Muzzle Up!

Here is a post I wrote for 2 Dogs Treats last week. I thought it was an important one to share here in its entirety. 

Muzzle Up!

If you are reading this right now, you might think muzzles are only for “bad dogs.” Dogs that are aggressive, dangerous or mean.

I hope to change your mind by the end of this post.

I will introduce and discuss the many reasons for acclimating every dog to a basket muzzle, particularly in an urban environment. Your vet would argue (rightfully) that all dogs should be comfortable wearing a muzzle and I have to agree.

A Labrador Retriever wearing a Basket Muzzle. 
(Courtesy of TheLabradorSite.com)
Before I list the many reasons that pet professionals are pro-muzzle, I want you to think for a minute. What circumstances would a muzzle be useful? Think about veterinarians, the law, natural disasters. Now can you think of any other reason to muzzle train your pup?

Here is a short list:
  • Veterinarians might have to muzzle your dog if he is seriously injured. When our greyhound broke his leg at home, my instinct was to grab his basket muzzle, put it on him, and then evaluate the situation. When a dog is in excruciating pain (such as a broken leg), their instinct is to prevent more pain. Even the best behaved dogs that would never otherwise bite their owners have bitten owners, passer bys and veterinarians - all of which were trying to help the dog. You can’t help your dog if you are also going to the ER for a significant dog bite, so put the muzzle on Sparky first and then assess the situation.
  • Dogs that eat EVERYTHING. If you have a dog who has had to go to the veterinarian more than once this summer for parasites because your dog eats everything on walks, a muzzle might be a great option for preventing illness and more vet bills. This also applies to labradors who eat rocks, poop (coprophagia) or other forms ofpica.
  • Local evacuations: With more and more natural disasters nationally, the chances of evacuation due to natural disaster are (sadly) increasing. Many people do not want to leave their pets behind in case of emergency, and many choose to ignore evacuation requests because of their pets. Don’t risk your life, or your pets life. Many evacuation sites will allow you to bring your pet IF it’s in a crate and muzzled. When a dog is stressed out, the likelihood of a bite increases so for everyone's protection, your pets need to be muzzled and / or crated. If you haven’t started crate training, here is a great place to start.
  • Reactive Dogs: There are aggressive dogs (dogs that for a variety of reasons charge and bite) and there arereactive dogs. Dogs like my former dog, Sadie, who had a large personal space bubble and was perfectly fine as long as no other dog came into her space. If they did, then she would react by lunging, barking, and loudly express her displeasure at the intruder. It’s an even harder situation when the dog coming into her space is a “friendly” dog who “just wants to say hi.” Sorry, this might be unpopular, but as the owner of a reactive dog (like thousands of you in cities) your dog’s friendliness has absolutely nothing to do with my dog’s comfort. Your dog’s “good intentions” is not permission to come into any dog’s space. Full stop. This is why leash laws exist - it’s not just for the safety of your dog, but for the dogs that are uncomfortable their surroundings. If you do not have the ability to call your dog from any distraction (including other dogs) your dog should be leashed until trained. With that said, as an added bonus, a dog like Sadie could have worn a muzzle - which would have been a visual cue to the FDO (friendly dog’s owner) that this dog should not have her space infringed upon. Sometimes a little extra security goes a long, long way.
  • If you are in a busy environment and other people ignore pleas to not get in your dog's face. If you are someone who says “yes, I know he’s cute, and he likes people but I think he’s overwhelmed now,” a muzzle is a good visual marker for people to give a little bit of space so this dog can take a quick break.
  • Bully Breeds: If you own a bully breed, or a banned breed (there are 75 of them in the USA - is your dog on this list?), a muzzle might be a necessary evil for you to keep your dog. In some cases, you can only walk your banned breed down the street of your neighborhood, regardless of temperament, with a muzzle. If you think breed bans are just for ‘pit bulls’ and other bully breeds, then you’re in for a surprise because in some cases, Chihuahuas, American Eskimo Dogs and Golden Retrievers are on the list. If you are the owner of these dogs in a locale that bans these breeds, you are now going to start feeling the heat in the way that bully breed owners have been for decades. It’s time to stop BSL (breed specific legislation) and instead employ individual risk assessment per individual dogs.

pink muzzle.png
Pink, custom, blinged out muzzle for this beauty! 
For more information about this particular piece, visit RedStarCafe

There are great resources for muzzles, including the popular Muzzle Up Project. This website lays out even more resources and reasons for muzzles, and works hard to erase the stigma of muzzles. The Karen Pryor website also is addressing the muzzle issue.

With all of that said, muzzles are still used on dogs that are aggressive, so it’s important to give space to ANY dog wearing a muzzle. Until we can all get on board and ask every dog owner if it’s ok to say hello to their dog (and keep going if the answer is “No,” for any reason!), then muzzles are a necessity.

And, in some cases, are really, really cute :)

2 Dogs Treats owner Christian enters J-Lo in a Halloween contest. J-Lo is wearing a Duck Muzzle - a functional muzzle designed to take some of the stigma out of muzzling dogs. Good boy, Christian! You’re doing an AWESOME job advocating for your pup!

So next time you see a dog in a muzzle, there is no reason to be alarmed. The owner is protecting their dogs from illness, good intentions and eating terrible things. They are advocating for their dog’s space. They are teaching their dogs that muzzles are no big deal in the event of an emergency. These are good dog owners who are being proactive and protective for a variety of reasons.

Training goal: Get a muzzle and start teaching your pup to wear it. You don’t have to have your dog wear it all the time, but you can start getting your dog used to it. Your vet, trainer and others will thank you for it in the event of an unforeseen circumstance. The time to try a muzzle is not when you’re being evacuated or your dog has broken his leg - the time for muzzles is when you can teach them to wear it comfortably, and treat it like a party trick.

Until next time! 
Melissa McCue-McGrath, CPDT-KA
Author Considerations for the City Dog | Co-Training Director NEDTC.org | Co-Conspirator at CarTalk FIDO