Dog Muzzle Perceptions!

I have met a few people who I thought would benefit from being muzzled periodically, but the perspective here however is on dogs!

There is a popular misconception that a muzzled dog is therefore a “bad dog”.

When we see a dog wearing a muzzle, do we intuitively tend to make the assumption that it is therefore a “bad dog” and avoid any contact with it? Do we ever wonder why it is wearing a muzzle, or do we ever ask the owner why the dog is muzzled, or do we simply accept the “bad dog” perspective?

Perspective is everything, but it can be founded on false or misunderstood information. The perspective of the “Titanic” was that it was unsinkable. Need I say any more?

Naturally, a dog that may bite should be muzzled as necessary, but does that make it a bad dog? Perhaps his (we’ll assume a male) bite habit was simply a response to a perceived threat. Perhaps he was intuitively defending himself and used an aggressive “go away or else” posture, which was sadly ignored. Perhaps he was protecting his owner in his own way? Perhaps he totally misread the human body language being presented to him?

There are many potential explanations, none of which minimize the seriousness of a bite but few, if any, justify the “bad dog” label.

A dog that has been trained not to growl or bark*** (i.e. shock collar) is a prime candidate for biting, simply because it’s first warning of discomfort has been discouraged! Take away those warning options and his first action now becomes a bite!

Young children are candidates for being bitten because they may see a dog as a “living furry toy” and have a passionate desire to wrap their arms around it. When was the last time you saw two dogs hugging each other? They don’t!

You may be fortunate to have a dog which will tolerate such advances from a child, but so many other dogs will not be so understanding. Supervision when children are involved is highly recommended, and it is also a valuable education opportunity for the children!

If a bite is experienced, then we need to understand why because once we know why, then steps can be taken to correct the behavior and/or avoid repeating the circumstances.

A dog behaviorist once asked me – “When was the last time you petted a dog which was wearing a muzzle?” I am pretty certain that most people would answer like me – “Never!” It is an interesting response because a muzzled dog is surely the safest dog to approach in that it cannot bite you!

In this (above) context, a muzzle is used to help an insecure dog adapt to a more social environment. Remember that people in general will not approach a dog wearing a muzzle? That is exactly the response desired under these circumstances. The dog will be much happier because strangers will not want to pat his head or otherwise touch him. Over the course of time, it is likely that the muzzle can be removed because the dog now realizes that strangers are not automatically a threat which must be deterred from getting close.

I do not expect for one moment that I have covered all the perspectives on dog muzzling because my experience has been limited to Ray but, for newcomers to this Blog, our beloved Ray did have to wear a muzzle for a time.  Some professional help from a dog behaviorist, and our Humane Society dog trainers, gave us the “tools” necessary to address his aggressive habits!

Was he ever a “bad dog”? Not really. He just had a background which gave him a strong distrust of people (men in particular), and became very aggressive if approached by a stranger. He was reacting to circumstances based on his life experiences… and isn’t that what we all do?


*** A dog that barks a lot should be acknowledged as barking for a reason.  Punishing it for barking does not take away that reason (throwing the deck chairs off the “Titanic” would not have prevented it from sinking!). Better to identify the reason (professional help may make it quite easy), and then a behavior change can be considered.



25 thoughts on “Dog Muzzle Perceptions!

    • I am not familiar with those particular muzzles, but the cloth type that I have seen here I would never put on Ray because they do not allow him to yawn, or chew, or breathe through his mouth if he wanted to. We were directed to a Baskerville muzzle which is an open frame style and gave Ray the freedom to do whatever he wanted… except bite! The main problem that I see regarding dogs and muzzles are the dog owners. They seem to forget that the muzzle is for the dog and should be treated as such and not buy what they think would look nice. It is not about them! It is about the dog!

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      • For reactive dogs on walks, they accomplish keeping the dog and passersby safe, which is the bottom line. Our society tends to trivialize (and then commercialize) things via some form of ‘visual entertainment,’ but it’s hard to fear a dog wearing a muzzle with a silly grin. I suspect it helps ‘soften’ the perspective aspect to which you initially referred.

