“In the world of dog behavior, one of the most essential pieces of safety equipment we have is the muzzle. Unfortunately, their appearance and the judgments associated with them prevent their usage, sometimes with tragic consequences.”
– Maureen Backman, Mutts About Town & The Muzzle Up! Project
Social media is a beautiful thing sometimes. Last week, an article on my Facebook news feed led me to my most current “I am so excited about this” thing. And let me tell you, I am excited about it.
Those of you who know this blog, or the dog in training who inspires much of it, know that Balton has been a work in progress when it comes to his reactions to people on leash and in the home. While it makes me happy to report that many of his learnings in doggy school seem to be translating to real life, and his confidence in new interactions continues to improve, he is still in training. Because his reactions to the things that scare him lean to the “fight” side of “fight or flight”, and the outside world is unpredictable sometimes, we use a muzzle as an extra layer of management.
For a really long time I was wary of using a muzzle, and I regret not embracing its use earlier on in training. My reason for being so wary was because I was afraid of the stigma that would be attached to it. I read articles about how muzzles are great management tools while training reactive dogs, like this one from Best Friends Animal Society, or this one from Fearfuldogs.com.
I understood the message: Muzzles are important. Muzzles keep people safe. Counter-condition your dog to using the muzzle, and do it, because it is the responsible thing to do.
But, nowhere in these wonderfully informative articles do they address the hangup I had, or the hangup that I suspect a lot of people have with them: Muzzles look scary, and I didn’t want to taint my then foster dog’s public image any further by using one.
Eventually I had a wake up call, and with it, the basket muzzle became staple on all walks. Even the most experienced handlers, trainers, dog walkers, whomever, are susceptible to accidents. No human is immune to human error, and I never again want to find myself in a situation where a dog who may potentially bite actually does, because I was too stubborn and insecure to put a muzzle on him.
It’s now an accessory that accompanies Balton on every walk, every time. But still, I felt by putting a muzzle on him, I was basically telling the world he was bad. He was broken. He was mean. He was a menace. When in reality, what I wanted people to know was, yes, he’s a DINOS. He’s got his issues that he is working on. But he is a GOOD DOG.
Even for the number of photos I share of my dogs here, and on Facebook and Instagram, I was always wary to post photos of Balton wearing his muzzle for fear of public opinion. I guess there’s an element of identifying your “kid” is not like all the others, but not wanting to plaster it everywhere for people to editorialize about.
Enter the Muzzle Up! Project to help people like me get over the hangups, and be proud to promote muzzle wearing pups like mine. The movement “promotes safety and education on muzzles and dog behavior, and aims to reduce the stigma associated with dogs who have to wear them…It’s not unreasonable that we should be wary of muzzles. After all, their main usage is to prevent dog bites, something we’ve been conditioned to fear. But which scenario is more unsettling: Encountering a dog whose owner has taken the protective measure of using a muzzle, or encountering a dog whose owner is aware of the potential for aggressive behavior but refrains from using one? While the second dog may not look as scary, the lack of muzzle presents a much more dangerous situation.”
So. Very. True. I wish I had this insight six months ago.
But, learning is a process, so while I can’t go back in time, I can pay it forward right now and encourage you to join B and me in spreading the word that muzzles are to be respected, but not to be feared. To help send that message home, here are a few photos of Balton living, loving, and “nuzzling his muzzle”.