Many of us feel that somehow, if our dog needs to wear a muzzle, we've failed as dog owners to raise a socially healthy, well-mannered furry friend. We associate muzzle wearing dogs with danger, avoidance, reactivity, and the all-terrible biting dog. Some of us will go as far as to cross the street while out with our own dogs to avoid the muzzled beast. Yet the truth of the matter is, that strange, muzzled dog is actually, and quite factually, safer to be around than your unmuzzled one - no matter how well trained, or well behaved, your dog may be. In this blog, I'm going to talk about why having a muzzle-trained dog is one of the very best things you can do for your canine friend.
To begin, let's talk about two different kinds of muzzles. I'd like to start with my personal favorite and go-to choice, the basket muzzle.
You can find basket muzzles in all sorts of designs and made from many different materials: from wire, to plastic, and even leather. Basket muzzles are fitted around the back of a dog's head and under their ears, allowing the dog a full range of motion with his jaw, mouth, and tongue. This permits the dog to pant, a critical function of canine physiology, as well as drink, take food/treats, and interact with their environment.
When fitted properly, a basket muzzle is an excellent line of defense for a dog that has been injured and may bite/lash out due to pain, is reactive (to people, dogs/animals, vehicles, etc), and/or prone to nipping or biting for any reason. What's more, because you can give treats to your dog while wearing this muzzle, reinforcing it as a positive addition to your dog's repertoire could not be easier.
Next up we have the nylon muzzle. Not my personal favorite but an amazing, cost-effective tool in a pinch, the nylon muzzle fits firmly around your dog's nose and mouth. When fitted properly, the nylon muzzle allows for some, but not complete, movement of the jaw, mouth, and tongue, but makes eating, drinking, and panting difficult for the dog. Meant to be used for only short intervals (it is recommended this muzzle not be worn by any dog for more than forty minutes at a stretch), the nylon muzzle is a must-have in any dog-handler's toolkit. It will prevent a biting dog from doing damage to himself, other dogs, and certainly people in the short term.
When it comes to teaching your dog to accept the nylon muzzle, because it is much more restrictive to movement than the basket muzzle, reinforcement must be done slowly, carefully, positively, and over time, to ensure the dog does not consider it something to be avoided or clawed off at any opportunity.
So, for what breeds, sizes, and types of dogs are muzzles considered an appropriate tool? All of them. There are no exceptions. Our animal companions endure injury, trauma, and form poor associations just as we do. What's different here is that they have only us to rely on for their protection - even from themselves. As responsible dog owners and lovers, it is up to us to ensure that our dogs, and the people and animals around us, are kept safe and secure.
But What Will People Think?
If you believe that your dog would benefit from wearing a muzzle, but are concerned that the opinion of the people around you (whether they be family, friends, or strangers) will be negative towards you and your dog, ask yourself this question: What is worse? The misunderstanding of my next-door neighbor, or the possible injury my dog might do to another living thing in the right (or wrong) scenario?
When it comes to your pet, safety, not opinion, must be paramount in your decision making. The very last thing you want for your pet is a bite history and a record with your city's animal control, indicating your dog as a dangerous one. Dogs with bite histories can be mandated by law to have to wear a muzzle whenever outside of the home. If the complaints are numerous, your dog may even face euthanasia. Prevention here is key - don't let your dog become another statistic.
All dogs have the propensity to bite. This is, believe it or not, a natural and effective way for a dog to defend himself and has been a necessary behavioral trait for canines for as long as they've been on the planet. Chances are, at some point during your dog's life, he is going to have cause to bite, and the causes are many, including but not limited to: injury ("Hey, you stepped on my foot! Get off, that hurts!", fear ("That dog is mugging me and won't get off!", and excitement ("I caught the squirrel! Check it out!")
If you believe your dog is a danger to yourself or others, and you have ruled out all possible medical causes, get a well-fitted muzzle and hire a behaviorist or trainer. With time, hard work, and the appropriate preventative tools, dogs that have a habituated tendency to bite can live long, safe, and happy lives.
Camille Salter is the founder of All Dogs Toronto and a certified, knowledge-assessed dog trainer (CPDT-KA). She is the author of two books on dog behavior: Pandemic Puppy, and Decoding the Dog Park.