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Muzzle Power

Just over six months ago, I received the following e-mail.
Dear Alan,
              I came across your site for the first time today and wonder if you can help us. We have a large three-year-old un-neutered German shepherd who is great. He is well socialise with humans and with most dogs that are prepared to play with him. The problem is that if any males stand up to him, he jumps on them pinning them to the floor, often gripping them by the neck. He has not actually bitten them but when it happens, it is frightening and we are at a loss to know how to stop him. After our dogs last attack, we have had a visit from the police and he told us that as he did not harm the other dog they would not take any action but that his action had terrified the other owner.

I asked a few questions and found that the dog slept in their bedroom. It would walk ahead of them when walking off the lead and would always wander off leaving them to have to search for him. When meeting other males he stands rigid next to the other dog, often putting a paw or resting his chin on the back of the dog’s neck. He also demanded attention from the owners and often sat on the settee pinning both husband and wife by lying across their legs. Certainly, he sounded like quite a dominating dog.

My first suggestion was had they considered neutering their dog. They had spoken to their vet who said he was just dominant and acting normally. He saw no reason to neuter him, but they should make sure they could control him better. I also suggested the vet could give him an injection that would simulate castration. If their dog became calmer, then neutering would be a good idea. Their vet felt that this test is often inconclusive.

My next suggestion was for some dominancy training for the owners. I suggested they make their dog sleep outside of their bedroom, but they disagreed. He had been in there from being a puppy and I do say this is ok, but this is providing the dog does not have any dominancy problems. As their dog did, then they must make him see themselves as the true Alphas.

As they lived in England, I asked them to purchase from their local pet shop, Dr Roger Mugford´s harmless compressed air spray, called the Pet Corrector. I hoped that when they were out walking with their dog on the lead, (leash) if their dog became aggressive, they could fire the compressed air between the two dogs, so effectively breaking up the fight.

The problem was initially, he would not show aggression as he often wished to play with other dogs. Then for some reason, he would suddenly push the other dog to the ground, pinning it down. However, when they used the compressed air to stop their dog, the other one received a dose as well, so upsetting its owners.

Another problem in using the compressed air; it took a while before he would get off the other dog. Further to this, most of his aggression was towards dogs when he was off his lead (leash). This meant they had to go running up to fire the compressed air to get him off the dog and this took valuable time.

My next thought was they could purchase a remote controlled citronella collar. Releasing the citronella from beneath his jaw, between him and the dog he was attacking, might solve the problem of aggression at a distance.

After purchasing one, initially it seemed to be working. When their dog was loose, if he saw another dog and went to meet it, all would seem fine. If their dog started his pushing, they then fired the compressed air and he immediately backed off, but only for a moment. If he then re-attacked, they had to fire the collar again. Eventually he became so use to it that it did not bother him any more.

The next advice was to take their dog to training classes to socialise and to learn to control him. This they did, but after a few weeks and a few aggressive attacks on other dogs in the class, the trainer suggested they would have to leave as other handlers were complaining that they could not control their dog.

I asked did the trainer have any growl classes. These are only for aggressive dogs where they have to wear muzzles until they were calm enough to enter an ordinary training class. Unfortunately, the owners were adamant they would never put a muzzle on their dog. They also thought that taking their dog into such a class would only make him worse.

I asked would they give me the telephone number of their trainer, as I needed a better idea of what was happening. I telephoned him and we discussed the problem. He felt they could not control their dog and were blaming the others for starting the fights. They said their dog only wanted to play but if seeing any aggression, he only retaliated. The trainer had suggested that for safety, their dog should wear a muzzle. The owners would not accept this as they felt that if a dog attacked him, he had no way to defend himself.

My last piece of advice was that they should purchase a muzzle. Then they should meet once a week with the trainer, along with his three German shepherds, which he would also muzzle. I explained that most male dog aggression is testosterone generated. Neutering would often solve this problem but as they were not prepared to do this, then wearing a muzzle their dog would soon realise he cannot defend himself. This meant for every fight that he looses would lower his testosterone. Dogs that often win fights tend to increase their hormone level, making them more aggressive.

They finally agreed to try this for the following week. The trainer telephoned me a few weeks later to say their dog had tried to dominate his male, only it found itself on its back, with his dog standing over it. When he called him off, theirs tried aggression again, only to receive the same treatment. After that, the dog became a lot calmer and began playing with his dogs. At a further meeting a week later, their dog did try one more aggressive dominating stance, only to back away and preferred to play instead.

The trainer explained again about the testosterone levels and suggested if they wanted to solve the problem, they must use a muzzle. Just over a month ago, I spoke to the owners and they had to admit their dog was becoming calmer. This week I telephoned the trainer and he confirmed that the dog was now working in his obedience class without the muzzle. From being a once dominating dog, he is now friendly and playing with the other dogs without any sign of aggression.

Never be frightened of using muzzles. They are excellent protection from damaging fights and, as in this case, can actually change its character for the better.

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