What is it with muzzles that gets people upset? If I suggest to a client that we get their dog comfortable with wearing a muzzle, it is almost always met with resistance. There is such a stigma with a dog wearing a muzzle. Immediately people think that your dog must be aggressive. To the uninformed, even a dog wearing a head harness can lead a person to think that dog must be aggressive.
As a trainer, I know that there are situations where a muzzle could be necessary. I have three dogs. These dogs range from being super comfortable with being handled to tolerating it. And that’s handling by me. If they were being handled by someone they were less comfortable with such as our vet or a groomer, could their response be different? You bet! What if they were in pain? Of course, and would you blame them. It is not like they can say ‘ouch that hurts’. So, they may snap or growl. It’s how they communicate. Now if they were injured it is not like you can just ignore that, so the vet will need to muzzle them. It is a safety issue. In the interests of treating the injury, the dog would be restrained and a muzzle would be put on them. This is not how I want my dogs to be introduced to the muzzle. This would add another stressor to an already scary and stressful situation. It certainly won’t help them with the association with the vet for future visits.
So, I muzzle train them.
I want them to see the muzzle and immediately think that the good times are about to roll. Here comes the muzzle which means they are about to get squeezy cheese.
It is obvious to most people to see how a muzzle can be a benefit in a veterinary or grooming situation. But a muzzle is also a great tool for other situations. The dog that ingests objects (Pica) and ends up having surgery to remove items. Or the dog that loves eating poop (Coprophagia). A muzzle is now a management tool. It prevents the dog from rehearsing a behaviour we want to change. While we work on behaviour modification the dog is still getting out and about and getting the exercise and enrichment they need to live a good quality of life. Ditto for aggression. If a dog is aggressive, the risk is the dog becomes sequestered in the home or backyard. This becomes a welfare issue with the result being that the dog’s behaviour is likely to get worse.
If a dog is habituated to the muzzle, it gives the dog freedom. These dogs, the pica dogs, the poop-eating dogs and even the aggressive dogs are now getting out and about. Combined with a well thought out behaviour modification training plan, we can work on changing their behaviour. And guess what, their people can now relax knowing that their dog is not going to ingest something they shouldn’t or hurt another dog or person.
What do you do with the looks of other people? Well...there really isn’t a lot you can do. Having a dog that lunges and barks at other dogs I am all too familiar with those looks. The judgy looks. I know why my girl does what she does. I use the opportunity to work on her skills with other dogs in the vicinity. I have learnt to ignore other people. They don’t know me or my dog. Some people will stop and ask in which case I will use the opportunity to educate but for the most part, I just keep walking knowing that my dog is happy.
There are some great resources online to help with muzzle training your dog in a positive way. Training your dog to like muzzles isn’t difficult. However, like many behaviours we train our dogs, it falls into the category of preventative training. It is not flashy like trick training or a perfect heel, but I would argue that it is more important. There are a few skills that I think are essential for our dogs to know. A strong leave it cue, a rock-solid recall, being able to walk nicely on leash, a wait before rushing through a door or jumping out of the car ..... and muzzle training. So do your dog a favour and teach them to love a muzzle. You never know when you might need it.
Muzzle training resources online:
The recommended muzzle is a Baskerville model or similar. This type of muzzle allows the dog to breathe and pant normally, take treats and drink water. For resources on how to muzzle training your dog can be found at the following links or if you want some help, reach out to a qualified trainer.