Muzzle Misconception (Muzzled Dogs are Good Dogs)
Updated: Aug 20, 2022
Trascribed from the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast
Hello and welcome back to the Spicy Dog Mama Podcast. It's episode four and I'm your host Cassidy. I hope that you enjoyed last week's guest interview; it was so wonderful to talk with my friend Kristin about her reactivity journey with Archer. And I got so much positive feedback from that episode! People really just want to hear that they're not alone on their reactivity journey- there are so many of us that are struggling. That's why her and I started the Facebook group Balancing Reactivity, Canadian Dogs. We wanted to create a safe space to share our stories, ask questions and encourage one another without any judgment.
The shame and judgment that I've felt while dealing with my dogs reactivity, and just trying to do my best to help them, has made progress very hard, especially when you feel like you're the only one going through it. Finding a community and building relationships with other dog people has been incredible and has brought us to where we are now. On this episode, I want to talk about one area that I really struggled with while training my dogs- feeling ashamed and embarrassed because of society's view and worrying about how others would perceive my dogs. I want to talk about muzzles. The amazing tool that they are how much freedom they've given my dogs and the misconception that surrounds them.
If I am being absolutely and completely honest, Cassidy prior to June of 2018, would have never thought that she would have a dog who has to wear a muzzle. I did not fully understand muzzles. I didn't even understand reactivity, really. So in my mind at 21 years old, a dog who wears a muzzle is aggressive. You should be afraid of those dogs. Why would I think any differently if I was never told any differently? Which is why I don't immediately blame somebody who looks at my dog in a muzzle and thinks the worst of them. But I think that just says a lot about how much we need to talk about muzzles and advocate for our dogs, and those that have to wear them maybe on a daily basis or every time that they leave the house.
But back when I got Reese and coming into the situation with my prior knowledge about muzzles, I did not want to put one on my dog. Because I knew how I had previously looked at muzzles. I'm now adopting this bully breed who has been abused and is terrified of people. He's terrified or just uncertain about dogs, and he's reactive towards them. People are already judging him because of how he looks. They're judging me because of how he's acting. So if I throw a muzzle on him, what are they left to think, but that he's aggressive, and they should be afraid of him and maybe so far as to think that he should be put down. So especially when we're working on all of this, and we're making huge strides in his reactivity, and he's really learning to trust me, and he's not having such bad reactions.
The type of dog that Reese was, if an off leash dog were to come into his face, unexpectedly, or maybe, I didn't know, if a person were to come out of nowhere, is how he might react. But even with that, I did not want to throw a muzzle on him. Because okay, we're making progress. If you don't know him any better if you're not seeing their reactions, he looks like a well behaved Good boy. So if I put a muzzle on him, they're just going to see - to the public eye - a pitbull with a muzzle, and they're going to think the absolute worst. And I was so focused on his appearance and making sure that bully breeds had a good name, to support the rescues. And to put a muzzle on him... I was just terrified of what other people thought.
I'll even admit that at the start of the activity journey with Rey back in 2020, I still I didn't even consider a muzzle because she was a friendly girl. She was just frustrated. She was reactive towards dogs, but we would go off leash with friends and she would be fine. You know, she was really good with her brothers. She was even okay if she did meet on leash, but her reactions were just so explosive. But that's not to say that I wasn't also afraid of off leash dogs coming out of nowhere if we were on our adventures in the woods. I'm constantly looking over my shoulder to make sure that there are no dogs coming at us or if we're on an on leash trail, constantly looking around for that off leash dog that might come barreling towards Rey especially when I had Riley, my golden boy, with us because she was now very protective of him.
If you remember from Episode Two, she had witnessed Reese go after Riley and she tried to break up that fight. So she was very nervous when dogs tried to approach Riley, she kind of put on this role that she shouldn't have had to be his protector. But yet, it was never an option in my mind to take Rey out with a muzzle, because she's a friendly dog. She's not aggressive. She's not out to get dogs, so why should I punish her? By putting her in a muzzle. I know that putting a dog in a muzzle is not punishment. I'm making this podcast, I think that's self explanatory, but I thought I would just throw that in there anyways.
