I’ll tell you a secret… mine has. Actually, 3 of my pets have or have had “Will Bite” warnings on their charts.
How did you feel being told your pet needed a muzzle, or watching them put one on? Nervous? Uncertain? Confused? Embarrassed? Maybe even angry? I can understand feeling all of that and more. Muzzles have always had a negative stigma. But we can change that.
Many people have pets like mine – they are loving, affectionate and well-behaved at home. They wouldn’t do anything to hurt me or anyone that comes over. But I bring them to work where someone tries to draw their blood… or even worse, trim their nails (oh the horror!) and all bets are off. Next thing you know, we’re doing some “strategic maneuvering” just to keep our fingers intact.
At first, I was embarrassed. For crying out loud, MY CAT TRIED TO BITE MY BOSS! (Not the best way to earn a paycheck!) But I thought about it from my pet’s perspective, and from other pets’ perspectives. I watched the our patients day in and day out and some things started to make sense to me.
Spoiler alert: not all animals are the same. They each have a unique and individual personality, just like humans. While some people love going to new places and meeting new people, that very same thing makes other people wary and nervous. Dogs and cats are no different. Some pets come in and you’d think they found their long-lost best friend. Others are a little nervous and just take a bit to warm up. Others come in fearful. Some even come in feeling threatened. All those feelings elicit different responses…
So why do dogs bite?
According to the AVMA (American Veterinary Medical Association) “If the dog finds itself in a stressful situation, it may bite to defend itself and its territory. Dogs can bite because they are scared or have been startled. They can bite because they feel threatened. They can bite to protect something that is valuable to them, like their puppies, their food or a toy.” Or maybe their owner?
The human-animal bond is a strong one; it’s why we’re all here. You are valuable to them. That’s why, sometimes, it’s helpful to the pet to be taken out of the exam room. It reduces their instinct to protect and defend you. With other pets, their anxiety is reduced when they can stay with their owner, but that’s usually because they feel nervous, not threatened. But whether a pet feels nervous or threatened, wearing a muzzle can help reduce their tension. It gives the staff the ability to feel safe, which reduces their tension too.
While there are other reasons a pet may need a muzzle, none of them mean that you have a “bad” pet. But we have to remember they are just that – pets. They are animals with strong instincts. It’s up to us as their guardians, caretakers and companions to do everything we can to give them every opportunity to be successful in every situation. For my pet, being successful was NOT sending my boss to Urgent Care, just because she was in pain and afraid. And if the one thing that can make that happen is a muzzle, then maybe it’s not such a bad thing after all. I shouldn’t feel embarrassed. I know my pet didn’t want to bite anyone, but she did feel like she needed to or even had to.
These are instincts we cannot combat with reasoning. If we could just talk to them and explain that they have nothing to fear we would, gladly, a thousand times a day. But we can’t. And sadly, you can’t either. So, we approach each pet as an individual. We start with the “less is more” philosophy. We use the least amount of restraint needed and only work our way up to a muzzle when it’s evident that it would benefit the patient and the staff. And the moment it becomes non-beneficial, we take it off.
Happy dogs wear muzzles
Do me a favor, open up another tab in your internet browser and search this phrase: “Happy dogs wear muzzles.” You will get a long list of articles and resources on the benefits of dogs wearing muzzles – but most importantly, dogs being happy wearing their muzzles. You’ll find articles about removing the stigma, changing our outlook on muzzles and teaching our pets to be comfortable in them. You’ll see muzzle games, muzzle art and tons of happy dogs… who happen to be wearing muzzles.
What can you do?
Muzzle train! Yes, muzzle training is a thing! And it’s something you can do at home with your pet that will strengthen your bond. After all, it’s about building mutual trust, reducing stress and reaffirming your pet that you love and care for them.
The article below is from the AKC and is great at explaining some of the details, but I strongly encourage you to do some research. Find the style of muzzle and training approach that works for you and your fur family.
Now for the handsome fella at the top of the page…
…his name is Scooby. He belongs to one of our receptionists, Alyssa, and here’s her story:
My Scooby Doo, AKA Scooberton Bradley, is a 3-year-old American Pit Bull Terrier. He’s one of the sweetest dogs I have ever had, and a big baby most of the time! What we realized about Scooby at a very young age was that he became really anxious and stressed out in public settings, such as the vet’s office, the dog park, and even on neighborhood walks.
Regular leash and harness training proved ineffective. Any creature he saw would cause him to make excitable noises. Now what we know as his “excitable noises” may sound like aggressive noises to others. Because of this, we worried that someone else would label him as an “aggressive dog,” thus making it an unnecessarily stressful environment for everyone.
Throughout his young life, I’ve considered the possibility that maybe he needs to be muzzled, for his safety and others, but I continued to put it off. We tried to work with him in various situations and were worried that because of his breed it would become more of an issue. Due to this insecurity, potty breaks were brief and walks became non-existent. Vet visits became a chore as we tried to avoid interaction with others as much as possible.
Recently I decided to push past my insecurity and make the leap to try a muzzle. What could it hurt? We purchased a Baskerville muzzle and gave it a shot. At first Scooby didn’t know what to do with this contraption on his face, but after accepting (many) treats, he became comfortable in it. We took him outside for a potty break while wearing it, and he was almost completely disinterested in a neighborhood dog walking by. No crazy noises, no lunging to go meet them!
Next we decided to take him on a short walk. He became aware of it and tried to get it off, but with some distraction, more walking and praise, he was good. He was eventually so confident and comfortable that it put our minds at ease. We knew we made the right decision for him. He was able to be a DOG and sniff and walk freely without feeling anxious!
I muzzle Scooby because it makes him feel secure when he’s out in public. It assures us and others that he is safe. Being pregnant myself, he’s much easier to handle and now we can go out together and have an enjoyable time.
P.S. If you can’t find his tail in the photo, it’s that blur behind him. It was wagging so fast because he was happy, and as a dog mom, I can’t ask for much more.