Are Muzzles Cruel?

Dear John
 
I have read your article on muzzling. I have a problem in that a young lady friend of the family has a Labrador Retriever which was obtained as a puppy even though both partners were out to work all day.  One of them popped home for a bit at lunch time. Just recently I heard that someone called the Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals because the dog was left outside all day with no shelter. The RSPCA advised that adequate shelter be provided.
 
Now I hear that the dog has started to get into the food cupboard and destroy its contents. Instead of just locking the cupboard they are now muzzling the dog.  I assume this is when it is left and at night as one of the owners is out of work at the moment. Please may I have your views on a dog being left with a muzzle on when it is not used to it. Is it cruel?


Dear Hermione,

Muzzling the dog or locking the cupboards, are just work around strategies and while they may resolve the owner’s problem they won’t the dog’s. Neither strategy, take care of the dog’s problem which from what you write is a dog that at the very least is an untrained, mentally and physically under stimulated dog. Dogs are the same as our own children, it’s only with supervision and training and coordinated physical activity that keeps them from nicking chocolate bars from the local mall and eventually ending up in the poky.

In theory I don’t have a problem with muzzles, providing the basket design is used when the dog has to wear it for more then a few minutes. The snug ones which don’t allow the dog to properly pant and dissipate body heat. However, I’m not a big fan of using muzzles to stop barking, chewing or cupboard raids etc. It’s the wrong tool for the job.

As far as the cruelty factor, I guess that depends on how you define cruelty. Technically it means causing pain or distress. If it is cruel to cause distress then I’m going to have to hide the copy of the paper this column appears in before my sons see it, as according to them I’m constantly causing them mental distress by muzzling their God given rights as children by enforcing household rules and as they get older implementing new ones. They have threatened to put Children’s Aid on speed dial. Having been there at one point in my life, I can relate, but just in case they do get a copy of the column, –  too bad boys, with a little luck and in more then one way you’ll survive.

You’re right of course, whenever possible a muzzle should be introduced gradually. I’ve seen some dogs literally drop to the ground and refuse to move when muzzled the first time. Others just try to get the darn thing off and can think of nothing else. With gradual introduction and desensitization, even positive associations just as the sight of a dog’s leash elicits boundless joy in spite of being a pretty significant impediment to their overall freedom so can a muzzle. It’s not unlike a dog’s perspective on a crate, introduced and used incorrectly a crate to some dogs is nothing but a body muzzle, introduced correctly it is a sanctuary. Veterinarians face this quandary every day when faced with providing care for an aggressive dog. They have to pick the lesser of three evils. Take the bite and give the shot, muzzle the dog and give the shot or send the dog packing without the shot.

The people you write about must have some interest in the dog or wouldn’t take the time to visit at lunch time. I believe they simply don’t know what a dog needs and how to give it and need some guidance as how to do it. Perhaps armed with the correct information they would provide for the dog’s needs or simply find it a better home. Too bad the SPCA hadn’t done more then simply issue an order. They’d be better off ordering the attendance to a little seminar or at the very least the officer should have a friendly educational chat. People can respond better to the carrot rather then the stick sometimes.

 

-John Wade

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20 thoughts on “Are Muzzles Cruel?”

  1. Dog Guy,
    My girlfriend’s Brother has a dog that’s about a year old he was from a shelter,, when they take him to get groomed the dog seems to be obedient. And the other hand when I go to the house where they live, the dog barks and tends to bite me when I enter the house. Doesn’t matter how many times I visit. The dog has the same behaviour every time he sees me .. now they refuse to give the dog proper guidance, I’ve mentioned a muzzle whenever they have visitors they can put on the dog. That also they refused.. so my question is how do “I” protect myself when I go visit my girlfriend without getting bit or getting this dog to get to know me? This dog is frightening.

  2. Hi my dog bark a lot i tried everything to stop barking people in my building started hating me because off my dog jimmy and my dog is my life please help me to make him stop barking.

    Thank you dear
    Your friend Anita

    1. Hi Anita,

      There’s a lot you might be able to try but without knowing a lot more about the dog and context of the barking I can’t be of much help. One of the biggest reasons (of many big reasons) that people fail to get nuisance barking to stop is the remedies are often oriented on solving the dog owner’s problem (barking, annoyed neighbours) and doesn’t address the dog’s problem (anxiety, boredom, lack of training etc.)

      John

  3. Linda Clark

    When I take my puppy outside to potty, she eats everything. She got tape worms possibly by eating something. Vet said she had ingested a flea some how. Would it be cruel to muzzle her when we take her out?

