The other day, I was walking one of my private training clients, a female pit bull mix who also happens to wear a Baskerville muzzle. As we passed a group of people in the park, one commented, “That dog bites.” Ironic, as this dog has no bites on record.
The simple phrase gave me pause and reinforced the work that needs to be done to reduce muzzle stigma and increase awareness as to why dogs wear muzzles.
The dog in question wears a muzzle as prevention. Despite having no bite history, she is very fearful of strangers, new environments and certain dogs. She sometimes becomes over aroused when she plays with other dogs, snapping the air and pinning them to the ground. She was rescued as an adult, so it’s unknown whether a bite would leave no marks or would cause serious damage. Given this knowledge, the muzzle, along with training and management of her interactions with other people and dogs, keeps bite records and dangerous dog laws at bay and keeps her quality of life high.
Another dog I used to walk was obsessed with eating other dogs’ feces, so much so that he would make himself sick. The temptation to eat was so strong that “leave it” commands and recall practice were of little use. His quality of life suffered because he rarely went on off-leash walks in the park because of his endless need to seek out dog feces. With help from the owners, we trained him to wear a muzzle, which prevented feces consumption. Management in place, we were able to work on recall and “leave it,” and give him more off-leash privileges as a result.
In yet another scenario, one of my private training clients’ dogs wore a muzzle because of his struggles with impulse control. He put his mouth on limbs, clothing, the leash, you name it. We needed to stop the behavior to prevent the bad habits from continuing, so we trained him to wear a muzzle while we worked through the necessary training plans. Eventually, he got to the point where the muzzle became less necessary.
I’ve worked with dogs on muzzle training who do have bites on record, but it’s not the only reason. Even when a bite record is the cause for a muzzle, the case is eons more nuanced than simply “That’s a bad dog” or “That dog bites.”
The message in all of this: Dogs wear muzzles for a plethora of reasons. It’s important to educate the public on why dogs wear muzzles so that we reduce stigma and begin to view muzzles as a positive thing, not something to fear.
Tell us: Why do you muzzle?
– Maureen Backman, MS, CTC