Updated: Jan 19
Many of the times a dog is introduced to a muzzle is when the dog is already in a stressful state of mind. Perhaps they are at the vet or the groomer. They are in an unfamiliar place around unfamiliar people and are stressed about an event. It might be a nail trim, vaccines, clippers for a haircut, or any other event that may require restraint. They may snap or bite and then suddenly we shove a muzzle on their face. A restrictive device that now has ADDED to their growing stress levels because they have never worn one before. Not only have we now paired the muzzle with a stressful event but we have created a negative experience for the dog. The next time the dog sees a muzzle or wears a muzzle, it may have an aversion to it.
You may think “my dog is friendly, it will never need a muzzle” and that may very well be the case. However, even the friendliest dogs may bite, especially if they are painful. Maybe there is an accident and your dog is injured. When you arrive at the vet and veterinary staff need to reach into your car to lift your injured dog out, pain can make a dog bite. Not because they’re mean, because that’s how dogs may react to get the pain to go away. They snap/bite, you back off and the pain goes away. Being conditioned to a muzzle is a precautionary measure. It doesn’t necessarily mean you’ll ever need it.
How about aggressive dogs. Whether this is human aggression, dog aggression, or a combination of both. Instead of frowning upon an owner who has their dog muzzled, we should be thanking them. That owner is advocating for their dog and keeping those around them, safe. Maybe the dog is only reactive or aggressive if other dogs or people enter their space. The number of times off-leash, out-of-control dogs have approached my dogs who are under control and beside me, I cannot count on both hands. That is beyond my control. I can do my best to control my dogs but when other dogs are out of control, I don’t want them getting injured. 9 out of 10 times they will blame the big, scary, mean-looking dog, DESPITE it not being that dog's fault.
An owner walking a muzzled dog is more than likely trying to FIX or MANAGE an issue. Dealing with behavioural issues and reconditioning can take time. In the interim, if a muzzle is used we should be thankful that the owner is putting in the work to address their dog’s issues. They are helping their dog. All dogs deserve to be able to go for a walk, even if they have behavioural issues. Therefore, it’s important to remember to always take control of your dog. Never let them approach other dogs that you don’t know and never let them off-leash in a public place if they don’t have a solid recall.
Reasons a dog may be wearing a muzzle include but are not limited to:
Reactivity and dog “selective”
Eating foreign objects
Breed by-laws (banned breeds, BSL)
What to do around a muzzled dog:
Give plenty of space
Don’t acknowledge the dog, ask to pet the dog or reach out to pet the dog.
Don’t judge the owner or make negative comments.
Don’t make negative remarks about the dog
Don’t let your dog approach
Don’t stop and chat with the owner. Owners may be working on thresholds, loading, or preventing reactivity, and having you stand nearby chatting may intrude with training.
Fitting an appropriate muzzle is important if your dog will be wearing one for any sustained duration of time. They must be able to eat, drink and pant with the muzzle on. Basket muzzles are recommended. Sizing is determined based on your dog’s measurements and there are many pro muzzle social media groups that can help with determining the best size for your dog.
What does muzzle conditioning mean? Muzzle conditioning is the pairing of a muzzle to a positive experience /reward. When your dog sees the muzzle, they want to put it on and are content while it’s on. They should not be pawing at their face or rubbing their face into the ground trying to remove it. They should be comfortable wearing it and receiving rewards through it. Consult a trainer if you’re looking for help or advice with proper introduction and conditioning to a muzzle.