You are viewing this article in the archives. For the latest breaking news and updates in Ann Arbor and the surrounding area, see
Posted on Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 6 a.m.

Muzzling proves to be a controversial issue among pet owners, but sometimes it's necessary

By Lorrie Shaw


Bruiser, looking peaceful.

Lorrie Shaw | Contibutor

"I can't believe that you feel that you have to muzzle your dog...", was one interesting response I got a number of months ago to a statement I had made on social media.

Our yellow Labrador, Bruiser, is by and large a sweet dog, but there are some occasions when he becomes quite a challenge to deal with.

Re-homed with us in 2002, our pooch demonstrated from the start that extra mindfulness and understanding on our part was key. It was clear that he had not been treated as well as was indicated by his first family.

Bruiser can be sensitive about a lot of things, but clipping his nails poses a significant problem. The task had always been somewhat manageable so long as I was the person doing the job.

Then a few years ago, he had a surgical procedure to remove a suspicious tumor from his side. The surgery was a success, but after coming out of anesthesia, Bruiser was never the same dog that he was before. Much to our shock, he was frightened, traumatized and even crazed at times in the days after. Trying to care for a large breed dog with a sizable surgical wound and is displaying aggression from fear or something else isn't easy — nor safe — to say the least.

In the time since then, he still exhibits a very fear-like aggression in some situations, especially when trimming his nails, or when he needs blood drawn or an injection. Our veterinarian is wonderful with Bruiser and he trusts her, but that doesn't seem to quell his feelings towards those task that need to done. And, now that he's well into his late senior years, blood draws and things like that are more common.

Most often during vet visits, our clinician will whip out a tongue depressor with a glob of peanut butter on it to offer our boy, which he willingly accepts. This keeps his mind and mouth busy so that the staff can do their thing.

As Bruiser has aged, this behavior has intensified. We understand this, and so does our vet. And trust me, there is no positive behavior modification approach or technique that has helped to mitigate his responses in the years that we've shared life with him. The most mindful thing that one can do when one gets to this point is to accept it, understand the triggers and work around them.

Enter the statement that I made about muzzling a few months ago. On Twitter, I noted that I use a soft muzzle made from nylon when trimming Bruiser's nails, among other things that he finds troublesome.

To ensure my safety during a nail trim or while examining a lump or a limp or a skin tag on the eye that has been torn, (scenarios that are becoming more frequent as our furry friend ages), my rule is to now get a muzzle on him beforehand — and he lets me. It's fast and easy to do.

To me and other dog professionals, muzzling in these cases makes sense.

To some dog owners, it's unthinkable.

The latter surprises me. When a dog is in a situation that they find especially challenging, like being examined by a member of a veterinary staff who has approached the animal mindfully, and it's clear that the pet will bite — why should the staff be put at risk if there is a reasonable alternative?

In all honesty I think that an appropriately-sized muzzle should be a staple in all homes with a dog.

Having to use one when the situation calls for it doesn't necessarily characterize your dog as "aggressive," and it doesn't mean that your dog will be stigmatized as being a "bad dog."

As a pet sitter, I carry ones in different sizes in my day bag as a precaution. Unexpected situations do reveal themselves, and being prepared is always necessary.

Do you get squeamish thinking of the metal versions that are available? Consider a soft version made from nylon. They can be secured quickly and easily and, in my experience, are highly effective. I have yet to have one pulled off.

I should make clear that I do not condone the use of muzzles on a regular basis, nor should they be worn all day. A dog should only be muzzled under close supervision of an adult, and they should be used temporarily.

Muzzles are not a replacement for positive reinforcement training, either.

So, as a way to avoid a lot of headache, hard feelings and heartache from having yourself or someone else sustaining serious injuries from a bite, give the prospect of using a muzzle — when appropriate — some serious thought.

Lorrie Shaw leads the pets section for and is a professional pet sitter. Connect with her on Google + or e-mail her directly.



Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 11:36 p.m.

I use a muzzle on my greyhound at the dog park. Originally I did it because she has a terrible poop-eating habit, and I could tape the muzzle so that was prevented. But I heard a terrible story about a greyhound attacking a tiny dog, so I thought maybe the dog being muzzled would put people at ease if she played too rough. And she's deaf, so calling her away from another dog is hard unless she's looking at me. In my backyard she's not muzzled because I clean my yard constantly.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 1:51 p.m.

I have to use a soft muzzle when people my dog does not know well come to the house. He's 12 yrs old, fearful and misunderstands some movements. He's a great family dog but every once and awhile he bites people he doesn't know well and it always takes me by surprise because I have relaxed and don't see the cues. Soft muzzle, no bites. Easy as that. I think he prefers it to being shut in a bedroom for the duration.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 1:50 p.m.

As a professional groomer, we too at times need to muzzle dogs. For their safety, but mostly for ours. Most commonly it is for nail trims. Other times it's basically because the dog doesn't like the whole grooming process. Not only does the muzzle protect it also acts as a calming agent. Dogs will immediately settle down knowing that they can't use their mouth/teeth as a weapon! I am all for the use of a soft muzzle if and only if the need is necessary! Thank you for your article.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 12:59 p.m.

Good...this is about the ONLY time a muzzle is ok. If you have to muzzle your dog to bring it out in have failed as a pet owner. Doesn't matter WHAT reason you are have no business owning that pet NOR bring it out in public. If you're being overly cautious then you have no business owning that dog in the first place... If your dog bites then you shouldn't bring a vicious animal into public...ever... There is no excuse for using a muzzle to bring a dog out in public.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 8:26 p.m.

I'm with Lorrie on this. If a dog has aggression issues in certain circumstances, a soft muzzle is humane. All dogs need exercise. They don't need to be hidden away.


Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 2:52 p.m.

Like I said....IN PUBLIC... Muzzling is fine for groomers, etc....but for PUBLIC If you need to muzzle the dog in public....that dog should NOT be in public.

Lynn Liston

Mon, Jan 7, 2013 : 2:43 p.m.

Billy, I'm another pet-sitter and I have to agree with Lorrie. Some of my families have adopted dogs that were traumatized earlier in life and still have remnant fear responses that are unpredictable- sometimes you just don't know when that frightening old memory might surface. When you're in an activity that might lead to a lapse of training, the compassionate thing to do is to use a soft muzzle. Not only does this prevent a biting incident, but I have found that, like the harness, the soft muzzle can be a signal or reminder to the dog that it needs to be on its best manners for a while. It can signal that something pleasant is about to happen like going for a walk, or that its going to have to be good while its nails are trimmed, but then a reward will follow, the muzzle coming off, and a treat and face rub offered along with an affirming 'good dog!". A soft muzzle is by no means a punishment, but through consistent and gentle use, is an integral part of training and socialization that allows dogs to fully participate with their owners in walks, play, and grooming.