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To Muzzle or Not To Muzzle – That is the Question

Dog with a muzzleI have some questions for you regarding putting a muzzle on a dog. I have a 1 1/2 yr old spayed female Siberian Husky. She has been socialized in the beginning at the dog park, but, since I have had a baby, I have not had her there in a long time. She has of course changed both in size and in disposition. She lives with two other dogs, a 9 yr old female Labrador Retriever and a 5 yr old Beagle cross. They do play well together and I take them for a walk daily where all three have off leash time.

She will come back as I take treats with me and so far so good. However, I think if there were a distraction she would chose that over me and my treats. I am not worried about her biting UNLESS the person she was to hypothetically run after started to run. Basically, if they ran she would get into that prey instinct mode and chase. I cannot predict how innocent bystanders will react to her if this were to happen. (If they were to stand there and get ready to pet her, no problem, but if they were to run I predict the chase would be on and who knows if she would bite or not).

My question: Is it humane to muzzle her when I let her go? I would do this to eliminate all possibility of her biting or someone claiming she bit them when she may not have. Or, is it as cruel as I think it looks? How is the best way to introduce the muzzle so she won’t hate it? How long/ day should I put it on at first? Do you recommend any particular type? (nylon are lightweight, but I have heard they are no good as they prevent panting and subsequently body temperature control)


Perturbed in PEI

Hi Perturbed in PEI,

There will be dogless people reading your letter thinking to themselves, “She’s wondering whether she should risk my being bitten vs. whether her dog should be muzzled?” Guess what? Either muzzle the dog or keep it out of the park. As a father of kids that like to go to the park, I’d rather you  keep the scoundrel way the heck away from them and not even show up. Some day I’m going to run up to a complete stranger with an unruly dog in a park, jump on the owner, lick their face or bite them. I’ll decide at the last minute as I want to keep them guessing and on their toes. Our responsibility toward our dogs should never absolve us of our responsibility toward family, friends and strangers.  Any one that can’t control their dog should stay out of public areas and that goes even if the dog is on a leash. A dog launching itself at at pedestrian startling the dickens out of some of them just isn’t fair. Even if it’s just to say hi. On the other hand, properly train the dog so you can go anywhere and every body wins.

Good question about choosing which type of muzzle. The lightweight nylon ones are intended for very short term periods of time wear. Just a few minutes. It is true the dog can’t pant and cool it’s body properly if its jaws are clamped shut. A proper muzzle for the active dog is a properly fitted basket muzzle and the dog can breath properly, drink and even eat while wearing. it People don’t like them though as they think it makes their dog look like Hannibal Lector. If you’re looking for a balance of functionality and safety the basket muzzles are the way to go.

As far as the actual muzzling goes, ideally they are introduced gradually with positive associations. Try things like lining the inside with wet dog food or some treat that will adhere. Don’t just muzzle the dog in a single circumstance, mix it up and with as many positive activities as possible. In many places in Europe and with a lot of working protection dogs, muzzle training starts early and the dogs just grow up with it so it’s not a problem. Introduced later in life, despite all efforts a dog may not like it but they will grow used to it. If you compare a muzzle to a leash, it’s the leash that acts as the more active environment restraint of the two. Yet a dog sees its leash coming off the shelf and it’s go time. It’s a matter of context. With some patience a dog can see a muzzle and go, “Alright!”. Racing greyhounds wear them all the time and get quite pumped when they see them as it means they’re going to do something they love.

I think you should find a good dog trainer to check out your dog and see if it can be determined what would happen if someone froze up or ran away if your dog approaches. Maybe nothing, maybe nothing that can’t be trained out of the dog and maybe something that not given proper weight will ultimately cost your dog her life.

– John Wade

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