He’s a good dog! The truth behind dogs in muzzles

Bert, brown dog wearing a muzzle

What images come to mind when you think about a dog in a muzzle? Do you visualize a snarling dog, growling in anger, teeth bared? Do words like “vicious” and “bite” flow through your mind? If so, you’re not alone. But the truth behind muzzles — and the dogs who wear them — might surprise you.

Our concept of muzzles is informed by the media, movies, and TV, and it’s no wonder we’re weary of them. Dogs wearing muzzles are often portrayed as angry, attack-dogs on screen. As an unfortunate result, muzzles are no longer seen as a common and useful training tool, and instead, a punishment for aggressive dogs who can’t be controlled. In truth, many of our perceptions about muzzles are based in simple misunderstandings — and in some cases they’re rooted in downright myth. That’s why Animal Humane Society is taking time to dispel these misconceptions about muzzles.


Mirabelle with a muzzle

Mirabelle sports a muzzle because she doesn’t love other dogs in her face ― only treats.

Misconception 1: Muzzles are only used to prevent a dog from biting

Muzzles are useful preventative tools to keep dogs from engaging in dangerous behavior with their mouths — and that doesn’t mean just biting.

Muzzles can be especially helpful for dogs who like to eat non-food items. Let’s face it, dogs have a tendency to follow their nose, but occasionally that can lead them astray. That means your pup could eat something potentially toxic or dangerous such as a dead animal, garbage that’s blown into your yard, or even food that’s been dropped in the street.

Muzzles are also a top choice for dog-owners whose furry friends have an even less desirable habit: eating the droppings of other animals. So, next time you see a dog at the park wearing a muzzle, consider this: he may not be aggressive, he may just eat poop.


Shadow with a muzzle

Shadow wears his muzzle at the vet because he gives blood-draws two paws down.

Misconception 2: A dog wearing a muzzle has bitten someone in the past

Just because a dog is wearing is muzzle doesn’t necessarily mean he’s bitten someone in the past. In fact, many owners use muzzles as a preventive measure to ensure their dog and the people around him stay safe. The truth is many dogs have never bitten because they wear a muzzle.

“Dogs use a number of cues to let their caregivers know when they’re stressed or scared,” says Alison Schramel, Animal Behavior and Training Supervisor at AHS. “When continually pushed in this place of discomfort, they can resort to biting.” You can do your part to limit the stress on your dog by keeping him out of situations that make him uncomfortable. However, if you know your pup is easily triggered, acclimating Rover to a basket muzzle will keep everyone safe in the event he’s suddenly frightened by a loose dog, a small child, etc.


Cowboy wearing a muzzle

Cowboy dons his head gear after surgery. A cone just isn’t his style.

Misconception 3: My dog is friendly, there’s no reason to train him to wear a muzzle

Any dog can wear a muzzle! In addition to protecting your pup from grabbing garbage, or eating poo, muzzles are safe, effective tools that can help even the friendliest dogs get through stressful situations safely. A muzzle worn at the vet — especially if your pooch is already sick or in pain — ensures the safety of your dedicated vet staff during blood draws, nail trims, and other procedures.

Muzzles can also play an important role after a vet visit. A basket muzzle is a great alternative to the typical e-collar (also known as a cone) to prevent your pup from licking or chewing at stitches or a wound. Most dogs dislike the experience of wearing an e-collar. A dog who’s been properly trained to wear a muzzle, on the other hand, can recover from surgery without the added stress of the “cone of shame.”


Maize wearing a muzzle

Maize wears her muzzle because she’s a big fan of her mom. Strangers? Not so much!

Misconception 4: Muzzles are cruel

When used properly, a well-fitting muzzle should never cause your dog any pain or discomfort. While your pup may not love the first time she wears a muzzle, basic positive reinforcement training can help her get used to her fancy new head gear. Dogs are able to pant, drink water, and even take treats with ease once they’re used to their properly fitting basket muzzle.

While our ideas surrounding muzzles may be misguided, remember every animal is a unique individual. You should never approach a dog you don’t know without talking to their owner first (that goes double if you have kids or other animals in tow)! However, there’s no reason to place an unnecessary stigma on muzzles. Together, we can break down these potentially harmful stereotypes and start seeing the dogs behind muzzles for the amazing pets they are.

Types of muzzles

Basket muzzle: Basket muzzles are ideal for walks, outings to the dog park, or recovering from surgery. They can be worn for longer periods of time and allow your pupper to pant, drink water, and even accept small treats.

Soft muzzle: A soft muzzle* is more limiting and should only be worn for short periods of time. Animal Humane Society recommends basket muzzles over soft muzzles for this reason.

* Gentle leaders are not muzzles. They’re used to limit leash pulling and make walks more enjoyable. A dog can open his or her mouth fully even when using a gentle leader.

For caring, compassionate advice and resources to address all your animal concerns.

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