Pretend for a moment that you're outside taking a walk instead of reading this. You're walking down the street - maybe on your own, with family members or friends, or perhaps you have your dog with you. You turn a corner and see someone walking a dog who is wearing a muzzle. What's the first thing that pops into your head? How do you react?
Unfortunately most people view a muzzled dog as a bad thing. They assume the dog is vicious. While some people, no matter what they think, will quietly walk passed (perhaps crossing the road to give the dog in question a wider berth), others seem to feel the need to berate owners of muzzled dogs.
Would it shock you to learn that both of my dogs are muzzle trained? Yes, these dogs...
They are small. Kit (who needs to lose a bit of weight) is just over 20 lbs and Fen isn't even 11 lbs soaking wet. They are adorably cute. Fen looks like someone brought a child's plush husky to life and Kit has a face cuter than any Teddy bear I've ever seen. But they are still dogs. They are living beings who are not perfect, who inevitably feel uncomfortable in certain situations, and who have teeth.
I personally believe that all dogs should be muzzle trained, and will be doing so with all of my future dogs. It doesn't hurt your dog to be trained to happily accept a muzzle. Learning that having something over their mouths is not something to be stressed or afraid of could prove valuable. What if your dog gets hurt, and is already in a lot of distress, then needs to be muzzled to keep the people helping him/her safe? Vets use muzzles often as animals are especially prone to lash out when they are injured, stressed, and/or sick.
Not all dogs are bombproof in all situations. Even if you have a sweet older dog, you may someday encounter a situation where your dog is nervous enough that he/she tries to bite. You can't always control everything in your dogs' environment. What you can do, however, is try to learn to read your dog and to utilize the tools available to you to ensure that a stressful encounter never becomes a worst case scenario.
Most of those tools are things that people wouldn't think negatively about at all. Things like a pocket full of treats, toys, a sturdy harness and leash, and a good foundation of basic obedience. But, yes, muzzles are also one of those tools and I really, really wish that more people would learn to think of them in a more positive light!
The other day I took Fen for a walk on his halter. One of our neighbors saw us walking and started yelling towards us, commenting that I made Fen look mean. I got a bit flustered over some of her comments and, at the time, just wanted to walk away as quickly as possible. I thought quite a bit about the encounter afterwords and put together a list of things I wish I could tell people who have negative views of muzzles (although, in this situation Fen was wearing a head halter - people often mistake it for a muzzle).
- My dogs are not miserable! I spent a lot of time training my dogs to happily wear their muzzles (and Fen his halter). Both of them will gladly stick their noses into their muzzles on their own and wait for me to fasten them. I use basket muzzles, so my dogs can still open their mouths to pant and drink. Their muzzles don't keep them from running, playing, enjoying walks and generally having fun, so if you see them wearing muzzles, please don't feel bad on their account!
- Muzzles are not just for dogs who bite. Sure, muzzles can prevent dog bites but there are other reasons why owners use them. Kit has severe food allergies. Despite lots of training, his 'drop it' isn't as strong as I'd like it to be and eating things off the street can be very dangerous for him. Muzzles can be used to protect dogs who are in danger of eating things that could make them very sick.
- Even if muzzles are used for biting, it doesn't mean the dog is vicious. Sometimes they are fearful, or not feeling well, etc.
- Sometimes muzzles are more for the owners than the dogs. Handling a dog that has reactivity or other issues can put a lot of stress on the dog's owner, even if said dog has never bitten or even tried to bite. As most dog owners know, our dogs feed off our emotions. Muzzling a dog can sometimes help the dog's owner's stress levels, which in turn can decrease the dog's stress too!
- Muzzles are a good thing! They mean that a dogs' owner is being proactive. He/she is thinking about the safety of his/her dog and others too. The old adage 'better safe than sorry' fits well here.
So the next time you see a dog wearing a muzzle, thank his/her owner! He/she is trying to enure the safety of both his dog and you. If the dog was taught positively to accept his muzzle, and the muzzle is an appropriate type that fits well, then you don't have to worry about the happiness of the dog. Dogs taught, using positive methods, to accept a muzzle are no more miserable then an average dog wearing a collar/harness/etc. It's just another piece of gear.
If you feel uncomfortable around a dog in a muzzle, or the owner is clearly trying to get some distance, it's fine to give these dogs/handlers their space. It's not ok, however, to act or say things that are judgemental or rude. Doing so has no purpose, and you might just ruin the day of someone who has worked hard to ensure the safety of both his dog and you.
If you'd like to learn more about muzzles including how to train your dog to wear one, what types are available, and how you can help fight the sigma that muzzled dogs and their owners face, The Muzzle Up! Project is an awesome resource.
I'd love to hear what you think! If you previously had negative views about muzzles has this post changed your mind at all? If you have dogs in your life, are they muzzle trained? Have you ever thought about muzzling training them? Now that I've shared pictures of my boys wearing muzzles, share a picture of your furry friend (muzzled or not) in the comments below or over on our Facebook page!