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Why every dog should learn to wear a muzzle

We recently welcomed a terrier cross called Chase into the AniMate family. He’s one year old, and is a rescue from Dogs Trust. We don’t know much of his history, other than that he was a stray at one point, and then has been through three homes since – needless to say, he’s come to us with a fair few behavioural problems. As living in a home environment long term isn’t particularly familiar to him, we’ve been taking things really slowly. One of Chase’s struggles is with other dogs, so we have been walking in quiet areas to avoid seeing them, as every encounter is very stressful for him and has a knock-on effect on his behaviour throughout the rest of the day. Another behavioural issue that we are working through with Chase is that he shows redirected aggression. This is where his frustration about a situation builds up so much that he redirects his emotions into biting something – usually whatever is closest to him. Unfortunately in a couple of instances this has been us, but often it is his bed, or the nearest dog toy. Problems such as redirected aggression and reactivity do not have quick fixes, and while we are working on them, we need to make sure that we keep everybody around us safe. For this reason, Chase is being trained to wear a muzzle.

Chase learning to target his nose into the muzzle

However, even if Chase was not showing any behavioural issues, we would still muzzle train him. There is a huge stigma associated with muzzle training. People see the muzzle and automatically think ‘bad dog’ – but this doesn’t have to be the case. Imagine a dog that is in severe pain, and needs to go to the vet. Even the gentlest of dogs has the potential to react negatively in this situation, and this could result in the vet or owner being bitten. However, most dogs are not muzzle trained, so to suddenly force a dog to wear a muzzle when it is already in pain and about to undergo a stressful procedure will only add to its distress. A dog that is used to being muzzled can be safely handled in this situation, without causing it any additional worry. It is also worth remembering that just because your dog is friendly and calm in public now, sadly that can change all too quickly – for example, the dog that I grew up with, a border terrier, was perfectly happy and friendly, until she was attacked by another terrier out walking. Now, she will growl and snap at small dogs if she meets them on her walks. For some dogs, a negative experience with another dog may lead to reactivity, and this may require the dog to be muzzled when out walking. But again, to suddenly introduce the muzzle for activities that the dog finds stressful will serve to increase the dog’s stress levels. A dog that has been muzzle trained in advance will be better prepared for the unexpected.

We are being very careful not to just use the muzzle in situations where Chase is likely to react, as this could cause him to dislike wearing the muzzle. After teaching him to target his nose into the muzzle, we accustomed him to having the strap done up by holding it closed for a few seconds at a time. Gradually from there we have been able to pop it on him for a few minutes in the garden, and now he is able to wear it around the house and has shown us that he even feels comfortable enough to sleep in it!

Most recently, we have introduced the muzzle on quiet walks where there are no dogs around, for short bursts initially, building up to him wearing it for the entire walk. Chase is already proving himself to be adaptable and is taking the muzzle training in his stride. We look forward to continuing with the rest of his training.

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