When assisting clients with their dogs’ behaviour issues, there is a range of potential strategies and tools that can be employed. And depending on the specific issue, that range could include a recommendation for the use of a crate or a muzzle.
Interestingly, it’s relatively common for clients to tell me they simply “aren’t comfortable” with their dog having anything to do with a crate or muzzle… and some even going as far as to say, “Nope… no way… I’m not doing that to my dog!”
But why is that?
After further discussion, clients usually confess their reason for feeling ‘uncomfortable’ about crating their dog has to do with concerns that they are punishing their dog through imprisonment. And when viewing this strictly from a human emotional level, yes, a crate could be thought of as looking like a little prison cell.
As for muzzling, it’s common for clients to tell me their concern is actually about what other people’s perceptions might be. On one hand they are self-conscious that their dog will be viewed as being dangerous (ie: wearing a muzzle somehow makes their dog the canine version of the mask-wearing Hannibal Lecter character), and on the other hand, if their dog is wearing a muzzle it somehow categorizes them as ‘bad dog owners’. So again, when looking at it from that human emotional level, I can see how people might feel reticent about muzzling their dog.
So, have you noticed the common thread that runs through their explanations for being resistant (or outright refusing) to crate and/or muzzle?
All of the reasoning is based on human emotions and feelings, which really don’t have anything to do with doing the right thing for their dog.
I think this comes into focus when looking at the topic of crating, which can be summed up by asking this simple question: Who is the only one to really know whether something is a pleasant or unpleasant experience? And of course the answer is: The one who experiences it.
So, ultimately, it doesn’t matter what YOU think of crates because you’re not the one experiencing them. Instead, the only thing that really matters is the emotional state of the one doing the experiencing… and that would be your dog.
The goal is to have your dog feel like the crate is a comfortable den space where she can be safe and relax, so if you follow best practices and properly socialize your dog to a crate to the point where she willingly spends (stress-free) time in it, then your dog is showing you that she thinks the crate is indeed a pleasant place to be. The flip-side of the coin is also true, because if you do not properly socialize your dog to a crate, and the dog does not willingly enter it and/or is stressed when within it, then the crate could well be the unhappy ‘prison cell’ people worry about… and that is not acceptable.
At the end of the day, the crate isn’t the issue… it’s how you introduce your dog to the crate that either prevents or causes an issue.
While dogs that are a bite-risk should be properly socialized to accept and willingly wear a muzzle as a safety precaution, as previously mentioned, the human emotional response tends to focus on the perceived social stigma rather than on the safety aspect. Unfortunately there isn’t an easy rationalization that can allay being unfairly judged by others, so you just have to get over it. If your dog is a bite-risk it’s your responsibility to protect others.
Data suggests that the majority of dog bite incidents are caused by stress, fear and/or anxiety, so while working on behaviour prevention and modification strategies a properly fitted muzzle of an appropriate style has three immediate benefits that all involve safety:
1. The muzzle protects others from the pain and trauma of being bitten
2. The muzzle protects your dog from the consequences of biting/injuring others
3. The muzzle protects you from the liability of damages should your dog bite/injure others
When deciding upon a muzzle, there are two different styles that are most common for family dogs:
An ‘occlusion’ muzzle is typically made of fabric and fits over your dog’s snout like a sleeve and is held in place by a strap that goes around the dog’s head.
The purpose for this style of muzzle is for short term use such as visiting the vet’s office or going to the groomer. Because this style of muzzle is ‘form fitting’ around your dog’s snout, it is not recommended for longer term use or during any form of exercising because it restricts the dog’s ability to pant.
Two other commonly-cited draw-backs for this type of muzzle include: The tight fit might cause undue stress to the dog, and due to the dog’s mouth being exposed at the end of the muzzle it’s possible that the dog may still be able to ‘nip’ with its front teeth.
A ‘basket’ muzzle has what looks like a ‘basket’ or ‘cage’ that fits over the dog’s snout, and is held in place with straps that go around the dog’s head. This is a multi-purpose muzzle and is appropriate for exercising due to the cage offering air-flow and giving the dog greater freedom to pant, receive treats when training, and drink.
As the human guardian of a dog that wears a muzzle, it’s important that you don’t fall into a false sense of security, because muzzles do not prevent aggression… they simply prevent a bite. And while bite prevention is the goal, you should avoid putting the dog into a position where it will become reactive because a muzzled dog can still ‘muzzle punch’ and assert itself bodily and with its paws which can cause injury to others.
An excellent source for additional information about how to choose and use a muzzle can be found here: www.k9aggression.com/using-a-muzzle-for-an-aggressive-dog/
Andrew Thomas is a professional dog trainer and behaviour consultant based in Langley, British Columbia in Canada.
Having decided to formalize a lifetime worth of experience with dogs by gaining private certification and starting his business in 2010, Andrew’s desire from the outset has been to do his part in helping to break the cycle of family dogs being given-up on, abandoned and even euthanized unnecessarily, due to behaviour issues.
With a mission to help dog owners establish happy and rewarding relationships with their dogs, Andrew’s philosophy and methodology are founded in modern behavioural science using force-free methods, and building human-canine relationships based on trust.
Andrew strives to be a reasoned and informed voice in promoting and supporting animal welfare issues for canines and equines, and he is as a strong proponent of adoption and rescue.