Updated: May 24, 2022
Please please please don't look at a dog in a muzzle and think 'that is a bad dog.' I would say that more times than not you don't even need to fear a dog in a muzzle - just respect them.
Growing up wanting a dog and even just a few years before adopting, I never thought that I would ever have to put my own dog in a muzzle. Before my own personal experience, a muzzle to my uneducated mind meant 'that dog will bite me, stay away'. I am not blaming anyone for having this idea if you truly have never been told otherwise. However, now I am going to explain it to you.
Reasons Why A Dog May Wear A Muzzle
Any dog, no matter how friendly, can bite if they are uncomfortable or in pain. A trip to the vet is not always a pleasant experience for a dog and maybe they are going because of an injury. A dog that is in pain does not want to be pricked or prodded and may try to protect themselves. If the dog is nervous of needles or doesn't like their paws being touched, they may nip or try to 'correct' the veterinarian. For the safety of everyone a dog may need to wear a muzzle, and that's okay.
Reese needed stitches right above his eye - apologies if the photo makes you uneasy - and he is quite fearful of strangers, especially near his face, thus the muzzle.
A reason for a muzzle that you may never have thought of but is not uncommon. Perhaps this dog likes to eat ... anything! Maybe keeping your dog from eating garbage on a walk is near impossible, because whether or not you see it, they will find it! I don't have much more to offer on this, because I've never experienced it myself. But I imagine there are people out there who use a muzzle for this reason and others like it.
*Edit (2022) I have now met dogs who like to grab rocks or eat dirt on walks and it has been a journey to break this habit or to at least try to manage it. The rocks can chip their teeth, or cause damage if they swallow it, and eating dirt in large quantities is also not healthy for the dog! While trying to train the dogs out of this habit, prevention with a muzzle is the safest option! You can get muzzles that have a solid bottom to further prevent scavenging.
Perhaps you are introducing your dog to a new dog (or in our case a puppy) and you just don't know how it is going to react. Or your dog has never been around small children, perhaps a baby, and it could simply be a dog that nips excitedly, which tiny fingers wouldn't appreciate. Or again, you just don't know how your dog will behave in this new situation.
I brought home a new puppy with absolutely no idea how Reese would react. I honestly did not think that he would bite her, but this was not a risk that I would be taking. Introducing this puppy to Reese was going to set a precedent for the rest of their relationship
The most common reason, though this does not mean that this dog will surely bite you upon contact. I put this reason last because there is so much to be said about it.
Some dogs are nervous of strangers or other dogs and they can be unpredictable, the use of a muzzle is to be absolutely certain there will not be any bites (from the muzzle wearing dog at least). This doesn't mean that they always bite, they may never once have bitten, but it brings peace of mind to the owner.
The second time that I went to visit Reese at the shelter I brought my Dad - the first man that Reese ever warmed up to.
Owners can't always control other dogs or people who may approach a nervous dog. Despite laws regarding 'dogs must be on leash', there is still a chance that an off leash dog, or dog on a retractable leash, will approach your nervous pup. Some people approach without permission as well, as some dogs don't give signs right away that they're nervous. (Side note: please always ask before approaching and petting another dog).
As an owner of a rescue, where I don't fully know his history, I knew we may encounter these issues. I have no idea if he was properly socialized or ever once socialized with other dogs before he was surrendered. I've seen him play with dogs at the shelter, but I've also seen him react poorly to other dogs. Before he ever once bitten (unfortunately there has been a few incidents) Reese was wearing a muzzle as a preventative measure. This was introduced to him at the shelter because of his fear aggression towards men (due to his abusive background).
We are working on building Reese's relationship with his new brother Riley. A year and a half ago Reese bit Riley, his first offence, this brought us to UPK9 where we started our training. Now the two of them go for walks together side by side.
Dogs are a reflection of us, and how I'm feeling in a certain situation, Reese will also be feeling. Putting a muzzle on Reese gives me peace and calms me greatly, because I know that whatever happens, he will not be able to bite. When I am calm, Reese is noticeably calmer, and we can enjoy a walk around our neighborhood (where off leash dogs are sometimes present).
Reese has gone to Playful Paws, a daycare in HRM that offers a specialized daycare program for nervous dogs (This is wonderful - feel free to message me with questions on this). Reese spent weeks there, with one on one supervision, wearing a muzzle, and he was able to play with other dogs and be surrounded by dogs. This was Reese's first opportunity (under my care at least) being able to socialize without the risk of biting. An opportunity that he otherwise might not have gotten. He had actually almost graduated from the specialized program and they were going to allow him into the regular daycare - but this was a big step that I wasn't ready for.
