In Praise of Muzzles
(By Julie Tobiansky – Dog Obedience Trainer - Cape Province Dog Club)
The muzzle is a really useful trick up any good dog trainer’s sleeve, yet it is often disregarded as a cop-out. There are a number of styles of muzzle on the market. The Nylon Muzzle – this is a made of nylon material which closes with velcro. It prevents the dog from opening his mouth wide enough to bite anything but in so doing prevents panting. It is only suitable for trips to the vet or grooming and shouldn’t be left on for any length of time. These are not suitable for short nose breeds but they do come in a range of sizes. Locally made so quite inexpensive. Leather strap muzzle – This muzzle is made from a series of criss-crossing straps sometimes with buckles to adjust the proportions. When fitted correctly these can be effective and the dog can pant and drink. You need to watch for wear and damage to the leather. They are not suitable for short nosed breeds and come in a limited range of sizes. Locally made so not too expensive – there is quite a range of quality so do be aware when purchasing. Solid Leather Muzzle – This muzzle is made from a solid “box” of reinforced leather or sometimes ABS plastic with leather straps to go around the dog’s head. Small holes are punched in the materiel to allow for breathing. These muzzles are sometimes used when training dogs for attack work. They are not safe to leave on for any length of time as there is no air flow around the mouth which could lead to overheating. These muzzles are made for large breed dogs only. Metal Basket Muzzle – This muzzle is literally a basket made from chrome coated metal. It has a webbing strap to attach around your dogs head and a soft piece of webbing to prevent the muzzle hurting the top of your dog’s nose. The basket style allows for the dog to pant and drink. The metal does eventually rust and the muzzle is heavy. Plastic Basket Muzzle- This muzzle is a molded plastic basket which has webbing straps and a felt nose band to prevent rubbing. Made in a large variety of sizes and shapes to accommodate most dog’s noses. Dogs can pant and drink with them on and they are durable and light weight. Plastic basket muzzles are all imported and are therefore relatively pricey. Where does the muzzle fit in as a training aid. Surely it is only used when all else fails? There are a number of situation where the use of a muzzle is recommended and in some cases not just prevent a bite but allow a problem behavior to improve. Most dogs who show aggressive behavior are in fact scared. These dogs often inherit their fear from their parents. Their owners unwittingly reinforce the fear until it becomes a coping strategy. Many of these dogs have missed out on early socializing and were kept isolated during their fear imprint phases. These lunging frothing dogs who throw themselves around when on the lead at the mere sight of another dog in the distance are really hoping that their display will allow them to avoid confronting the other dog. In fact given half a chance they would rather run a mile than sink their teeth in – but the lead prevents escape. Sometimes having the owner behind them to ‘finish their battles’ adds to the display. Often for these dogs, fitting a comfortable muzzle and allowing them off the lead in a safe area allows them the opportunity to really use their body language to prevent a confrontation. They might bark, realize there is no one to back them up and then submit to the other dog, or sidle off without greeting them. The muzzle gives the dog the freedom to work out how to deal with the threat while moving around freely. Some over confident young dogs use aggressive displays to seem more assertive. Kind of “Hold me back I’m going to bite him!”. With a muzzle fitted for safety, you can literally let him go to sort it out (with a safe confident older dog) to realize he is out if his depth and bring him down a rung or two. Once the dog is fitted with a muzzle, people tend to react differently to it. For dogs who are fear aggressive with people, they are used to getting a reaction when they lung, bark or snap. The muzzle gives the person the chance to show confident signals to the dog which calm the dog and diffuse the aggression. I know I feel a whole lot better having a muzzled dog lunge at me than an unmuzzled one! Back to our fearful dog who has a handler who has tried to “help” him to be more confident.The more the handler fusses and soothes the more stressed our fear biter becomes. The muzzle gives the handler the confidence in the dog to relax and stop reinforcing the fear. A muzzle is also useful when introducing dogs to each other if you are unsure of how they may react e.g. introducing a new dog or puppy to your home. Fitting a muzzle is also a great way to allow a dog who isn’t t 100% reliable with other dogs to have some freedom and the chance to be around other dogs. The more socializing he gets, the better his social skills will become. If your dog is constantly attacking other dogs with his muzzle on, you need to put him back onto the lead and work on his tolerance levels around other dogs and his focus on you. No dog can lunge without looking first and if his eyes are on you he cannot get into trouble.
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