    1. Hi Linda,

      Ingesting a flea might do it. So will eating things like rabbit poop. If she’s not used to a muzzle, muzzling her might shut her down and she may not eliminate. Instead I’d prepare a designated “bathroom” area and train her to go there on a schedule. You’ll have to accompany her for quite a while to keep her from wandering and snacking.

      I’ve sent by email “John Wade’s House Training Cheat Sheet” and a chart you can use to track progress. Check your spam or junk folders if not in your inbox.

      Keep in mind this is the basic approach for getting a pup on track for learning where they should eliminate, to do so 3 times a day on a schedule and to do so in a small area so you aren’t cleaning up “landmines” all over the yard. If you want something more detailed then the cheat sheet and especially if you are having a long standing problem I’d recommend buying my more detailed e-booklet – http://store.askthedogguy.com/how-to-housetrain-a-puppy-in-5-days-or-less-by-john-wade/ The e-booklet is only $4.97.

      John

  4. Dear John,

    My sister has two dogs, brother and sister who grew up together. They’re both 5.5 now. Most of the time they get along great, but over the years there have been incidents between them.
    They’ve gotten into all out battles over toys and food multiple times over the years. Most recently she and her fiancé were doing jumping jacks and the dogs tussled because of it. One has showed aggression towards people when protecting another dog.
    They don’t really like strangers either. One has to be exposed to a person for a about a year now before going muzzle free with them. The other usually just ignores people.
    The fiancé gets nervous in certain situations when they’re around which I’m guessing the dogs feed off of.
    They love their dogs very much, but don’t know what to do.
    They tossed around the idea of unfortunately putting one of them down, but can’t give the dogs up because of the stranger situation and the anxiety both dogs have.
    They also talked about keeping both dogs in muzzels whenever they’re around each other and continuing to separate they while no one is home. Is it cruel to keep the dogs in muzzels so much?
    Thank you.

    1. It depends on the muzzle. You want the basket kind and not the type that clamp their jaws in a mostly closed position. People often don’t like the look of the basket type because it makes their dog look like Hannibal Lector. Keep in mind it’s better to see what you can do about the behaviour itself. The article link below contains information about what causes conflict between dogs. A muzzle isn’t really a solution. It’s an emergency brake for when all else fails.

      1. James Powell

        Reading these comments, I find it extremely sad and disappointing that when a behavioural problem should be addressed people very quickly think about and reach to muzzles. It is dreadful. And the fact that people go for the bark muzzle type because they do not want to make the dog mean looking. Is it even an argument? It is not the people around the dog who wear the muzzle, but the dog. I feel like these people can not even imagine what a dog feels when wearing a muzzle. I do not know how such a tight, physically resctrictive and easy to abuse thing like a bark muzzle is allowed to be used outside of the veterinary. It is widely accepted that they are very inhumane, but I see too much of them on the street and I can tell by experience that most dogs hate it. Such irresponsie dog owners.

        1. Dear James,

          I know you’ are well-meaning, and I do appreciate your input, but I don’t think much of what you’ve had to say has any basis in reality at least the reality based on my experience. Feel free to provide further clarification if I’ve misunderstood.

          To start off, you say, “people very quickly think about and reach to muzzles.” Your ‘experience’ is the complete opposite of my thirty years of experience working full time with companion dogs. My reality has been that even when a dog is a biter and a serious threat many if most regions have “muzzle orders,” meaning the owner has to be forced to muzzle their dog in specific settings. Even people that make the decision to do so themselves for the safety of others or to address specific behavior problems unrelated to aggression (the latter being unwise in my view) they do so with regret and out of desperation. That desperation in my experience is because what passes for companion dog training advice in the veterinarian and dog training world has miserably failed them.

          As to the type of muzzle selection, you’re being too hard on people. As many are prone to in this crazy era of social media where everyone that has an opinion regardless lack of real knowledge feels they need to share it, you’re confusing love of dogs and your limited experience with actual knowledge. The incorrect selection of a muzzle has in my experience always been based on ignorance. True, people worry about the “Hannibal Lector cosmetics of the basket type but in my experience without exception when enlightened regarding the problems with the snout completely shut muzzles, I’ve never had anyone not immediately make the switch (and feel bad).

          When you say, “I feel like these people cannot even imagine what a dog feels when wearing a muzzle.” I had a little chuckle for a variety of reasons. First, many working dogs, particularly in Europe and in the military learn to wear muzzles and are no more disturbed by wearing them than they are their far more life-access restricting and often used leashes. If it’s a necessity and time allows dogs can be as acclimatized to the correct wearing and use of a muzzle as they can a collar or a leash or those booties, sweaters and other generally completely unnecessary nonsense dogs are subjected to. I’m not saying they like it, but they can deal with it without wrecking their self-esteem or requiring therapy.

