What's with the muzzle?
WHY DOGS WEAR THEM & HOW TO BEHAVE AROUND THEM
While it used to be the case that people viewed muzzled dogs as an admission of a vicious dog, that attitude has been steadily changing, especially in the dog training world. Muzzle-training is becoming more and more commonplace, even in the absence of any perceived threat. Why is that?
There are many admirable reasons why people put the time into muzzle-training their canine companions. For starters, being comfortable and unafraid in a muzzle is priceless to a dog who suddenly needs to wear one. Perhaps they’ve been injured or feel nervous about a vet treatment. Perhaps they’ve suddenly decided eating poop or trash out and about is the best thing in the world. Maybe you are visiting a family who are afraid of dogs, but are willing to have your dog over if they can wear a muzzle. Being happy in a muzzle takes away one extra pressure for both the dog and whoever needs to engage with them.
We can also often fail to think about the adaptive, dynamic nature of our dogs. If they’re confident and friendly around other dogs and humans now, won’t they be like that forever? Like us, dogs will have a huge range of experiences in their lifetimes, some of which are out of our control. Perhaps an off-lead dog rushes them, a bicycle collides with them, a vet treatment was more painful than anticipated, or a child pokes them in their eye. Good or bad, experiences will affect how they will feel, and behave, in the future. While some dogs may seem excessively resilient to adverse events, others may be prone to the opposite, becoming deeply affected by a negative experience. Wherever it is, we all have our tipping point.
A muzzle provides a fail-safe. Regardless of what else is going on around you during novel experiences or potentially challenging training sessions, wearing a muzzle not only keeps everyone safe, it ensures that your dog won’t be able to act in a way which puts their future in jeopardy. Being able to confidently place a muzzle on their happy snoots removes the risk of serious damage should our lead fail or anything else goes haywire.
Imagine you are doing training with your dog around stock animals; they are on lead and you have them at a safe distance, working with them at their pace. Suddenly an animal escapes and comes within striking distance of your dog. Perhaps you are working with your dog around their fear of children, again working at a safe distance with complete control of your dog, until a group of yelling children ignore your pleas to keep away and sprint up to you and your dog, trying to pat her on the face. While you might think these scenarios seem far-fetched, they do indeed happen. A muzzle can be the difference between a scare and a tragedy. While we always strive to set our dogs up for success regardless of the scenario, having that extra layer of safety can prove to be priceless.
Many dogs are now trained to wear muzzles without being a risk to others. That being said, we should still be mindful and respectful of dogs we see in muzzles out and about. Dogs with fear issues might need to wear muzzles to prevent the risk of an incident should they be confronted with their trigger. While the muzzle protects the physical world from their outburst, their mental experience is still impacted by a negative experience. Regardless of what is driving the displays, we should aim to avoid being the trigger that causes a dog to rehearse a negative behaviour.
You might also see dogs wearing muzzles out and about whose guardians are walking confidently and calmly through groups of people or animals. Dogs may have specific triggers that their guardians are aware of, whether it’s just dogs or birds or people, or even certain kinds of people (i.e. young people, or people with certain hair styles). In these scenarios the guardian is likely closely monitoring the environment, so you can take their lead while being mindful.
Occasionally you might see a dog in a muzzle who is off-lead. These dogs may be at the end-stage of their rehabilitation training, or they might simply have a strong desire to eat poop or trash! The muzzle is simply a tool to keep everyone, including the dog, safe.
Muzzle training is becoming the ‘new norm’. There is an excellent array of comfortable muzzles for dogs of different shapes and sizes available. Let’s move away from the preconception that muzzles are for ‘bad’ dogs, and instead see them for what they are - a helpful tool we can train our dogs to enjoy. While removing the stigma, let us also appreciate the owner who is being responsible by having trained their canine companion to be comfortable wearing a muzzle. Happy Muzzle Training! (Find a muzzle training video here)