There are many reasons why a dog might wear a muzzle and wearing a muzzle does not necessarily mean the dog is dangerous. This is definitely a common misconception and affects the way people see and interact with a dog wearing a muzzle. Wearing a muzzle also affects the dog in a big way. Even in cases where a muzzle is a precautionary measure, you need to be aware of the changes it will make to your dog.
Today I’m going to clear up the reasons why a dog might wear a muzzle, deciding when your dog might need a muzzle and how a muzzle can negatively impact the dog.
Why would a dog wear a muzzle?
The key function of a muzzle is to prevent a dog from biting and is often the core reason why the muzzle is worn in the first place. This has caused the misconception that all dogs wearing muzzles are aggressive and very dangerous.
Here are some reasons why a dog might wear a muzzle:
- Breed-specific legislation – they are required to by law i.e greyhounds, even if there has been no bite history. (This is due to change in 2020 in WA yay!);
- They are required to by the local shire i.e. they have a dangerous dog status;
- Precautionary – shows reactivity but has no bite history
- Precautionary – in a new situation or when introducing the dog to new people or dogs;
- In case of injury – dogs may bite if they are in pain and will often be muzzled prior to treatment at the vet;
- To prevent the dog from licking at a wound rather than wearing a cone;
- To prevent the dog from eating items they are not supposed to both when supervised and unsupervised;
- If the dog has a bite history of any kind.
Does your dog need to wear a muzzle?
This may not entirely be your decision to make. If you own a greyhound that has not been through green collar testing or if your dog has been designated as a dangerous dog by your local shire, wearing a muzzle may become a fact of life.
If this is not the case for you, but you are considering whether or not your dog needs to wear a muzzle, make sure that the use of the muzzle is only temporary and/or that you are also working on the underlying reason for the muzzle in the first place. A muzzle should not be the answer to the problem, but a means to manage it while you address the underlying behaviour through training.
You may want to use a muzzle temporarily for short visits to the vet, for the initial introduction to a new dog but it gets removed once the introduction has been successful, or for short periods when your dog needs to keep away from stitches or a wound on their body. For me, I don’t think there is any harm in ALL dogs learning to accept and be comfortable and calm while wearing a muzzle for simple situations like these.
For longer term use, use as a precaution or for dogs with a bite history, deciding to have your dog wear a muzzle can be made to keep them and other dogs or people safe. Make sure you also have a behaviour modification plan in place to help your dog to address the root cause of their behaviour.
Whatever the reason for deciding to use a muzzle on your dog, make sure you select the appropriate style of muzzle and make sure it fits correctly and is comfortable for your dog.
What wearing a muzzle does to a dog.
For many dogs, wearing a muzzle drastically changes the way they feel and act. A muzzle can be a very intimidating piece of equipment for them and this can make them anxious, scared and very uncomfortable. You might see very submissive or docile body language and behaviour from the dog. But isn’t this what we want? Won’t that teach them not to bite? Actually no. Not at all.
A dog will be unable to learn to relax and be calm in a stressful situation or to learn a new, alternative way to behave if they are stressed. Instead, you want your dog to be comfortable with the muzzle and see it as just another piece of training equipment like a lead. And better yet, your dog is HAPPY to wear the muzzle and sees it as a cue for fun times with you.
Wearing a muzzle should NEVER be a punishment for a dog. It should not be used to intimidate them or force submissive behaviour.
Another factor to consider is how other people react to a dog wearing a muzzle. Seeing a dog wearing a muzzle will often intimidate and frighten people who may assume your dog is aggressive. I have even had people ask me if a dog I was walking who was wearing a head halter was dangerous. Dogs are masters at reading body language and will pick up on the signals and energy people send their way.