Following recent developments in Dog Law, it has become apparent of the surrounding stigma attached to dogs that are out and about and muzzled.
In several countries in fact it is the Law to have your dog muzzled in various circumstances especially if they fit the ‘Pit Bull’ type Dog. One of the problems is that the type of dog required by Law to wear a muzzle is the type of dog that already has stigma attached to them because of Breed Specific Legislation. When people see these dogs with muzzles out for walks, they often feel intimidated or nervous because a dog wearing a muzzle is automatically assumed to be dangerous and aggressive.
In fact, there are several reasons that a dog may be wearing a muzzle. I asked a fairly popular social media group why people choose, or are required to muzzle their dogs and how people’s perceptions of them change when they are out with a muzzled dog.
The most popular reason for the muzzle was as a management tool for training a ‘leave it’. Several people commented on the post stating their dogs regularly pick up and eat objects when they are out for walks such as garbage, rocks or even animal feces. Thus, putting a muzzle on stops their dogs from having access to these objects whilst they train an alternative behaviour.
A second reason that seemed to become apparent was the legislation in different countries that require dogs to be muzzled. One person stating that they live on an island and dogs are required to be muzzled when on the ferry if not in the car. A second informing me that where she lives, dogs are only allowed on public transport if they are wearing muzzles. Breed Specific Legislation played a part, too, with one lady commenting that she was going to be training her friend’s Ridgeback to wear a muzzle as that was part of the Legislation in Ireland where they were going to be moving. A lot of people went on to say that their dogs are muzzle trained using positive reinforcement so that they are prepared for vet trips in the future, or having their nails trimmed for example.
Another reason for muzzle wearing was for dogs that are nervous around other dogs, considered to be dog reactive or frustrated greeters. Many people own dogs that react when other dogs are around, most of these people are working with their dogs to change their behaviour. However, there are always times when setbacks occur, for example when an off lead dog runs over to one on lead and ignores any attempt at recall. This sudden appearance of a dog that won’t go away and the fact the nervous dog has no escape can cause a reaction. One owner suggested they muzzle their dog for that exact reason, that whilst they work with their dog they do not want any aggressive reaction or incidents to occur because of strange dogs running over.
Not all dogs wear muzzles purely because they are aggressive. They can be undergoing training, they may be nervous, they may have never acted aggressively or bitten anyone before but are of a breed type that is required to wear one.
Some owners go to lengths to make the muzzles their dog has to wear seem less intimidating; some cover them in multi-coloured tape, sparkles, stickers and paint so that they appear less scary to other owners. One thing that did stand out was the mention of how other people’s behaviour changed when they saw a dog out walking that was wearing a muzzle. People suggested that other owners seemed to keep better control of their dogs when walking near other dogs. Another stated they had had people go into panic, and call their dog ‘scary’ or ‘dangerous’ because they were wearing bars on their face. It is this stigma that needs to change.