My boyfriend and I decided to adopt a pitbull from a local shelter. Pit Bulls are a highly discriminated breed and as a result, see lower adoption rates and higher euthanasia rates. We wanted to rescue a Pit Bull because we wanted to give it a life filled with adventure and socialization while understanding it would also be work. With any rescue, despite the breed, there might be behaviors that need to be unlearned.
We fell in love with Tucker immediately. The more comfortable he became in his new home, the more his amazing personality showed. Tucker's character wasn't the only thing blossoming. Physically he was growing bigger and stronger and with his size came the discovery of some more problematic behaviors.
Tucker is leash reactant, which for him means that he sometimes lunges at and jumps on nearby people. As you can imagine, Tucker's leash reactance and his size made for some scary situations. If the behavior continued, he could hurt someone or be taken away from me.
We needed to step up and help Tucker through intensive training, so we enrolled him in classes with other dogs, private sessions at indoor dog training gyms, and in-home private sessions. The training helped immensely in making him more manageable, and us more confident. However, there were still instances of behavioral relapses which we stressed about how to address.
My boyfriend introduced the idea of a muzzle, and I shot it down. Frankly, muzzles look freaky, and I didn’t want another reason for strangers to fear Tucker. Much of what escalates incidents with animals is the human reaction. Have you ever seen a dog with a muzzle? They don't inspire warm-fuzzy feelings. Dogs in a muzzles look dangerous (small dogs in muzzles look especially vicious) and uncomfortable. Personally, I couldn't get images of a caged-mouth, straight-jacketed Hannibal Lecter out of my head. Still, my primary goal was to find a solution so it wouldn't hurt to try it out. If nothing else, we could eliminate it as an option and move forward.
The muzzle exceeded my expectations. The muzzle didn't seem to bother Tucker at all. On walks, he virtually stopped lunging and barking at passerby. When an incident arose, I had more control over his reaction since the muzzle allowed the lead to be on his mouth and he was more inclined to respond than if the leash was pulling from his neck or chest. At the dog park, he could play safely without the constant worry over those “what if” moments.
My new opinion on Muzzles is that they're less a representation of "Silence of the Lambs" or a dangerous pooch than a sign of a proactive-responsible owner. If using a muzzle sounds like something you might be interested in, there are three main considerations.
First, identify the scenarios in which you believe a muzzle would benefit your dog. In Tucker’s case, it was primarily helpful when it came to walking him around the neighborhood or taking him to the dog park.
Second, pick the right type of muzzle. I use a rubber basket muzzle with Tucker because it's easy for him to drink water and eat yummy treats so he can wear it for long walks and play time. As a point of contrast, some softer muzzles wrap around the dog’s snout entirely, which limits their ability to open their mouths.
Lastly, be alert to your doggo's comfort. Dogs pant to cool themselves so pay attention to signs of exhaustion and overheating.
There are several resources online regarding tips on how to ensure your dog has a pleasant experience during muzzle training. If you have any questions, comments, concerns, or personal experiences you would like to share, please feel free to drop a comment. Let's chat; we're all friends here.