          For what it’s worth, I was just chatting with some women friends of mine as one now requires surgery for bunions a byproduct of essentially muzzling a woman’s foot via high heels and other fashionable but uncomfortable and anti-ergonomic footwear. Although we have it far easier than our XX chromosome counterparts, I personally find some aspects of a man’s haberdashery unnaturally restrictive as well. So, I think people can “imagine” how a muzzle might ‘feel’ to a dog, which contrary to what you seem to be implying (people gleefully jump at the chance to muzzle their dogs) is in part the general overall reluctance to go the muzzle route. The reality in my experience is they end up using muzzles because companion dog trainers (and breeders) are almost always amateurs and have led them astray and so the dogs end up with problems that could have been avoided. (More on that in a bit.)

          What pool of experience are you drawing to say, “It is widely accepted that they are very inhumane, but I see too much of them on the street, and I can tell by experience that most dogs hate it. Such irresponsie [sic] dog owners.”? Accepted by whom and with what credentials? If it’s widely accepted that they’re inhumane, that’s the first I’ve heard of it. It’s a tool. Tools, like collars or muzzles aren’t inhumane, whereas the fool (whether due to ignorance, stupidity or mislead by pseudo-trainers) at the end of a tool can be inhumane.

          This wouldn’t be barely an issue at all if it weren’t for the fact that the companion dog training world is driven by companion dog ‘trainers’ that “love” dogs but know next to nothing about legitimate behavior and learning theory and science. They provide input to unsuspecting companion dog owners not based on science but based on emotion. Because social media is the ideal Petri dish for ignorance and stupidity they congregate and now get to spread diseases like ‘R+/All Positive/Purely Positive/Force-Free/Never Say No/Skinner Meant Two Quadrants Not Four/Everyone Gets A Trophy/Don’t Wreck The Dog’s Self-Esteem/Sit Down And Talk About Our Feelings’.

          Outside of the setting, the ‘training’ ideology was researched it was never designed for learning real-world life skills in real-world settings and sets people up for training failure and their dogs for problems they wouldn’t otherwise have. Outside of the controlled environment, obedience ring, agility ring, rat’s maze, Orca’s aquarium this approach to companion dog training is nothing more than pseudo-science. Not one research paper on the planet to support it in real-world settings and millions of years of evolutionary biology and psychology definitively saying otherwise.

          Now we have nothing but dogs learning tricks and their owners have no more real control over them than the 5 professional Orca trainers that have been killed and another approximately 35 that have been seriously injured or attacked by ‘trained’ aka taught tricks, Orcas using this approach. This fun but a useless approach to companion dog training is not designed for learning or teaching life skills. And yet because someone tired of working at Walmart can buy a bag of treats, pretend that the movie the Lady and the Tramp was a documentary can on their own say so, without a whit of comprehension as to what actually constitutes behavior modification outside of the aquarium (aka the real world) can call themselves a companion dog trainer. They actually have ‘professional’ associations supporting their nonsense, further entrenching their cancerous approach to companion dog training.

          I work with some of the most aggressive dogs you can imagine. I do not use muzzles when I work with these dogs as I want to assess the real dog, and I do fear that a muzzled dog may behave differently. However, I would not hesitate to recommend their use as a means to keep others safe, because as much as I like dogs, I don’t believe that absolves us of our responsibility to others. In the context of addressing non-aggression behavior problems, I’ve never recommended them. There are far better ways to address those sorts of behavior.

          Regards,

          John ‘Ask The Dog Guy’ Wade
          Embracing Science and Common Sense

          1. James Powell

            Dear John Wade,

            First and foremost I am thankful for pointing out my comment was well-meaning. It is.

            I indeed have lack of REAL LIFE/GENERAL experience. It seems that practise is different from what you can find on the web when searching for term “muzzle”. That way it is easy to find those people who want to use muzzles for almost anything and anyhow. Now I have a real-life picture that you gave me and that clarifies things, thank you.

            Though, when it comes to the selection of muzzle, you said I confuse love with my limited experience and say it is a matter of ignorance. But actually, ignorance/neglect is not one thing I associate with caring/love. Especially, when it is way too easy for the owner to notice that the dog can not open the mouth at all (is it that hard to notice?) but does nothing about it (except if alarmed by someone else of course).

            You know, I am hard on this type of muzzle because it looks and it is very invasive and I actually had chance to experience dogs struggling with it on the bus or street. Well it was only 3 times but that was shocking enough to form an opinion. Imagine when you are on the bus and see that the dog is clearly terrified and tries hard to take it off in despair and the owner ignores it. She can not open the mouth at all and is really tight on the face. I was looking at the dog and coincidentally looked back and seemed sad. I mean very sad. I could say it was traumatic. Because of that I think I might be given a pass for my inexperienced statements.

            That was just one single case and I indeed do not have a 30 years’ experience. Maybe dogs can be made to get used to wearing it for short periods of time when given proper training. If that is the case assure me in a reply. I read an article written by a veterinarian who said they should be used for as short as 1-3 minutes (usually only to give the shot). But of course as nothing can be trusted on the internet, maybe it can not be either. It is also possible that I misinterpreted it to fit my opinion.

            My statement that they are widely accepted as inhumane is drawn, on part from internet sources. Maybe I just overreacted a milder expression, or forgot to mention an important detail. Like, in reality what I read was “the basket type is more humane”, or that “the bark muzzle type is inhumane/cruel when worn for long periods”. If we look at the latter argument, it is indeed the matter of what you said, the person at the end of the tool. When we look at the first argument, well, maybe I indeed overreacted it. It is just my own personal opinion that it is cruel when an animal is physically restrained, and a basket muzzle does not do that.

          2. James Powell

            Dear John,

            I would like to mention one more thing. I talked about people not being able to undertsand [sic] what a muzzle can feel like. Well, certainly, the owner is more emphatic [sic] with his/her own dog and those who experienced similar things. And you know I can not read other’s thoughts and never asked others’ opinions. I indeed have little experience here. And in another example of those 3 cases where I had to see a dog suffering hard from a bark muzzle the end of the story was that the owner was merciful and removed it on the bus. And instead of rage I had to experience other people on the bus stroking the dog to comfort her. That was heart touching.

            But what I have read on the web is that a great portion of people when see a dog in a muzzle first think of what a vicious agressive [sic] evil creature that dog is. And, I can not really imagine that these people are able to see the situation from the dog side, or more precisely emphatise [sic] with her. I do not think they understand what it can feel like. But it is just web articles whose authenticity I can not verify.

          3. The vast majority of what you read on the web or encounter in what passes for companion dog training in North America is supplied by people that have on average a high-school exposure to science and nothing related to behavior intended for real-world settings and real-life skills. It’s an unregulated industry that’s more fun to work in than stocking shelves somewhere, and they can and do set up a website, buy some business cards and voila they’re professional dog trainers. They blindly believe and pass on companion dog training pseudo-science. I suspect that whatever you’re reading on this topic is similarly sourced.

            At best, what they embrace is a limited understanding of B.F. Skinner’s work, which has its place, but there isn’t a higher order species on the planet that uses their skewed interpretation in its entirety and the majority of the time these ‘trainers’ prefer only to use 2 quadrants. They’ve undermined real science and are wrecking companion dogs in epidemic proportions.

            The sad reality is that it isn’t until post-secondary education and even so only in some educational disciplines are we typically formerly taught critical thinking, learning to look for the dangers of cognitive bias and logical fallacies. Without these filters companion dog training has been driven by people that love dogs but promote ideologies they call science.

            These self-described ‘professional’ companion dog trainers would lose their scientific disorientation by reading the tsunami of research related to behavior that is available in the fields of ethology, evolution, evolutionary psychology, sociobiology, anthropology, etc.

            Where you felt moved and had a “heart touching” experience, I would have felt and do feel a combination of disgust and concern.

            When you see a dog wearing a muzzle in a public setting, it’s not a fashion accessory. It’s there for a reason.

            No one I know wants to muzzle their dog. The only reason I have known companion dog owners to use muzzles in a public setting is when they have been given no choice (city or court order) as a result of their dog having bitten someone and a proven lack of ability to predict and control people and/or other animals their dog might reach. All that person you describe as “merciful” (or in my view foolish) did was abandon reason and perhaps even ignore a court order and expose innocent people to unnecessary risk and set their dog up to fail yet again, taking one more step towards euthanasia (They only get so many bites). Perhaps that dog’s aggression is only triggered by children or someone with a cane or any number of things. Whatever the reason, that dog was wearing a muzzle because history had proved the owner was ill-equipped to protect others from their dog.

            Worthy of note, if the dog in question was in a public setting and was wearing a muzzle due to a past bite and the owner removed the muzzle and another bite occurred the dog’s owner has extended their liability from solely civil to criminal negligence.

            A basket muzzle is a better choice for the contexts you’ve encountered muzzled dogs; on that, I think we agree. However, unless I’m misunderstanding, you appear to assume a muzzle (whatever the type) is rarely if ever necessary and if necessary, the dog’s comfort and “feelings” should come before safety concerns.

            The reality is that perspectives like these result in one out of two children bitten by dogs before the age of twelve. (CDC) According to the Insurance Information Institute and State Farm, “dog bites and other dog-related injuries accounted for more than one-third of all homeowners liability claim dollars paid out in 2016, costing in excess of $600 million “. Or that, when dogs bite homeowners insurers pay out, it’s an average of $33,230 per claim. This seems to suggest that the odd dog out there might need to wear a muzzle if their owner is interested in remaining solvent and having their dog continue to live.

            Regards,

            John ‘Ask The Dog Guy’ Wade
            Embracing Science and Common Sense

          4. James Powell

            Dear John,

            The last of the 3 hard-to-deal-with bark muzzle experiences I encountered was when I was walking by the dog and she happened to try barking at me. And of course what I heard was nothing but muffled groaning, and what I saw was nothing but a dog trying to take it off. People find it nowhere cruel/inhumane to forcefully close a dog’s mouth rendering her unable to bark? It was a disgusting experience for me. Well, opinions can vary, but mine is exactly the above mentioned. Why not let the dog bark? Why? That should not be a function of a muzzle.

          5. When someone solely use “tools” to prevent a dog from barking, they are only solving the dog owner’s problem and not the dog’s. That’s not good dog training. FWIW, there’s barking, and then there’s excessive barking.

            Regards,

            John ‘Ask The Dog Guy’ Wade
            Embracing Science and Common Sense

  5. My 15-month-old granddaughter and her mom live with me in a small house. Until my granddaughter was born, our 80 lb mixed dog (boxer, hound and Rottie lived with us. The dog’s job is in her mind to protect the house. Her whole eight years, her bed has been in our living room, in front of the window. The toddler seems to love her but grabs at the dog, making her growl. She has never been an outside dog, but now we are putting her out in the daytime and in at night. However, this winter it is too cold, so we are considering putting her in the kitchen do you have any other ideas? We have tried to correct the child and grabbed her as soon as this starts.

    1. Hi Carrie,

      I think the stakes are high and recommend either finding someone that knows how to assess dogs and is realistic about what can be expected of a parent and a 15 month old child or failing which contact me for a Skype consult so I can ask quite a few questions and make recommendations.

      John

  6. I have 2 females as well as 2 makes. My dogs
    Ramgemin age. My first female
    Is around7-8 years old. The next is a 3 yr old make which is her pup the 3rd is my service dog Thor at 3 years old. Now Selene is a pitbull why is going on 11 months. We always got dog fights broke up pretty easy when Bella and Apollo would fight. She would even fight with my laze
    Zeus. When Bella is a lot with the males she seems to be fine. We keep the females separated at all times. Today we had a very terrible
    Dog fight incident with the two females we had a hard chance to break up. Once we
    Broke it up Bella had a lot of puncture wounds which I have been treating. Is muzzling the best choice when they are together or should we just keep them
    Forever separated. It’s fristrating as the female pitbull has issues with nobody but Bella. Bella has been fixed and Selene has not been fixed yet due to she just went through her first season. I originally thought that was the issue for it to be wrong. Please we need major help to not only protect our beloved babies but to protect us as well. Out dogs are family so euthanizing isn’t an option and neither is jus patting. We need massive help

    1. Hi Tammy,

      Sorry for the delay in getting to this. Multiple dog households are far more likely to require dog owners that don’t confuse their dogs with or consider their dogs to be babies. I highly recommend finding a trainer to learn how to get these dogs to take you more seriously and assess whether they’re a good match for living together. No point endangering them or having them live in ongoing fear or stress because you want to force them to be family. They’re dogs. Love them fiercely for sure but if you’re having to keep dogs separated because you lack influence over their behavior either because you choose to live with them as if they’re babies or roommates as opposed to being a respected authority figure you’re not being fair to the dogs. Don’t worry, you won’t have to love them less to get the relationship tuned up but you’ll have to love them a lot more if they’re simply not a good match for each other even if you do tune them up as you may have to re-home one or more. Read this booklet to learn how to find the right training and trainer to help you out. ‘John Wade’s Guide To: What Are The Different (and best) Puppy and Dog Training Methods?’

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