Muzzles - Not Just for the Aggressive Dog
Updated: Nov 27, 2020
When I take out my muzzles, my dogs come running, ready for a party. They associate their muzzles with racing, which is one of their very favorite things in the world. From there it's been easy for me to muzzle my dogs on other occasions. "Muzzle your dogs on other occasions?" You might ask. "I thought your dogs weren't aggressive."
Here's a whole post to address that sentiment.
This year I have utilized muzzles more often than in the past. All of my dogs are muzzle conditioned. Almost every trainer will tell you it's important to muzzle condition every dog in cases of emergencies. What emergencies? Every dog is capable of biting. Every dog has a bite threshold. Every dog has something that will tip them over that edge and cause them to bite. Lots of people will argue that isn't the case with their dog, but a dog with two broken legs from a bad fall might surprise you. That's the contingency I recommend training for when conditioning a muzzle.
Lure coursing does not require dogs to run in muzzles, but racing does. In racing the dogs start in close proximity, bumping is common, they are running after a squawker which is higher value, and many sighthound breeds have thin skin, so muzzles are for safety. So this year, my dogs who have coursed often before learned how to run in muzzles. Honestly, since they already were so excited about running, adding the muzzle was no big deal for three of my dogs. For Ami, she
slip the muzzle off in the box the first time she coursed. I tightened the straps down so she couldn't slip it off as easily and by the end of the weekend, running in a muzzle had clicked for her. My dogs usually course muzzled now too. I am confident they won't start anything (they run as bye dogs to help new dogs to coursing certify quite often) but I think they might try to finish something if another dog interferes. I've honestly seen dogs running alone (Singles, Junior Courser, and even FCAT and CATs) run in muzzles so they don't shred the plastic bag to bits, which is generally considered poor form, because it slows down a trial.
With COVID this year, it also meant I couldn't come into the vet's examination room with my Azawakh. Unfortunately, I needed to get a Brucellosis test and a recheck of Anubi's heart this year and I did hips, thyroid, and eyes screening on Amidi, and eye screening on Amalu. All of this meant that my Azawakh had to be taken away from me and man-handled (in the gentlest way possible of course, but still physically manipulated/blood drawn). Every single time, I muzzled my dogs, just in case. Having a relative stranger (I don't see my vets that often) put that much pressure on my Azawakh was potentially going to be cause for them to snap. Every time they were brought back out to me with glowing report cards and assurances that I hadn't needed the muzzle, but I felt safer and more comfortable with them muzzled and they didn't care one way or the other. Better safe than sorry.
I muzzle Ami the first day or two I have boarding dogs over while she adjusts to the new dog's presence. She missed out on the dog to dog socialization boat because of kennel cough and I wasn't boarding dogs much when she was little so it shows in her level of comfort when we have boarding dogs. Thus, I'll slip a muzzle on her so that I don't have to manage the situation every single second. Ami won't ever start something, but if a dog is rude she is going to snap at them and I don't want her practicing that behavior.
I've seen daycares that muzzle dogs for poop eating. I've worked with owners who are struggling to be consistent with Leave It on walks and their retrievers walk muzzled so they don't ingest everything off the ground. Greyhounds are muzzled during turn out at the tracks and adoption centers so they don't play too rough with each other because they have such thin skin. In Europe dogs are often required to be muzzled on public transit. There are so many reasons to muzzle even completely friendly dogs.
That being said, muzzles are a fantastic tool to help maintain overly fearful, reactive, insecure, or aggressive dogs' quality of life. Muzzles allow you to walk your dog aggressive dog safely, without fear of an incident. They allow you to walk your reactive dog and they give people the heads up that you need space. It allows dogs that have become aggressive toward their housemates to still coexist (with strict management) without a strict 24/7 crate and rotate situation where only one dog is out at a time. It can allow insecure and fearful dogs to meet other dogs without fear biting. Muzzles can ultimately save a dog's life from behavioral euthanasia.
With a proper muzzle fit, make sure that the length is not so short that the dog's nose is pushing through the end. Make sure the throat latch doesn't push the muzzle up into the dog's eyes so the dog can't see. And make sure that your dog can pant and drink through the muzzle. For my dogs who are very minor bite risks, a soft rubber muzzle such as a Baskerville or biothane woven muzzle would be a safe choice. For actual bite risks you are going to want a hard plastic or metal muzzle such as a Jafco.
As for how to condition your muzzle so your dog doesn't hate it? The traditional method is to do so incrementally. Put some food in the muzzle, hold it up to your dog, let them stick their nose in to eat the food. Over time start holding the muzzle to their face longer, then begin fastening the strap and unfastening immediately, gradually work up the amount of time their wear the muzzle.
There's a lot of stigma against muzzles. I've fallen into it before. It's easy to get defensive because your dog's not aggressive. But please remember, there is a wide variety of uses for muzzles and that every dog has teeth so every dog has the capacity to bite.
Favorite muzzle retailers:
Jafco - for your general all purpose muzzle
Halemar - great racing and kennel muzzles (Anubi and Ash wear a 1S and Amidi and Amalu wear a 2)
The Muzzle Shop - in the UK but a wide variety of basket muzzles