“Hannibal Lector”, “Cujo” or my least favorite, “how dare you have that vicious beast out of the house?” while glaring at the person holding the leash. I have heard all those mutterings, and more, when working outside with a client and their muzzled dog.
Muzzles prevent bites, it is that simple. If your dog has bitten another dog, chomped on a human being or nailed you while in an aggressive frenzy; and you live in an environment where basic functions require him or her to pass others, a muzzle prevents you from being reported for another bite. Or worse, having your dog taken from your home. Tight spaces like condominiums where potty breaks require an elevator ride; or neighborhoods like Lakeview and River North where every parkway is fenced off and allows for no escape, this is even more crucial.
You must train your dog to like the muzzle. Before I met this sweet girl; her parents spent extensive time conditioning her to love wearing her muzzle. She only has sad puppy eyes and flat ears because she really dislikes her photo being taken. It is unfair to just slap a muzzle on a dog’s face, race out the door for walk and expect your dog not make every effort to get the stupid gag off their face. The better the treat, the faster your dog will love the muzzle. The basket muzzle does not win any awards for aesthetics. But, it is the best choice for longer-term use like walks and when guests are visiting in the house. The mesh muzzle should ONLY be used for EXTREMELY short durations such as, walking into the groomer, as it restricts a dog’s ability to pant and drink water which can cause your pooch to VERY quickly overheat. VERY dangerous.
Muzzles do not replace training. Let’s say your dog hates other dogs; putting a muzzle on his or her face will only prevent you from being responsible for another dog’s injury. You still have to spend time training your dog to accept other dogs at a distance and teach incompatible behaviors so you are not holding onto a lunging, growling dog who is still exhibiting serious behavioral issues. Behavior modification changes a dog’s innate emotional responses to negative stimuli, alters the choices aggressive dogs make in precarious situations and helps to guide your furry, biting friend to look to you when faced with triggers that cause aggression. Muzzles do not alter the underlying reasons dogs exhibit unwanted behaviors. Keep up or start training. Pronto.
A muzzle does not give you a free pass to put your dog in stressful situations that would normally cause him or her to bite. This is a big one, especially in the city. If your dog needs to wear a muzzle because he has bitten a child, please, do not let kids pet him. He or she should not be running around a dog park wearing a muzzle either. If your dog hates dogs so much that he has to wear a muzzle to be around them; he is miserable at a dog park. Just because it is impossible for him to sink his teeth into another dog does not mean his behavior will not continue to deteriorate.
Be your dog’s advocate. I was out working with a client and her 90+ pound muzzled dog who’s responses to her when stressed are pretty stellar. But, he is not a big fan of children. As he was rocking all of his exercises, a woman pulled up in an SUV a few feet from us. Before she turned around from removing her child from the car seat, her little girl was approaching us. I could tell by my client’s body language she was thinking the same thing I was, “is that tiny human really walking towards a muzzled dog who weighs twice what she weighs?” Then, we both said at the same time, “Ma’am, he does not want to say hi”. Muzzles are like signs, not everyone reads them. So, please be prepared to announce to the world (politely, of course) if your dog needs space from kids, dogs, strollers, whatever trigger that would cause a bite without the muzzle.
If you just rescued a dog and you are freaking out after reading this; do not rush out to buy a muzzle. There are PLENTY of ways you can observe and slowly introduce your new sweetie to the world and PREVENT a bite. Please, never muzzle a puppy. Teach that cutie pie, nipping-machine what you want him or her to chew on. And, there are loads of dogs who would never need a muzzle, please don’t panic if you have well-socialized, friendly pooch. Just give a thumbs up to the folks who need muzzles, they are being responsible and we should all be grateful.