But my prior perspective and idea about muzzles just comes from never being told differently. And there are so many reasons why a dog might be wearing a muzzle. It's not just about the dog is aggressive and the dog is going to attack you. I think that every dog should be muzzled trained for emergencies. For safety, for peace of mind, there might be situations that arise that you wish you could easily put your dog into a muzzle, one of those situations might be a vet visit. "Oh, my dog loves people, they have no issue at the vet". What happens if your dog might break a leg or get really injured get quilled by a porcupine, and all of a sudden it doesn't want anybody touching it. It's in pain, something's gone wrong, and it wants it space, it might resort to correcting or nipping or biting to make sure that nobody gets into its space. And maybe it's not even that maybe your dog just is nervous of people. It doesn't like being handled, maybe it's nervous about its paws being touched, or it's just genuinely afraid of people, it's not aggressive. But going to the vet with that nervousness, it would put everybody's mind at ease, if that dog were wearing a muzzle knowing that it can't make a poor decision. It just provides that peace of mind and ensures everybody's safety, which is always the top priority.
And another reason that a dog might be wearing a muzzle out in public is because it's a scavenger. There are some dogs that will just pick up anything that they can, whether that's garbage, rocks, dirt, anything. If they can get it in their mouth, they will and they might swallow it. And that is obviously not safe for the dogs. I know dogs that used to be obsessed with picking up rocks. And that's obviously not safe for their teeth. And it was a battle between the owner and the dog to get the rock out of their mouth. And it would result in hands that are bleeding, the dog's teeth can get chipped. I also know dogs that are obsessed with eating dirt. Love you Dolly. So obviously, you can't just let your dog run free when you're still trying to train the dogs out of that habit.
So those dogs might be wearing a muzzle for that reason, which is just to keep them safe. And I will also add if you have a dog who is a scavenger who likes to pick up things off the ground. And if it is a safety concern. There are muzzles that actually have a solid bottom because some dogs are still pretty crafty and can somehow manage to either lick up dirt or the garbage through a muzzle. So I highly recommend the ones that have the solid bottom. But also putting your dog in a muzzle allows for that off leash freedom. Of course, when you're walking your dog on a leash, you should be doing what you can to make sure that they aren't picking up items. Of course, things happen that are out of your control. But if you do want to go off leash, you want to allow your dog that freedom, what are you going to do when it's 30 feet away and it's not responding to that leave it command? The muzzle gives you that off leash freedom so that you can still enjoy doing these things, and you know that your dog is safe.
I think it's also super valuable to use a muzzle in situations that are uncertain you just don't know how your dog is going to respond maybe how the other party is going to respond whether that's another dog or a person. I for example, I used a muzzle on Reese when I introduced him to Rey as a puppy. I had absolutely no idea how he was going to react to me bringing a puppy into his space. So there was no way that I was going to do that interaction without having him in a muzzle. And for Rey, I'll often put her in a muzzle as well for the first interaction with a new dog that she might be meeting off leash, just to give that peace of mind that she can't overcorrect or respond poorly to their behavior. She doesn't do well with overexcited dogs.
I have also put Rey into a muzzle around my nephew who is who was two years old at the time and *Oh gasp* You see a picture of a muzzled dog with a two year old you must think who on earth would let this aggressive dog around that child. Well actually my dog's not aggressive. My dog's especially not aggressive towards children. You know what she likes to do? She likes to give kisses and a lot of them. And my nephew? He's so sweet. He absolutely loves his Rey Rey. But he doesn't want her kisses and come to find out he is actually allergic to them. So I was actually using the muzzle a lot with Rey and my nephew, to give a positive experience, when you're wearing the muzzle, you get to have a lot more freedom with my nephew because, you know, I'm not constantly redirecting you for trying to give kisses that he doesn't want.
He would try to say no Rey Rey. But yeah, it wasn't the same authoritative tone that I'm able to use with her. I know when Rey was a little bit younger, her kisses would actually turn into nips; that was a really bad habit that she had. And there was no way that I was going to let her lick a stranger or a two year old, and then it would turn into a nip. Not aggressive, it didn't even really hurt. But still not an okay behavior that she has thankfully grown out of. But if she was still in that stage, I would 100% put her in a muzzle to meet my nephew so that she couldn't accidentally, even just, pinch him. I don't want him to have this fear of dogs because my girl accidentally over excitedly nipped him when she was trying to say hi.
So maybe you have a dog that gets excited at nips. And putting them in a muzzle when they're meeting new people gives you that peace of mind that they're not going to accidentally do something that they shouldn't, and meeting a new dog. Sometimes it's not always gonna go great, there might be a little scuffle here and there, it just happens with dogs, people don't always get along, we just handle it a little little bit differently. So if your dog is meeting a new dog for the first time, and you're not sure about how it's going to go, a muzzle again provides that peace of mind for you. And you maybe get to experience something that you otherwise wouldn't have been able to experience without a muzzle.
