Guest Blog By Client Kristin Yarris
Have you ever seen a dog wearing a muzzle and thought: that must be a “bad dog,” or “that person must be a bad dog human”? If so… think again! Dogs wear muzzles for MANY reasons… maybe they were adopted and had a bite history prior to being in their current human’s care, maybe they are nervous around other dogs, children, or large humans and their human just wants to keep everyone around them safe, maybe they feel more comfortable in a muzzle because it allows them to be out in the world in situations where otherwise their behavior might be unpredictable and this way they and their humans know everyone will be safe. Whatever the reasons, muzzles can be part of fear-free and minimally-invasive training methods. When conditioned to wear muzzles, for dogs, their muzzles might be just like their leashes and harnesses, tools for them to move about the world safely. Most muzzles permit dogs to take treats and drink water and can even be custom-fit, so dogs can wear them very comfortably.
As a muzzle-wearing dog human, I’ve learned so much from my reactive dog companion, Desmond Tutu (aka “Desi”). Desi came to me very traumatized, fearful, anxious, and under-socialized. Early on in our training journey, our trainer Micaela (of Rockstar Dog Training fame) worked with me and Desi to condition him to a muzzle and eventually to order an Austrian-made, custom-fit muzzle (of course, in Desi’s colors: blue and silver!). (Did you know many EU cities have muzzle laws just like leash laws to keep everyone safe –especially in those crowded German beer gardens! A bit more civilized, I’d say! Side note: Please respect leash laws, people!!) Of course our journey together hasn’t been easy: it took me several months of conditioning to get Desi to go in the muzzle comfortably and without resistance. One thing I tried to do along the way was use the muzzle in situations that were fun and enjoyable for Dez- like group training sessions with Micaela. In these instances, Desi didn’t “need” his muzzle – we always kept a lot of distance from the other dogs and people – but wearing it created positive associations.
We have also been very happy that Desi is muzzle-wearing when we go to the vet – and the veterinary staff is as well. Desi had a prior traumatic episode at a groomer, (before coming to me), which ended with his being forcibly restrained and having injury. So he’s very nervous and fearful in situations with strangers and close spaces. Working with the wonderful staff at Bush Animal Hospital, we have done “happy visits,” where Dez wears his muzzle and the staff can be less nervous around him. We also use the muzzle now to go to places where there may be crowds or humans (little humans especially) with unpredictable behavior. This way, I feel less nervous taking Desi out to crowded parks and other public spaces.
Sometimes we wear a muzzle in training sessions when we are working with other dogs that Desi is comfortable with so that we can close the distance between us and make sure Desi will not act unpredictably. So far, so good! Sometimes we wear a muzzle just so people can see us out in the world well-behaved and maybe change their stereotypes about dogs in muzzles! I’m so grateful I’ve learned to change my perspective on muzzles – I see them as one more tool to work with my dog and ensure his world continues to expand. We still receive some stares from humans when we have Desi’s muzzle on, and I just want these people to know that we are doing the best we can. If only they could have seen Desi a year and a half ago – fearful, reactive, barking and lunging – and where he is today in comparison – happy, relaxed in most settings, able to work through triggers, and wear his muzzle with pride, just in case something makes him a bit too uncomfortable.
signed: Kristin and Desi the proud muzzle-wearing pup!