The Bully Breed Stereotype
Not only does a dog in a muzzle get a bad rep, but everyone knows about the poor portrayal of Pitty's.
Reese already gets eyed as a 'scary' dog - he has such a cute face though!! His reactive behaviour does not help with the looks, oh and he's in a muzzle. People don't want to go near him, they flee from him, pull their children across the roads from him. But guess what? That's okay with me.
What Reese needs is space. If people escape Reese because they're frightened, that gives me room to train him. I don't want to assume the intentions of everyone I come into contact with. I know there are wonderful people out there that do recognize that Reese needs help, and they're crossing the street for him, and I am so thankful for those people.
Reese is a loving dog, cuddles are his fave, and he is so playful. But he's scared, he was abused, he has trust issues, he is also far too protective of me (working on all of this). A muzzle is because I care. It helps me. We can go for an entire walk where I'm almost certain there would never be a situation where he bites, but my anxiety assumes the worst and Reese senses that. A muzzle tells me worst case scenario is he barks, and I can work with that, then I am calm, and so is he (for the most part).
Because I still don't want people to look at Reese the way that they do, I also have him sporting a 'Nervous' leash, which is two feet long and bright yellow. FYI a yellow leash, bandana, collar, or harness, means that the dog is nervous and/or training. Give those dogs space, respect them, and cheer on their owner for the work that they're doing.
Reese also occasionally wears an 'In Training' vest. I figure the more he has on, people can assume he's not just an 'aggressive' dog. He's scared and we're working on it. Assume the best from doggos, we are all working very hard.
Introducing a dog to a muzzle should be done in a certain way so that they don't fear or run away at the sight of a muzzle. Wearing one isn't the most comfortable thing for a dog so their initial reaction will be to resist. Reese was not trained properly and it used to be such a struggle to get it on, he has come a long way but he doesn't enjoy the experience.
I took the time with Riley and with a command he gladly puts it on. Here's what we did:
*This muzzle is not a proper fit for the dog pictures, we used Reese's muzzle for the conditioning phase. Please use resources to help you find the right fit for your dog.
Show them the muzzle. Let them see the muzzle, sniff it, lick it, do whatever is natural. Let them simply be aware of it.
Reward them. Once they sniff it or even if they look and walk away, offer a treat! It'll be a great surprise for them because they didn't have to do anything. Now that you have their attention, show them the muzzle again and reward them. Repeat this so that they know that the presence of a muzzle initiated you giving them a treat. AWESOME!
Let them put it on. Place a treat inside the muzzle, show them and let them get it. They will likely get it and quickly get out of the muzzle. Repeat this a few times.
Put it on. Show them the muzzle as if you were putting in on, and hold a treat on the other end. SO in order for them to get the treat, they have to put in on. Reward and remove the muzzle. Repeat this a few times as well.
Leave it on. Place the muzzle carefully on their snout, leave it for a few seconds, remove and reward! Repeat this as well and see if you can increase the time.
Command it. Say something like 'muzzle' and see if they can put their nose in the muzzle! With the command you can have them put it on remove and reward, or reward them with it on.
Try it out. When you see that your dog is comfortable, try leaving it on for a few minutes, maybe take them for a walk with it on or play with them. Show them that a muzzle does not restrict them from doing things that they love.
This was how I trained my dog, I'm not a professional but this worked for me. Google other options and find what works for your doggo.
A muzzle is a great tool and showing your dog that it isn't scary is so important. The vet can already make a dog nervous, but requiring a muzzle in there when they've never had one on before can worsen the situation for them.
Two types of muzzles that I have are the basket muzzles and mesh. Basket muzzles are great for long term use such as a walk or playing with other dogs, you can easily reward them and they can pant. Mesh muzzles are for limited use. They are more restrictive and are less comfortable for a dog for long periods of time.
I was walking with Reese muzzled on the Bedford Waterfront and a lady passing by said "Such a beautiful dog, can I ask why he's muzzled?" It made my day. I explained his background briefly and our training, and then I thanked her so much for asking. There needs to be more people like her. She kept about 6 ft apart (pre Covid) but was not afraid of Reese, simply respecting him.