And then there are of course, the bite risk dogs, whether that's towards other dogs or it's towards people, these dogs maybe act unexpectedly towards either a dog or a person. So you're going to put them into a muzzle so that they can't bite somebody. That doesn't mean that they absolutely will. But these dogs are wearing a muzzle because their owners are being responsible knowing what the risks are. And not to say that their dog is aggressive, or it's out to really hurt somebody, but it just might make a poor decision. So they're wearing a muzzle to prevent that.
My dogs would not have had the experience that they've had, if it weren't for the muzzle. Reese, like I had said before, he had a girlfriend. He did not have very many dog friends except for Rey, his sister, and Bella, his girlfriend. But because of the muzzle we became more confident walking our two dogs together and socializing them from a distance just teaching them to be calm and neutral towards each other. And then we were actually able to have them in the same house together. Because the muzzles gave us that confidence and peace of mind.
We also started the program with Playful Paws. their specialized daycare, where Reese could go in a muzzle, and have one on one time with a handler who would introduce him to new dogs one at a time, whatever his comfort level was, and come to find out. Reese actually likes dogs, he actually wants to play with them. He got to meet dogs in a safe, controlled space. And he wouldn't have had that opportunity without the muzzle. But then when it comes to Rey, she's my sweet little puppy. She loves people. She loves dogs.
She's just gets frustrated on leash, she's reactive. And then you know she was starting to overcorrect or run into situations where she shouldn't, where she thought that there might be a fight and try to break those things up. But it wasn't in my mind to put her into a muzzle. And I'm still battling those thoughts that I had with Reese. Where okay, she's a bully breed, she's got some muscle, but she's so sweet. And I want people to just look at her and see a sweet dog. I don't want them to look at Rey and see a muzzle. To see an aggressive dog.
But finally about early 2021- it was still winter. And we had made a few months of progress with her reactivity working with Mango Dogs, and had probably been about a year since she has socialized with any dogs except for her brothers. But I was invited out on a little hike with my friend and a small pack of dogs. I wanted to go I wanted to see how Rey would do. And I finally decided that I was going to put her into a muzzle. So I pulled the old Baskerville from the back of the closet, and off we went and now this is our first experience off leash or really with any dog since her reactivity had began. And it was amazing just to see Rey running with a bunch of dogs that she had never met before, off leash. She wasn't charging at them or acting aggressively, she was just able to exist with these dogs and have a good time, all because I was willing to put her into the muzzle and see how she would do.
Fast forward to today and I'm meeting up with dogs all the time. And we're wearing our muzzles confidently, I will go for off leash adventures with other reactive dogs. And they have done so much socializing just without any contact that we trust them off leash together, we know how they're going to interact. But we put the muzzles on for that peace of mind to know that they can't escalate. If things are going to get out of hand, we will be there to step in, of course, and we're going to monitor their behavior.
But we will go for walks at a random trail completely on leash and still just put their muzzles on because we want to show them that wearing your muzzle means that you get to go on these adventures still, you get to be with your friends, you can have fun with your muzzles. And walking with a pack of dogs that are all wearing their muzzles, you get the looks, you get people moving out of the way. But on that note, if people are going to look at your dog in a muzzle, and they're going to think the worst. If they do give you some space, walk across the street or turn around go in the opposite direction. If you have a reactive dog who is fearful or nervous, of people are dogs, that stranger who may or may not have a dog, walking away or giving you space is probably the best thing for you and your dog. So just take it. Accept it. Their opinion of you or your dog does not matter. So if they want to give you and your dog space, all the power to them, and honestly, thanks.
But I'm not gonna sit here and say that I'm not still a little insecure. When I put Rey into her muzzle, I have taken her to parks that are off leash, and I'm trying to do some training with her. So I'll keep her on leash, but I'll put her in a muzzle, and people give me the looks or they pull their dogs away. And it does suck. I don't enjoy that at all. And I wish that I could just wear this sign that said my dogs friendly, you know, but again, their opinion doesn't matter. But I just wish that people didn't have that perception of dogs and muzzles. And also being in an apartment building. If I'm leaving and I want to bring Rey's muzzle with me, I'm usually putting it into a bag so that people in the hallways or in the elevators, don't see me with a muzzle because I'm trying to just show the world that my girls friendly, not to judge a breed. And if they see the muzzle, these are people that I see frequently so I want them to think the absolute best of her and not question why I'm putting a muzzle on her.
