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Muzzles for Aggressive And Reactive Dogs

As a "no-gadget" advocate, muzzles have never figured on my radar.  They look intimidating, they are often used as a statement by the less endearing members of the dog-owning fraternity, and have a generally negative perception by pretty much everyone - and rightly so.
However, now that I have had much more experience of the multitude of reasons why it could be considered necessary to muzzle a dog, my views have changed.
Many people bravely, and with huge commitment, take on dogs which have been brutally used since birth, and which have learned to defend themselves at all costs.  The usual canines signals of avoidance, warning, and only as a last result, of aggression, have been either beaten out of them because the owner wants a fighting dog,  or by-passed by the dog for survival.  In the worst cases, the constant abuse from humans applying human responses to "disobedience" (and here I am talking of the lowest of the low in human behaviour) have caused the dogs to forget  their canine language altogether.
So, to rescue a dog like this takes endless commitment and patience, slowly rebuilding (or in many cases actually CREATING, because the dog has never known kindness, security or trust), the connection and trust so vital in human/dog relationships.
With time, and with giving the dog everything it needs to live with humans in harmony, these poor souls can often be brought back from the abyss - to become the relaxed and socially viable friend and companion that they always should have been.
The rub comes when the dog is put under unexpected or unavoidable stress.  Perhaps something as simple as an uncomfortable procedure at the vets, or more seriously, an unwanted, unfriendly forced interaction from an off-lead uncontrolled dog.
What happens then?
Unfortunately I believe every dog with serious (or even minor) issues, has what  I call a "default mode" - some action it has learned to use to either make itself less stressed, or to repel unwanted interaction.
With many dogs the default mode is harmless - sucking a blanket (but don't try to take it away without putting in a lot of work to persuade the dog that it doesn't need it, or you may find you have less fingers than you started with!), or it could be running to find a toy to present you with, chasing its tail (harmless for you but not good for your dog), or a hundred other  actions which help the dog to calm itself, or distract itself - or just simply to go to a place in its mind where it feels less threatened, and better able to cope with whatever is happening.
When push comes to shove, a dog under pressure and with issues, will always go to its default mode.
The default mode of a dog taught by evil humans to be generally aggressive, or to actively  fight - or even for a loved but misunderstood dog, who finds the relentless interaction from young children, or kind but clueless owners who unwittingly put too much pressure on their dog, either by smothering, micromanaging, or simply by not having the first idea of what it takes to give their dog a stress-free life - is all too often defensive "aggression". 
 It has learned that this works.
If he growls, shows its teeth, or in many cases, if he bypasses the warnings and goes straight to the bite, the threat will either go away, or he can overcome it by fighting and beating it.
The new loving owner knows this, and every time he lets his rehabilitated, friendly, dog off lead, the worry is there.  "Oh no, that approaching dog looks threatening - please don't go for it Fido!"  The worry and stress will communicate itself to his dog, the old, buried, but ever-present default mode surfaces, and the owner's fear becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy.  His dog, wound up by the fearful vibes emitting from his much loved new owner, may cause him to attack the thing (which in his mind) is causing the fear.
We have a friend who rescued a much abused "weapon dog", and who has worked wonders with him.  The dog is a sweetie, loving, gentle with adults and children - and other dogs..... UNTIL the other dog shows aggression towards him.  Sometimes he will respond to his owner and turn the other cheek, and sometimes his past catches up with him and he shows aggression in return. 
 He is an English Bull Terrier - a minor skirmish from a dog of that size and strength would not bode well for most other dogs, so our friend has given in and now his new chum NEVER is let off lead without a muzzle.
The result has been a relaxed and calm owner, resulting in a relaxed and calm dog.  There have been almost no incidents since the advent of the muzzle, and the very few there HAVE been were not instigated by my friend's dog, and his dog has shown remarkable restraint.
So, now he has proved himself to be a reformed character, should he lose the muzzle?  
Well, in cases of very minor aggression - and by that I mean the growling or biting used by the dog as a last resort when its owners just won’t listen to his needs, and whose owners have now learned to treat their dog in the right way, resulting in a dog which has been turned around and is now happy and stress free, AND has completely lost the need or desire to bite?   Yes - but always be aware and vigilant.
In the case of my friend’s dog, and all those very severely abused and brutalized dogs?  NO!  The muzzle has given both dog and owner peace of mind, without it the old insecurities would resurface.
Sometimes a muzzle can be .... well, if not a friend, an acceptable and necessary evil.

MARCH 14TH, 2014 @ 16:03:22 GMT


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