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        • Hi Monika – As noted earlier, I am not familiar with the specific cloth-type that you mention. The bottom line is of course to prevent a bite happening, but there are “wrap around” cloth types which velcro closed… and which prevent any jaw movement. They are necessary for vets, but cruel for dogs to wear when on walks. I have never understood why people can accept the close proximity of a dog, hitherto unknown to them, and yet are concerned about one wearing a muzzle. The dog wearing the muzzle can do nothing… because of the muzzle! The other dog? As far as I am aware, 100% of dog bites are caused by dogs that were not wearing muzzles. That must say something!

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  1. Good points you make! We do so quickly jump to assuming that the dog is “bad”.
    When my child was 5 they were bitten by a dog that ran out of its yard and literally knocked them down and bit. We found out later that children used to tease it and throw things at it. Made us feel so bad for it and we understood how it was afraid of my child. Now we did find things out about the owner as well that was very upsetting, but that’s another story. The dog warden was called with complaints about the owner.

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  2. I know of one woman who muzzled her dog to stop it licking or picking up anything it fancied on their walks. I’m afraid I am not a fan of the shock collars having seen first hand the damage it did to a beautiful retriever that was eventually rehomed.
    I have to confess we don’t see very many muzzled dogs here, but there are a few that should be, having lunged for Maggie or another passing dog unprovoked. One little dog was so unnerved, it threw up on the pavement, poor thing. Halties are very popular though, but again some are badly fitted and can do more harm than good.
    As for a Bad Dog? No, I go with bad or lazy owners more often than not.

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    • Shock collars are a terrible idea for reasons noted in my Post. Sadly, even owners who recognize that their dog may bite do not research muzzles. We saw a dog once with a “vet style” cloth muzzle. Those things are meant to prevent any jaw activity for obvious reasons, but to take a dog on a walk wearing one is cruel. The poor thing cannot yawn, eat or drink, and I can imagine breathing is not that easy! Then there are those who, contrary to advice given, will not be seen with their dog wearing a muzzle. They are in fact gambling on somebody else’s health, and that is just plain irresponsible. “Sorry! He’s never bitten anybody before” is no consolation to the victim of such stupidity.

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  3. I’ve never seen a muzzled dog here (tho there may be some).
    I agree, sometimes it is necessary to muzzle a dog, and yes, then we do assume they are aggressive and steer clear. I liked Cesar Millan’s fun muzzles, with eg a smiling face, or rhino horn. 🙂 These made you smile and instantly relax your attitude.
    Also, a dog does communicate with us, if we understand. Like you say, they need to be able to growl or bark, to tell you not to approach closer. My own dear Mr SL did not like strangers marching up to him and stroking him. He would growl to tell them to give him his space and leave him alone. Why do people assume every dog wishes to be petted?

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    • Interesting perspective and, I would suggest, an unusual one! Cultural influence perhaps? When it was suggested that we muzzle Ray when in public, we questioned how difficult it could be to get him to wear a muzzle. The response was surprising. “He will almost certainly take to it readily if introduced to it correctly. The most consistent problem with muzzling a dog is getting the dog owners to agree to it!” Ray was no problem, but we did get him a muzzle which allowed him to breathe easily, and he could be given treats through the muzzle frame!

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        • I prefer unique…to unusual! Perhaps you see a dog with a muzzle as being punished/handicapped in some way? Ray loved to wear his muzzle because he got treats when it was put on him (he would dive into it!); treats when it was removed, and could receive treats through it on our walks. 🙂

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          • Haha that is awesome. I had NO idea dogs could be rewarded when they had the muzzle on (shows you how little about it I know!) and had no idea that dogs could actually grow to associate their muzzles with treats!

            I think you were right…I probably did just think that muzzles were a form of punishment. So learning this fact was eye-opening…to say the least! Thanks, Colin! 🙂

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