Some time ago I posted a video about a dog I was walking who was up for adoption. In the video, he is wearing a head harness (like a horse bridle for dogs). I had several times noticed that people seemed to avoid us when I was walking him, despite his excellent leash manners and tendency to pretty much ignore everyone in favor of sniffing grass and watching for squirrels. Sure, his being a big, blocky headed black dog might have been the reason, but I often saw people looking at the head halter and thought that they must think it was a muzzle and therefore think he must be dangerous.
My commenting that 'a head halter isn't a muzzle' in the post introducing the video led one of my readers to give me some very welcome education on muzzles and made me realize that I had inadvertently been holding a negative stereotype about them and passing it on.
There is a fair bit of irony here as there was also a time that I had to confront the fact that, even having never met one, I had developed an innate fear of pit bulls. Having since met, walked, and hosted several pit bulls in my home, by the time I made the little video of my pumpkin-headed friend, I was so past that fear that I assumed the only scary thing about him must have been that skinny strap over his nose!
Because seriously...this face...
In terms of personal experience, I have not worked with any dogs yet whose owners employ the use of muzzles, but having read more on them and having met several reactive dogs, I can see how, regardless of what impression they might give the uninformed, they could well prove to be a very important piece of equipment for many dogs who struggle mightily in stressful situations. And knowing how stressful it can be to work with a reactive dog, I further understand that neutralizing fear in the dog handler can yield ample benefits as well (stress can cycle from dog to handler and back again, escalating the reactivity).
Want to do some further investigation?
Inspired by people like me (with hidden negative impressions about muzzles), the MuzzleUp! Project was established to help educate the public, as well as dog owners, in an effort to destigmatize their use. Keep in mind, a muzzle is not a substitute for training, but it may help make gains in training possible by helping everyone, including the dog, feel safer.
In fact, The MuzzleUp! Project now offer CEUS for shelter staff and veterinarians on muzzle training. Check out their Facebook page as well.
Um, muzzle training? Like, don't you just buckle it on?
In a word, OH, HELL NO! (Okay, that was three words.)
As with ANY novel equipment with a fearful dog (including head harnesses), proper introduction and slow desensitization is key. This article is a great read on that process.
Have thoughts and experiences on the use of muzzles from your own experience with them? Please share in the comments section!
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