“Muzzle me because you love me!” That may be a strange concept to some people. Corona Pandemic, Hannibal Lector, Jason, flu masks, Michael Myers, the list could go on and on and so could the stigmas. We have almost been conditioned to react negatively to facial masks as if they all represent impeding danger, the unknown, and a feeling that something just isn’t quite right under there. But what does this have to do with muzzles?
The psychology is much the same in my opinion. A muzzle is a form of a mask made for what most people consider dangerous dogs. Can muzzles be used for dogs with bite cases, fear reactivity, dog aggression, people aggression? Yes. Can muzzles also be used for dogs that are friendly but not so much at the veterinarian? Yes! Have there been many people who had dogs who were the best of friends at one point in their lives and then start to get in scuffles, escalating in intensity and frequency to full blown fights that happen again and again, leading to one dog being surrendered at the shelter or being given away for free on Craigslist? Yes!
Can you think of any training tool that would have kept the dog off death row or prevent a family from giving their dog away? You guessed it, a muzzle.
I would like to pause for a moment to share this story from 2018, “Chevy was pulled from a shelter in Fort Worth, TX severely injured, gums detached from his teeth, and his vertebrae exposed. He was also said in his shelter evaluation to be “sweet and tolerant.” Big surprise to me when he was all healed up that a different temperament emerged. He was people aggressive, biting and attacking people.” While many rescues or your average adopter would most likely go straight to euthanasia, I knew in my heart he deserved a chance, and not only a chance but a promise to value his life and all the demons he struggles with. You see dogs show us their issues and we judge them for it, we kill them for being so transparent and genuine…I decided that Chevy would be my best teacher and we would manage, train, teach, learn, listen and educate each other through his triggers, reactivity, unpredictableness, fear and lack of socialization.
Everyone who has a negative reaction to Chevy wearing a muzzle, I hope you learn to understand that muzzles are a life saving tool that will allow him to be in situations that are teachable moments and help him learn new appropriate behaviors in place of his negative ones. And if people are willing to accept killing dogs for their behavior I sure as hell hope that each person has taken ample time to invest in their dog through muzzle training. Killing a dog for behavioral reasons is not the only option.
We owe it to our dogs to love them unconditionally as they do us and be responsible enough to show them another way of behaving.
In a society where we judge people by the way they look even if unintentionally because we have preconceived notions and stereotypes from our experiences, it is not so surprising that we would do the same thing to our canine counter parts. But I challenge you to self-reflect on your own ignorance and judgments when you see a dog wearing a muzzle.
Maybe you smile at the owner for being intelligent and dedicated enough to invest in a behavioral plan rather than euthanize a dog for behavior. Maybe you give the dog handler and dog a little extra space because you want to respect that changing a dogs perceptions of what triggers him takes a lot of time and effort. Maybe you speak up on a Facebook post and tell them to search up The Muzzle Project. Maybe you start to muzzle train your dog to learn to love a muzzle because you care about the mental health of your best friend and want the next 10-15 years of vet visits to be as stress free as possible. If your dog could speak up I would bet they would tell you that their behavior is the way they communicate and because they are not human they don’t have the words to say, “Help me,” but that is exactly what their body language is telling you. Your dog cannot form a sentence to say when I am petrified I bite but if you would help me via positive muzzle conditioning I could start to learn to make healthier safer choices. If all the behavioral cases could speak up I bet they would say, “If you love me, muzzle me!”
Meet the Behaviorist, Jennifer Caves, M.Psy, CGC:
Welcome dog lovers and all dogs! I am the founder and Canine-Human Educator for REAL Animal Behavioral Solutions. We consider our work to be rooted in science and driven by ethics. Our passion meets purpose mission is unique in that we empower and educate people with a lifelong skill set to help any dog they share their life with currently or in the future. Dogs are incredibly resilient and intelligent and when the humans in their life know the how, why and successful implementation of behavioral principles- our dogs become happy, healthy and healed.
I have my Masters in Psychology and Canine Good Citizen Certification through the AKC. I have literally been rescuing animals since I was 16 years old with 15 years of behavioral experience. I consider it a privilege to work with you and your dog!
Real Animal Behavioral Solutions provides a holistic whole body-whole brain scientific approach to training using positive reinforcement and relationship building principles. Our one of a kind dog-psychology encompasses the mind and body connections that are inherently at work in dog behavior.