Muzzle misconceptions

What are the benefits of using muzzles for certain dogs?

We are going to give you a mask that covers part of your face, it may feel a bit strange at first, but you will get used to it. Initially people might give you strange looks or stare but don’t worry, soon people won’t even take a second glance.

We are not saying you are a danger, but you could pose a potential risk to others. No matter how small that risk is we would rather not take it. We want to be proactive; we want to be responsible and we want to protect others. Sounds familiar right?

Over the years, muzzles have been a topic of controversy and have become unfairly associated with aggressive dogs. Now more than ever, people find themselves in a very relatable position. So, is now the perfect time to help people understand the importance and benefits of muzzles for certain dogs?

 

Firstly, what is a muzzle?

A muzzle is a device that fits over the snout of a dog in order to prevent their mouths opening wide enough to bite. They come in different shapes, sizes and materials and should always allow the dog to breathe and drink. Some muzzles also permit the dog to eat, these are very useful for training purposes.

There are several reasons why a dog might wear a muzzle, including:

• Preventing them from eating things that might be harmful

Wearing a muzzle can literally be a life saver for these dogs. It could prevent them from chewing or swallowing something that is dangerous to them. Ranging from dogs on strict diets due to allergies to dogs who make a habit of finding tennis balls at the park and swallowing them whole, the muzzle removes this risk.

• Safety when they are frightened, painful, ill or injured

Fear, pain, illness or injury can affect the way a dog feels and behaves, so training your dog to wear a muzzle is a great way to prepare for a veterinary emergency. A muzzle in this situation would allow the vet to provide the necessary care for the dog as quickly as possible without worrying about their own safety.

• Learning about other dogs and people

Some dogs may have grown up without the opportunity to learn valuable social skills, and might respond to other dogs fearfully, or become frustrated around them. A muzzle allows you to train your dog around new dogs or new people safely, at a distance at which your dog feels safe and can concentrate, giving you peace of mind and allowing you to focus on your training.

• A dog has been known to behave aggressively in a specific context

Muzzles do not replace the need for training or behaviour modification, because they don’t change the way a dog feels about things, but they do keep everyone involved safe while that training is a work in progress.

• Some dogs might have learned to chase and catch

Racing greyhounds have been trained to chase a small fluffy ‘hare’ so are also taught to wear muzzles comfortably so that they are unable to physically harm any animal they are able to chase. Some dogs really enjoy chasing, or even chasing and catching, things that move fast. This is part of dogs' natural hunting behaviour, and for a long time working dogs were specifically bred for this incredible ability to help us hunt and to control livestock and vermin. But for our pet dogs, chasing anything other than their toys - such as traffic, livestock, wildlife, cats or even other dogs - can be extremely dangerous. Muzzling a dog can help to prevent them from catching hold of any other animal they might chase so it is responsible and considerate to muzzle a dog for whom this has been identified as a concern, as well as keeping them on-lead where appropriate.

 

How do you teach your dog to wear a muzzle happily?

Introducing a muzzle should be a positive and enjoyable experience for your dog. There are many different approaches to teaching your dog to wear a muzzle, and which to use will depend on the individual dog and any previous associations or experiences they might have had with either wearing a muzzle in the past or placing their faces into something enclosed.

Here you will find an informative guide which covers how to choose the correct muzzle, how to introduce it in an enjoyable way and how you can incorporate muzzle training into everyday life so it becomes the 'norm' for your dog to wear one.


What is life with a muzzle like?

We spoke with Shirell Tutton, who adopted 6-year-old Staffordshire Bull Terrier cross Cooper from our centre in 2018. He came to us after being found as a stray in Ireland and remained in our care for 590 days before he found his special someone! He was worried by strangers and dogs so one of his rehoming requirements were that he must wear a muzzle when in public places.

Owner Shirley and Staffy Cross Cooper  Unfortunately like many other dogs that are required to wear a muzzle, we feel that this may have contributed to his length of stay with us. Some potential adopters felt that they did not have enough experience, some were worried about how others would view him in the neighbourhood or out on walks, that people would think he was a danger. On a positive note, the time he had with us did allow our Training and Behaviour team to work on the best behaviour modification programme for Cooper and the Canine Carers were able to work with him on a daily basis to build his confidence and prepare him for life after kennels.

Mrs Tutton admits that initially she did think that muzzles were just for dangerous dogs. But after speaking in depth with our team and getting to know Cooper, she fell for friendly and sociable nature with those he knew, and a muzzle would not stand in their way. She was fully prepared to continue his training at home to ensure it stayed part of his normal routine.

When asked what life is like with a muzzled dog, Shirell told us:

‘There have been no real adjustments for me to adopt a dog with a muzzle compared to adopting one without. I pop his muzzle on just before his lead and we still get to enjoy the same walks as we would without it. Yes, people have asked me if he is dangerous, but it gives us a chance to explain why he wears it and that it is for his own benefit. He only wears it in public places so at home my family and friends have got to know and love the Cooper that is behind the muzzle. Cooper has brought us all so much happiness.'

Shirell goes on to give any potential adopters some encouraging words about adopting a muzzled dog; 'Be open minded. When you get to know your dog, it becomes second nature. There are so many loving rescue dogs out there waiting to be adopted so don't miss out. There has honestly never been a moment where I have thought to myself that having a dog with a muzzle is hard.'

Muzzles are in a way like the masks we see people wearing today. Three months ago, you probably did not fully understand their purpose, chances are you thought they looked uncomfortable and that the people wearing them looked almost ridiculous too. Now that more people understand the benefits of wearing a mask, they are becoming part of our normal daily routine. Some people are now even incorporating function and fashion with fun fabrics to show off their personality. Already there are some beautiful muzzles on the market, and we think they are great!

It gave us paws for thought, maybe this is the way forward for muzzles and something we will look at in the future but for now, the understanding of muzzles is what is most important.

The next time you are reading about one of our wonderful dogs and see the words 'muzzle' please do not be quick to hit the back button instead read on, your pawfect canine companion may be right in front of your eyes!