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Using the Dreaded muzzle

Writing this article, Igor, the dog with nervous aggression, has now gone home with his owners. This week I hope to go along and see how he is getting along.

Working with Igor, I do use a muzzle, but many people still view these with disgust, similar to their feelings towards electric or spiked collars. Muzzles are just a safety training aid. The one I use on Winston is in case there is a fight between him and a problem dog, when he is only trying to make them play with him. He wears this mainly to protect him and in particular, his face.

Last week I received an email from a person living in Serbia. The Serbian government wish to formulate laws similar to those of the EU. They asked if I was familiar with the Dog Aggression laws and in particular those relating to the use of muzzles. I wrote back and confirmed this.

The next day I received a reply saying they were actually an activists group. What they were looking for were laws that actually banned the use of muzzles. They wanted to present any such laws to the Serbian government so they would not force owners to have to use them on their dogs.

There are no laws to ban their use. Only in the cruelty laws is there any mentioned legislation against ill-fitting muzzles or their prolonged use that may cause pain and suffering.

If you look back at my early articles, I said a dog is like a gun without a safety catch. It is normal for any dog to use its teeth when they need to but with socialisation, most dogs do not see the need. Never the less when a dog is finding it useful to use aggression along with its teeth, there has to be some way to holster that gun. A muzzle is the ideal choice.

We all know that puppies do not like wearing their first collar. In addition, many dogs will object to having to wear a Halti or other types of head collar. It is only for a short period whilst they become use to them. Therefore, we can expect most dogs that have to wear a muzzle would create early objections. This objection is not to any pain, just to the initial irritation.

One problem is that if the owner is fearful of their dog biting someone and sociability is necessary, their fear can transmit to their dog so it thinks there is a problem making it more aggressive.

Using a muzzle quietens a dog, as it is now feeling vulnerable. I often hear people say that if a dog attacks their dog whilst wearing a muzzle, it cannot retaliate, as any normal dog would be able to do. However, if their dog attacks first, is that really a fair answer?

Not only does a muzzle quieten dogs but also any entire males that have testosterone-generated aggression, we find the testosterone levels actually drop without the need for castration.

This brings us back to one of those catch 22 situations. Dogs that are aggressive, then quite naturally, many owners restrict the dogs walking where there are people or other dogs. This in fact only makes the matter worse. The choice is that yes, the dog needs socialisation but you cannot use the public like guinea pigs. Therefore, what we need is some form of protection and a muzzle works well. This is why all dogs classified as dangerous must wear one.

With Igor, it was easy to put his muzzle on as he is already used to wearing it. Now was the time to walk in places where there were more people and by choosing the right time of day, the numbers of people would naturally increase.

My first trip was to Denia high street when at 3 o’clock, most shops are closed. This meant there were only a few people actually out on the streets. Igor was walking well, with only a little apprehension. Only when people suddenly appeared from doorways did he show any sign of aggression. On such occasions, using the GRRRUFFF method or compressed air soon stopped him.

I walked him up and down the streets for more than three hours. Gradually as the shops opened, more and more people were coming out onto the streets. The more we walked, the more Igor was becoming more desensitised to such surprises.

I was now able to walk him right between groups of people and though Igor was still wary, he had stopped using aggression to try to make them go away. I then thought that Javea old town would be better for such training as the streets are so narrow, surprises would be more common. This was indeed the case and though there were more such surprises of people suddenly appearing from doorways, Igor had stopped using his aggression.

One day I took him to Calpe with a friend and their dog. Again, there were no aggressive signs, but he was still insecure. This meant that now all he needed was more and more of this walking the streets with his gun effectively muzzled. This means he cannot harm any person or dog whilst learning to socialise once again.

As I walked along with him, most people did not look at him as if he were some dangerous dog. They looked at him, as he is, a very beautiful dog just wearing a muzzle. One woman smiled at him like saying why should such a beautiful dog need to wear such a thing.

Muzzles make people feel more secure, instead of thinking there is a dangerous dog walking the street. To look at Igor you would indeed wonder why he needed to wear one at all.

On an early occasion, two young Spanish women came out of the shop and Igor did his aggression bit that startled them both. Because he was wearing a muzzle, they both burst out laughing as they could see he could not harm them.

For all these articles, socialisation is the key to having an all-round balanced dog that relates well with people, children, dogs, and other animals even if cats are still so tempting to chase.

Most owners, having aggressive dogs, naturally think they must restrict them. It is difficult to believe this is the wrong answer with the correct one being sociability training. They consider that such training must put people and animals in danger. Whilst this is true, using a muzzle reduces the risk. It also quietens the dog so that socialisation training can desensitise it to what it fears.

I can quite understand that making such a choice requires a leap of faith but once owners can see they can control the aggression they can then feel more confident to commence with the sociability training.

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