Explaining why your dog is wearing a muzzle

muzzle-cartoonsYou’re walking your dog and someone approaches. Maybe a neighbor, a coworker, or perhaps a complete stranger. And then comes the question you wish you didn’t have to constantly answer: “Why is your dog wearing a muzzle?” Sometimes, it’s asked out of pure interest. But most of the time, it’s tinged with many underlying fears and questions. Is that dog vicious? Will your dog attack me? Is your dog a bad dog? Many supporters of The Muzzle Up! Project face this question quite often, and they’ve come up with some great responses that erase stigma, ease anxiety and insert a little humor into living life with a muzzled up dog. Here are the brilliant ideas of our supporters. Enjoy!

  • I say, “My dog has an injury and sometimes also has issues with strangers approaching me, so I am being a responsible owner until we work through that.” Or something like that. – Christine
  • “She is scared of new folks.” And then I turn my attention to Diamond and ask her to do something to help her remain cognitive and build positive experiences with strangers around. And then I reward her cooperation. She has come a long way. More often than not, she now seems to have a more positive interest in strangers. – Angie
  • I have one who wears a muzzle as shes not keen on other dogs coming up to her and as she’s a big girl. I’m overly cautious. I also have a lead with “no dogs” printed on it and my boy wears a lead with ‘friendly’ on. Most people I see are nice but I’ve had a few comments. – Deanna
  • I have a greyhound and I muzzle her when we go to the groomers as they usually have little white fluffy lures in there. I explain I would rather be safe than sorry as she has been trained to chase.Then I say she is really a lamb. – Tracey
  • I once had someone ask me why my dog was wearing a hockey mask – made me cease and explain the situation, all whilst I had blood dribbling down my leg because I had just fallen over and was trying to sort a plaster. We must have looked a right pair! – Emma
  • I put my foster dog on my Facebook cover photo saying she is a DINOS Diva (Dog in need of space), just to change my own perception of using a muzzle and be comfortable being proactive by having her wear a muzzle when out. She looks kind of like a ‘super hero’ with her yellow jacket and her head gear. – Jo-Ann
  • She has a hard time trusting other people and other dogs, but she still deserves the same love and privileges as any other creature… I muzzle cuddles so that she and the other creatures around her can live a safe and normal life. – Кристина
  • Obviously, because he can’t wear two. – Luis
  • Mine used to wear one one when he was a pup “because he is a pig – and hovers up anything and everything and makes himself sick!” – Emma

Human reactions to muzzles

MqUgt47xH8sB1LY0DvU7uAd9y-wGVKQQN7HJps-Wl80,tbddtejv52x1vYi5rqdsfha8KEg-MAqFwLi8wSaAJRw,bG1p_GdldAOMIy6xS-4pom5y2fYMkBjL54s2Gat7ivI,GxuDbVthEx20W6GcRQrijCmX_0zWfkH5XUB1rSw9jqg,F7nJQiRNXnqul8w_nIbBrETvAIRcYd8z_McGLO6jSTY-1One of The Muzzle Up! Project’s goals is erasing the stigma associated with muzzles. While it’s difficult to find research studies focused on human perceptions of muzzled dogs and how that affects our behavior, I fortunately came across an interesting study published in the Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research in 2009.

The study observed the behavior of adults who came within a specific distance of a man walking a German shepherd dog, both when the dog was wearing the muzzle and when the dog was not wearing one.

According to the authors, “We focused on 3 behaviors potentially indicative of fear, relating to either avoidance or vigilance: (1) movement away from the dog while passing by; (2) looking at the dog while passing by; (3) turning around to look at the dog after passing by.”

The results showed that the muzzled dog elicited more fear-based behaviors in humans. The study also found that the people who encountered the muzzled dog moved away from the dog to avoid him and also turned around to look at the dog once they passed him, indicating fear and hypervigilance.

“This study suggests that, paradoxically, a muzzled dog is considered as more dangerous by humans than a non-muzzled dog, whereas only the latter can be a real source of danger,” write the authors.

– By Maureen Backman, MS

Maureen is the founder of The Muzzle Up! Project and the owner of Mutt About Town in San Francisco, CA. Get in touch at muzzleupproject@gmail.com.


The dog or its muzzle as a Signal of danger for humans
Anaïs Racca, Claude Baudoin

Journal of Veterinary Behavior: Clinical Applications and Research 1 
March 2009 (volume 4 issue 2 Page 94 DOI: 10.1016/j.jveb.2008.09.055)