And why everyone should “muzzle train” their dog!
I was in two minds as to whether to write this article but I thought it important to do so for the sake of many people and their dogs.
Jambo, my beautiful Staffordshire Bull Terrier, and I recently took part in an event to help raise money for our local dog rescue, 4 Paws Adoptions. Jambo had his very own kissing booth and was able to help out some of his less fortunate canine friends by selling kisses! When photos of Jambo in his kissing booth were posted on Facebook there were an awful lot of negative comments. Why? Because Jambo was wearing a muzzle! Many people stated that they thought it was cruel to muzzle him, some said that we were giving the breed a bad reputation and many more said that they would never put a muzzle on their dog! I understand that muzzles can sometimes look a little bit scary but I was amazed at people’s reaction and that is why I thought I should write this article. In defence of all muzzled dogs and their owners/guardians!
There are diverse reasons for using a muzzle and I think that every pet owner should teach their dog to feel comfortable and relaxed while wearing one, so that, if the time comes when a muzzle is required, extra stress isn’t placed on their beloved companion!
Many veterinarians and groomers will muzzle your dog. Sometimes when you visit the vet’s your dog will be taken into the back for treatment. If your dog shows any signs that they may bite, they will be muzzled. If your dog is not used to wearing a muzzle then this is going to increase their fear and anxiety and could mean an escalation of their nerves the next time you visit the vet’s! Some of you will be thinking that your vet doesn’t require you to muzzle your dog but I assure you, if your pet is unfortunately in a lot of pain or injured then a muzzle will and should be used to protect those that are caring for him. In this situation a dog’s reflex reaction can be to bite! You yourself should also muzzle any dog that is injured before you attempt to give first-aid. A dog bite will still be reported to the relevant authorities whatever the circumstances and the last thing you would want to do is add to an already worrying situation.
A muzzle can be an indispensable tool when working with an aggressive dog. The muzzle allows you to work on a programme of behaviour modification using force-free methods to help overcome the dog’s reactivity. A muzzle allows the trainer to work in the vicinity of other people and dogs, keeping everyone safe.
I would go as far as saying that if your dog acts aggressively towards other dogs or people, they should be wearing a muzzle when in public. The muzzle will not only protect other dogs and people it could also protect you and your dog! If your dog bites someone, you could be fined a substantial amount of money and your dog could be seized and even euthanised! The muzzle shouldn’t, however, be used as a substitute for working on your dog’s issues as this could lead to an escalation of their reactivity. If your dog is overly reactive you should not take him/her to places frequented by lots of people and dogs. You should work with a certified force-free trainer who will use positive reinforcement, desensitisation and counter-conditioning, in a behaviour modification programme.
Breed Specific Legislation in some countries requires that certain breeds of dog must be muzzled and on leash when in public. This is the reason why Jambo has to wear a muzzle. Although I vehemently disagree with legislation that targets specific breeds, failure to abide by the law could result in a hefty fine and even the seizure of your beloved pet! You may be lucky and not have this type of discriminatory legislation where you live but what would happen if you were to travel somewhere that dictated muzzle wearing as mandatory? How much happier would you be if you knew your dog was happy to wear a muzzle? Some countries also require muzzles for all dogs over a certain weight. Local legislation where we live now requires all dogs that weigh over 20 kilos to be muzzled and on leash when in public. This is the reason why Tessa, my beautiful German Shepherd must now be muzzled when we go out. I advocate against Breed Specific Legislation, which “condemns” a dog because of the way it looks without taking into account the way it behaves. I do, however, acknowledge that having these restrictions placed on us is much better than an outright ban (which some breeds face in some countries).
Muzzles can be an invaluable tool to use while introducing your dog to another dog, a cat or any other animal that is to become a member of your family. The muzzle can give you peace of mind while you employ a programme of desensitisation.
A muzzle may be used to discourage a dog from picking up, chewing, eating and ingesting foreign objects. Supervision, management and positive reinforcement training should also be used.
