger to society. The people who do muzzle their dogs are RESPONSIBLE and WONDERFUL. Let's not judge these people for doing what is in the best interest for their dog (and potentially others dogs as well). Good for them for facing a judgemental society and doing what is best. Good for them for being responsible AF.
The one wonderful thing about the bad reputation muzzles have is they let the general public know that this dog might need space. What I friggen wish more than anything is that the general public would take this logic and apply it to ALL DOGS. MUZZLED OR NOT. Any dog might require some space. My dog, Sadie, has never had a bite history - yet she can be fear reactive. There is nothing that makes me more frustrated than having to explain to offended dog owners why Sadie doesn't want to (or HAVE to) say hi. People often assume because they have a friendly & confident dog, that any (unmuzzled) will want to say hi. Sorry, but no. Sadie is happiest, friendliest, and confident at a distance. She doesn't want to say hi to every random dog. If I pull Sadie to the side, clearing the path of new & unfamiliar dogs - I think this is a pretty good sign that she doesn't want to say hi. Yet people will allow their dogs to run up to her & make her uncomfortable, even ignoring my "please give her space" requests. "Ohh but my dog is friendly!" It has gotten to the point where I now respond "MINE ISN'T!" just to get the point across. Even though Sadie is fairly friendly, she is VERY uncomfortable/scared in these situations and at times may even become reactive. Although she has never bitten, any dog is capable of it. If a dog is put in a situation where they feel trapped, biting is an obvious way for the dog to make it clear they need space. Yet, if I put a muzzle on Sadie - I bet you $1000 I would never have to justify it to people that Sadie needs her space. I wouldn't even have to ask. Sadie would be granted the space & respect that ALL dogs deserve.
I could go on and on.
Seriously, I have so much to say but I really just want people out there to take a second and realize that judgement toward muzzles is often unfounded and unfair. We should look at them as the wonderful safety tools they are, and praise the owners who are responsible (and brave) enough to use them.
If you would like more information on muzzles (type to get, how to desensitize your dog to wearing one, more education) please check out the MUZZLE UP PROJECT. They are wonderful advocates, and their work needs to be shared and shared again!
So let's not judge a book by it's cover, or a dog by it's muzzle. I have said this many times - but becoming a dog trainer has made me a better person. I have empathy & understanding that I just could never have developed working with humans. This is because our dogs do not have a voice. So we have to be their advocates. Muzzles are wonderful. As are you all for reading this.
Please share, and help change the stigma!