Using muzzles with aggressive dogs
In this article, we are going to discuss how a muzzle can help dogs with aggression. A simple interaction with another human or dog can be extremely stressful for the owner of a reactive dog. It's almost like having one foot in the hospital and the other in the vet. I know because I am one of those. Most of the time we can avoid such episodes by walking away or telling people not to touch the dog. However, there are times where a muzzle will help. If you are actively treating aggression issues, a muzzle will be extremely helpful. A trip to a dog park or any place where your dog has to be in close contact with humans or dogs, such as a hash, the groomer or even the vet.
* Muzzle as a tool Muzzles come in various shapes and sizes. Basket muzzles are highly recommended for prevention of accidental bites but at the same time allows the dog to behave as they were without it such as panting, eating, drinking and barking.
* Social attitude on dogs with muzzles Dogs with muzzles are often seen as aggressive even though it's not always true. People get wary about them and more often than not, avoid them. Muzzles in a dog park can be tricky as some people might find it very uncomfortable when a dog enters the park with a muzzle on. Muzzles should be seen as a means to protect all parties involved. It does not mean a dog will definitely fight.
* How does a muzzle help Muzzles act as a barrier between the dog's sharp teeth and humans/dogs. With the muzzle on, one can attempt contact with the dog without putting themselves in danger. It is especially useful when initiating contact for dogs with reactive behaviour or those that lack bite inhibition. Using the muzzle, we can then safely employ behavioural modification techniques such as desensitization, differential reinforcements, flooding, etc.
* Introducing muzzle to the dog Introduction of the muzzle to the dog shouldn't be done hastily. Be patient and allow the dog to approach the muzzle instead of forcing it on them. Typically it involves associating the muzzle with something pleasant, such as treats. Depending on dogs, for mine, I started with rewarding him every time the muzzle appears, followed by allowing him to touch the muzzle before letting him put his nose inside the muzzle. All these interactions are being rewarded handsomely. For the first few successful attempts in putting the muzzle on, I will remove them immediately and reward before extending the time gradually. The dog shouldn't see the muzzle as a trap. If forcibly worn, the dog may feel stressed up which is likely to add on to its aggression problem.
* When you should use a muzzle Muzzles are most helpful when the aggressive dog is going to be in close proximity with the human/dog. For example, a dog park, a group training session, visitors to the house, etc. That said, it would be helpful if there is no direct association with the muzzle and specific activity. For example, one can put on the muzzle on the dog at random times to prevent an association between a muzzle to an encounter with another dog or human. We do not want the muzzle to be associated with 'it's time to get angry' or 'that scary thing is going to appear'.
* Effectiveness of the muzzle to treat aggression Muzzles are only tools in the treatment for aggression. The real treatment is the programme designed for the specific aggression problem (dog-dog aggression, dog-human aggression, food aggression, etc), such as desensitization. With the muzzle, you can minimize damage even if the dog decides to charge at another person or dog.
If your dog has an aggression issue, seek treatment early and learn ways to manage them. There's a learning opportunity for you and your dog, if you reinforce the right behaviours, there's a lesser chance of bad behaviour happening.
Chen Wan Sheng
PUPS Certified Dog Trainer