There are a few different types of muzzle but the main ones are basket muzzles and mesh/nylon muzzles. For most situations, I recommend a basket muzzle. Although a dog wearing this kind of muzzle can look a little scary to people who aren’t used to seeing them, it allows the dog to pant (and therefore regulate their body temperature) and to drink. It’s also easy to feed your dog through the slots in the muzzle, which is an absolute must for carrying out your positive reinforcement training! Mesh/nylon muzzles do have their advantages too as they are ideal for quick use, for example a visit to the vet’s and can be easily folded and put in your pocket/bag. I wouldn’t, however, recommend them for longer periods of time as it is more difficult for the dog to pant and keep cool. “Softie” muzzles can be an ideal option as they offer a comfortable fit that also allows the dog to pant but I wouldn’t advise them if the purpose for wearing the muzzle is a dog’s aggression. Please avoid using Gentle Leaders, Haltis or other head halters as substitutes for a muzzle. They may partially close a dog’s mouth, but will not prevent bites!
Tessa and Jambo both have basket muzzles and nylon and mesh muzzles.
Please measure your dog carefully before purchasing their muzzle as it is important that it fit correctly! There are even sizes that are especially suited to shorted nosed dogs!
The soft muzzle Jambo wore in his kissing booth is cut in such a way as to be especially suitable for the shape of his face. It has a narrower band than the typical soft nylon muzzle and is also a looser fit, allowing him to open his mouth sufficiently to pant, drink, eat and of course kiss, while not allowing full opening or the ability to bite. It is also slightly padded to make it more comfortable. I chose this muzzle for the day as normally, if Jambo were to be wearing his muzzle for such a long period of time, I would use his basket muzzle (the blue Baskerville Ultra he is wearing in the photo below) however, I didn’t think people would appreciate a hard piece of plastic bashing in their faces!
Whatever the reason for the muzzle, whether it be dictated by law, to enable you to work on your dog’s reactivity issues or for that “just in case” future event when a muzzle might be required, it is absolutely ESSENTIAL to make sure your dog is happy wearing it! Here is a video that I made which shows you in simple, easy to follow steps, how to “muzzle train” your dog:
You want your dog to view the muzzle as something positive! If you follow the techniques I use in the video your dog will learn to love their muzzle!
Please remember: Don’t just use the muzzle for visits to the vet’s! Put the muzzle on your dog and do something they love! If they only ever wear the muzzle when “bad things” are going to happen, then they will quickly build a negative association with it!
Please do not put a muzzle on your aggressive dog and let him loose in the dog park! (Contact a qualified force-free trainer and work on his issues in a stress free environment.)
Please do not muzzle your dog because he is chewing your furniture! (Keep him away from temptation and provide him with lots of chew toys.)
Please do not muzzle your dog because he is reactive towards strangers/children/other dogs and they have come to visit! (Put your dog in a different room and contact a certified force-free trainer to work on his issues.)
Please do not muzzle your dog because he suffers from separation anxiety and can be destructive while you are out! (Contact a qualified force-free trainer to work on his issues).
Please do not muzzle your dog because he raids the rubbish bin while you are at work! (Move the rubbish bin!)
Please do not muzzle your dog and think you can safely leave him unattended!
When muzzles are used for the right reasons they can be a positive tool but they are not a replacement for training your dog!
Watch Jambo enjoying a “smooch”!
Please make sure to check out Sapphire and Cobalt’s Facebook page!: The Canine Crusaders – Cobalt and Sapphire.
You can visit Jambo’s Facebook page here: Jambo – Staffy Bull Terrier Trick Dog.
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The next time you see a dog in a muzzle please realise that they probably have a very responsible owner who is doing their upmost to keep their companion and others safe. When more people begin to use muzzles in routine training, for travelling and even as an opportunity to do something fun with their dog, then their appearance will become less startling and hopefully, the stigma of the “aggressive” dog will disappear!
Remember to have fun with your training – Lots of positive reinforcement (rewards) and no force, fear, pain or intimidation!
To find a certified force-free trainer: