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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12 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.)


  3. 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 – The e-booklet is only $4.97.


  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.

  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.


  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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