The Misunderstood Muzzle

The Misunderstood Muzzle

Take a look at the photo above—what is your gut feeling about this dog? Is he a bad dog? Aggressive? A danger to society?

I can tell you with 100% certainty: NO!

This is one of our beloved four-legged clients, Kirin. He’s an eight-month old Shiba Inu, and he’s the farthest thing imaginable from a bad boy. Kirin loves walking, playing, wrestling with his sister, posing for photos, and learning tricks.

He also happens to be fearful of certain situations while we’re outside, and this fear manifests itself as leash reactivity.

What is leash reactivity?

I asked my friend Camille Salter, a professional dog trainer and owner of All Dogs:

Leash reactivity is most often a fear-based response to a dog’s particular triggers while on leash. We believe it has to do with the loss of autonomy they experience (in terms of distance) while on leash between themselves and that which makes them fearful.
With no other recourse, the dog ‘reacts’ with barking, lunging, snarling, growling, etc.

Why is he wearing a muzzle?

You might look at a muzzle and think it’s cruel or inhumane. In reality, muzzles are one of the most important training tools for a leash-reactive dog. It serves two main purposes:
– To reduce the risk of a bite incident in potentially-triggering situations
– To help develop a dog’s confidence through positive associations with the environment, rather than punishment or fear.

It’s important to note that a muzzle is NOT a punishment, and NOT the solution to Kirin’s reactivity. It’s a proactive measure used in conjunction with consistent training and behaviour modification.

There are many benefits to muzzle training a fearful dog, even if you don’t think there’s a bite risk. In an emergency, ANY dog has the capacity to bite, especially if they’re in severe pain. If they’ve previously been muzzle trained, you can perform first aid and transport them more safely.

How can I train my dog to wear a muzzle?

If your dog is fearful and struggles with leash reactivity, it’s important that you teach your pup to love the muzzle first. You should never force the muzzle onto your dog—it should always be a positive experience for them. Otherwise you might be teaching them to fear you every time you approach them with the muzzle in your hands. That wouldn’t be very helpful!

The following video from Maureen Backman at the Muzzle Up! Project lays it out simply and effectively:


The Muzzle Up! Project is an organization that promotes safety and education on muzzles and reduce the stigma faced by dogs who have to wear them. They have a number of incredibly useful resources including several instructional videos, and some comparison guides, etc.

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