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YOUR SAY: What do you think when you see a muzzled dog?

This dog behaviour month, we’d like to start a new conversation about an old topic. What do you think when you see a muzzled dog?

Muzzles are one of the most essential pieces of safety equipment we have in dog behaviour, and yet their appearance and the judgements associated with them sometimes prevent people using them, sometimes with disastrous consequences.

Muzzles are used for a wide variety of reasons from the dog being nervous and unpredictable, to having a high prey drive or simply being prone to hoovering up any discarded food on a walk.  In all cases the muzzle is actually helping to keep the dog safe.

Why do dog owners use muzzles?

We asked our supporters on NAWT’s Facebook page (include link), why dog owners use muzzles and they came back with a good number of reasons:

  1. The dog is nervous of/or reactive to other dogs or people
  2. The owner finds that the muzzle stops other dog owners letting their dogs run up to the muzzled dog
  3.  The dog has a high prey drive and is capable of catching small animals
  4.  The dog is a scavenger
  5. The dog is in training to modify an existing behaviour and the muzzle actually helps the handler relax as they worry less about the dog’s behaviour
  6. The dog has had a bad experience at the vet’s or groomer’s and so is muzzled for safety
  7. The dog is required to by law either as a registered Pit Bull or due to a court order as a result of a previous incident (this element can apply to any breed)

Here at the NAWT, we know there are lots of different reasons why a dog might be muzzled. Some don’t even fit in the above categories and are completely one off cases.

One response that highlights the safety aspect of muzzles, said: “I know of a dog that wears a muzzle in the summer, not because he is vicious, but he likes to catch bees, to which he is highly allergic.”

What do you think when you see a muzzled dog?

70 per cent of those responding on NAWT’s Facebook page, said they thought the owner of a muzzled dog is a responsible one.

Just 10 per cent of respondents said they would react negatively towards a muzzled dog and raised concerns about the dogs’ welfare including their ability to breathe and pant and how they would defend themselves if another dog was to bite them.

Owners should always use a correctly fitted basket type muzzle which does not restrict the ability to breathe, drink or pant. Fabric type muzzles should only ever be used in an absolute emergency.

35 per cent of respondents said they would think a dog wearing a muzzle would be dog aggressive, and 32 per cent said they would think a dog was aggressive towards people if they saw one wearing a muzzle.

Just three respondents said their first thought would be that the dog might have a high prey drive, and 14 per cent said they would think that the dog is a scavenger and might eat things from the floor.

Why do our supporters muzzle their dogs?

The majority said the reason they muzzled their dog was that their dog was reactive to other dogs – usually onset by the dog being nervous having previously been attacked by another dog, or by other owners allowing their dog rush up to greet theirs inappropriately.

However, 33 per cent of our supporters said they used a muzzle for a reason completely unrelated to reactivity.

20 per cent said they used a muzzle to stop their dog scavenging on food or litter left on the pavement or fields they walk on. Some told stories about how their dog had become so ill after eating leftovers, that they felt they had no choice but to use a muzzle to protect their pet.

Seven per cent said they had to muzzle their dog due to prey drive, which is usually common in greyhounds and lurchers due to their natural instinct to chase small animals such as cats, squirrels and smaller dogs.

11 per cent had other non-reactivity related reasons, such as protecting teeth from chewing sticks on a walk, or preventing their dog from ‘completely destroying and swallowing the makings of tennis balls’.

Changing the stereotype

NAWT would like to see perceptions of muzzled dogs change and a greater emphasis put on the fact that the owner is being highly responsible. Muzzles are either allowing dogs to operate safely in our confusing, sometimes frightening world or they are protecting the health of our dogs – what could be more responsible than that?

We should avoid stigmatising owners with muzzled dogs and instead smile at them because they are trying to help keep their dogs and the environment safe.

Final thoughts

Here at the NAWT, we muzzle train all dogs in our care. Some may need to wear muzzles out on walks, but for most they get to enjoy some reward based training and it means that if they do find it difficult to cope with being handled say in the vets, especially in an emergency, we are not trying to train a new skill when the dog is already in a highly stressed state.

We believe muzzle training is great fun and a new and potentially lifesaving skill for every one of our dogs to learn. There is no stigma about a muzzle at NAWT, it’s just another item in the dog trainer’s toolkit.

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