There was actually one experience when I was walking with Reese on the Bedford waterfront and we were stopped by this woman who just complimented Reese on how beautiful and well behaved he was. But then asked me why is he wearing a muzzle. And I loved that I have never been asked before why my dog was wearing a muzzle. And I just explained Reese, his background, and the training that we were doing. And honestly I thanked her for asking me that question and for being open to it and not just assuming that he was a bad dog.
But I have gotten to know so many people in the dog community that support muzzles, and their dogs are living their best lives. Because they're choosing to muzzle their dogs, that shows a responsible dog owner and somebody who's willing to work with their dog. That's not to say that any dog, you can put a muzzle on them and they're free to go socialize with other dogs. I mean, that wasn't the case for Reese. Rey is a very different dog than Reese, and so we're able to do these things. But some dogs have to wear a muzzle when they go on walks. We should have in case an off leash dog came at us or just an unexpected situation. There are dogs who have to wear muzzles in their own house. I mean, there were moments in my multi dog household if I was doing some training, I would muzzle Reese in his own home because he did not get along with Riley.
But there is nothing wrong with muzzling your dog, it gives you that peace of mind, it ensures safety, and it just gives them in, in certain cases, so much more freedom and allows you to train in ways that you might not otherwise be able to or trust yourself or trust your dog. Again, I would suggest every dog be muzzle trained for these unexpected situations even if it's the most friendly dog in the world. There is nothing wrong with muzzle training. And there's definitely a certain way to do it because you can't just throw a muzzle on your dog and expect it to love it. I mean I wear glasses and I absolutely hate those on my face.
Well also we can talk about COVID and wearing masks and how many people were unhappy about that you, even though it's for the safety of everybody, Ooh, interesting. If you put your dog into a muzzle, they're not necessarily going to love it. So there's definitely a conditioning period you have to really help your dog to learn that wearing a muzzle is okay. It involves a lot of treats and rewards and just take your time with it. I actually did muzzle training with Rey when she was about a year old and she did great, we took our time, she took her treats, she was fine wearing the muzzle, but we never wore it until over a year later when I actually needed to put her into a muzzle and I did not recondition her, I just put the muzzle on and off we went and she hated it. She was rolling her face into the ground. She was using both of her paws and tried to get it off. So I had to do a lot of work to condition her again to the muzzle and it was so much harder.
Now she still struggles with it because we didn't do it properly. And she does not love the muzzle but I also worked to find a muzzle that was better for her that allowed more pant room and it was lighter so that she was able to tolerate it more. And she wears a muzzle so often and they're nice and colorful so they look cute, and it has been a key part in our training journey. I am just so thankful for the people that we met that are advocating for their dogs and showcasing them wearing their muzzles being responsible dog owners and making all of us feel more comfortable about doing the same. It's all a part of trying to get people to look at muzzles in a different light.
Muzzled dogs are not bad dogs, you do not need to necessarily fear the dog in the muzzle, but you should absolutely respect them. You can also ask questions if you see a dog wearing a muzzle. Go ahead and ask the owners why. I can't promise that every owner is going to want to talk about it. But I know that I love being asked these questions. Honestly I had a completely different idea about what I wanted to talk about this episode. But I'm happy with the direction that this went and talking about muzzles something that has been so important to me and Rey and to so many dogs that I interact with on a daily basis.
Well, I hope you enjoyed this episode and listening to my thoughts on muzzles. If you did enjoy it, or if you didn't, please like, rate, subscribe, follow whatever it is, share it with your friends. And please let me know what you thought about it. You can find me on Instagram @SpicyDogMama. I also have an email if anybody prefers reaching out that way. It's simply email@example.com. I want to know your thoughts. I want to know your honest thoughts about the show. Also, what do you want to hear? Do you want to have more conversations with other dog owners? Do you want to be a part of the discussion? I would absolutely love that. Literally my favorite thing is to talk with dog people about dogs all the time. I would love to chat with you.
And of course I cannot forget about my girl Rey. You can follow her on Instagram @mylittlepibble. You can see some of her adventures and training opportunities that she gets to have while wearing her muzzle. Thank you again so much for listening. I have no idea what's in store for next week. But until then, take care you're doing awesome.
Resources for muzzles/muzzle training: