This handsome hound is Utah (full name, Johnny Utah…!) and he’s in foster care. AniEd provides all the training and behaviour support for A Dog’s Life dogs, of which Utah is one. Utah, under our instruction and guidance, wears a muzzle in specific contexts.
Advertising this dog for rehoming has brought some hate because he has been shown wearing his muzzle. Utah is comfortable wearing a muzzle and at no time has he been caused any discomfort or pain by its presence. Yet, we are getting social media flack from people saying that they hate the muzzle, that it should be removed, that it’s cruel.
Muzzles are surrounded by stigma. And stigma comes from unwarranted shame and not just projected onto the owner. Dogs are shamed (and killed) when they act like real dogs. Dogs have mouths and it is normal for them to use their mouths in all sorts of ways that often don’t agree with human expectations.
To hate appropriate muzzle use or to opine that it’s cruel, is coming from a place of lack of knowledge and understanding in normal dog behaviour, in tool use, in behavioural management, in aggressive behaviour, in dogs and what they do.
And most of all, knocking the work of an ethical rescue organisation and their appropriate use of a muzzle, on a comfortable dog, is not aligned with an understanding of canine welfare, sadly something lacking on social media and in the world.
Why do dogs wear muzzles?
Muzzle use keeps dogs safe. Bottom line. Muzzles are a safety tool.
They don’t ‘fix’ dog behaviour but they might help in a number of ways:
- some muzzle designs help to prevent dogs eating dangerous items
- some muzzle designs can help to prevent a dog damaging a surgical site or wound
- muzzles can prevent a fearful or aroused dog biting, and particularly puncturing, another person, dog or animal
- muzzles can help keep people and their dogs away from a dog who needs more space
- muzzle wearing might be required due to legislation (e.g. BSL)
- muzzle use is helpful during veterinary and first aid treatments, especially where the dog is experiencing acute pain or distress
Muzzling is for good dogs!
Muzzle use requires care, there is certainly no doubt about that, and if they are used improperly, then muzzle use can most certainly negatively impact a dog’s welfare.
But, proper use, makes life better for the dog. Appropriate muzzle use allows that dog to go places and participate in activities that improve its welfare, it allows that owner or handler feel a little more confident and comfortable which improves the dog’s welfare (and the human’s!) and, because of the stigma associated with canine behaviour, aggressive responding and muzzling, muzzled dogs tend to get more space from people and dog walkers that is most often beneficial to their welfare too.
Don’t let the muzzle fool ya!
Utah is a pretty friendly dog. He loves people, greets excitedly but calms quickly and is just happy to have you around.
When we are out and about, Utah can get pretty excited; he is certainly finding suburban living difficult. Like many dogs, and even more dogs of his type, when wound up, he may use his mouth. This hasn’t happened and we want to prevent it happening. So, while we work on helping him develop new skills and better approaches to being wound up, he is muzzled so no accidents happen.
This is particularly likely if he is moving at speed. That’s what he was made for and we don’t get to suddenly decide that that’s not on anymore. Unfortunately, with the current trend of adopting Greyhounds and Lurchers to companion homes, lots of misinterpretations of their behaviour and needs have become rampant and that negatively impacts their welfare.
We have decided on specific criteria for Utah’s adoptive home so that muzzling and management don’t have to be a huge part of his daily life and more importantly, so that he doesn’t have to deal with stressors like being on lead and exposed to lots of suburban activity.
But, until that home is found, his needs must be met, and we owe it to him to keep him safe. That’s what welfare is. It doesn’t matter what we want or feel; welfare is from the dog’s position. Utah needs to get to run about, to chase, to explore – that’s essential for his behavioural health. He doesn’t want to live on a “forever sofa”. He wants to be a dog, be a Lurcher. We just have to meet those needs, and safely.
For muzzles to be used, the dog must LOVE their muzzle. This is not even up for debate and we are not talking about the dog having luke-warm feelings about their muzzle; they must LOVE LOVE LOVE their muzzle.
This can take weeks to establish and that’s what we need to do. Never rushing the dog, letting their behaviour guide our progress. The muzzle appearing must mean PARTY for the dog.
Really, all dogs should be muzzle trained to some degree of comfort. This helps ensure that in an emergency, such as acute pain, the addition of a muzzle for safety, won’t add to the dog’s distress. Teaching your puppy or young dog that sticking their nose into a muzzle, a cone or even a paper cup makes the magic happen can go a long way to building their comfort and confidence, and keeping them safe.
For Utah, we use a muzzle that is light, as he is fine boned, and open so that he can easily eat, snuffle, drink and pant through it. We also keep a close eye on it to make sure it’s not rubbing anywhere with continued use.
Utah wears his muzzle for about 20-40 minutes at a time. He has invented his own muzzle-puzzle, snuffling for food rewards on the ground and using the muzzle to nudge leaves out of the way! Utah is an expert puzzler, making short work of Kongs, K9 Connectables and other puzzle toys so this has just become an extension of this. I call his muzzle his ‘face puzzle’!
Muzzles must never be left on dogs when unsupervised. And just because the dog is wearing a muzzle, does not mean we can put that dog in situations with which they are uncomfortable. Muzzling, like all management approaches, are back ups; should Plan A or B fail (cos sometimes life happens), we have a back up.
If Utah were to get off lead accidentally and chase something or if a person or another dog should come too close, moving at speed, while Utah is running (he jogs with his foster carer) we have a back up. We do our best to give him space, to teach him alternatives, but sometimes life happens and we owe it to him to keep him safe.
It’s about his welfare, not our feelings.
For lots of resources relating to muzzling, and reducing the stigma surrounding muzzling, check out the Muzzle-Up! Project.