Muzzles - cruelty or careful?

When we walk Bolo, he is always muzzled.

bolo on walk.jpg

This usually raises a couple of questions in my mind.

Why?

Bolo is never aggressive. When we encounter other dogs on our walks, he never snarls, snaps or growls. His tail, ears and hackles all remain relaxed and in a friendly posture. He tends to ignore people, glancing at them and continuing on his happy way, regardless of size, apparent frailty, gender, moustaches, beards, hats or other things that dogs have been known to get upset over. He has never been declared dangerous and we've never been told to muzzle him by any authorities.

So, why do we do it?

If you've read Bolo's profile, you will know that he came to J as a very neglected rescue dog. In its paper Dangerous dogs - a sensible solution, the Australian Veterinary Association points out the "Importance of effective socialisation during the critical period of 3-14 weeks and throughout life." It is highly unlikely that Bolo experienced proper socialisation in his early life. Consequently, when he does try to play with other dogs, he often does so in a really strange way. Unlike Czar, who uses puppy bows and bouncing steps to try and lure other dogs into playing with him, Bolo goes straight to wrestling with them. He is big and strong and keen on mouthing things (including my hair if he can reach it) and we are concerned that if an off-leash smaller dog approaches him, his attempt to play could hurt the smaller dog.

How does that affect walking with Bolo?

Bolo doesn't mind his wire basket muzzle. J calls it a "Hannibal Lector" mask. Bolo can breathe, pant and drink with it on. It does limit the volume of his howling, but he can still make most of his usual range of noises. I'm not saying he likes it, but he gets just as excited about it as he does when he sees his leash. It doesn't hurt him, and he associates it with going out and he LOVES walks. So he usually lets me slip it on without more than a little head wiggle to see if he can avoid it.

How do other people react to the muzzle?

The contrast between the reception of other people to Bolo in his Hannibal Lector mask to our other dogs is really marked.

Recently J and I were walking through a park on our way home. (All the parks near us are off-lead.) We had Frankie on a leash. No muzzle. We passed a lady with a small child and small white fluffy dog off-lead. The little boy immediately rushed to stroke Frankie, without any sign of fear in him or his mother. He wanted to pat Frankie's back and Frankie was typically throwing his head around to try and sniff the hand on his back, as well as the small dog dancing around him. J had his hands full of shopping and leash and the mother made no attempt to supervise the child or the dog. The little boy squirmed right up against J's leg to get to Frankie's back, and after patting him a little, attempted to unclip Frankie's leash. J and the boy's mother simultaneously said "no!" and the little boy jumped back to the safety of his mother's skirts while she told J she knew that was naughty (she didn't tell the boy, interestingly). Anyway, we moved on, no harm done.

Now obviously, this is a pretty extreme version of how comfortable people are with our dogs, but its also typical of both the fascination that people can display, and the level of comfort they have in the safety of their own dogs, when they see our huskies. Its pretty normal for people to ask to introduce on-leash dogs and small children, and with Czar and Frankie, I don't hesitate to say yes, although I supervise closely. (J makes me look lax.) 

Dangerous Dog Collar required in Victoria for dogs who have been deemed dangerous because of attack training or documented injuries caused to other dogs or humans.

Dangerous Dog Collar required in Victoria for dogs who have been deemed dangerous because of attack training or documented injuries caused to other dogs or humans.

Of course, with Bolo, people are never that comfortable. People grab hold of lose dogs and keep a careful distance when they see that muzzle. And its just a muzzle, like those worn by greyhounds. Its not a dangerous dog collar. He's not a pit bull or a staffy. And, with the muzzle on, he is even less of a threat than the minimal threat he poses normally. But I've had people apologise for having their dogs off-lead in designated off-lead areas, while hauling their dogs away from Bolo, who is sitting wagging happily at them and their dogs.

How do I feel about it?

Now that I've had some experience walking with Bolo, I am very happy to use the muzzle and will continue to do so. As we live in a street with an off-lead park behind us and another across the road, I know that I have no control over the other dogs who may approach us when we're walking. The muzzle gives me the confidence that Bolo can't cause serious damage - he may accidentally "muzzle-punch" a dog that gets too close, but that's it. I know that Bolo is not hurt or distressed by the muzzle, and it allows him to still get out and explore the neighbourhood. And I love seeing how happy that makes him!

If you have any thoughts, comments or questions, please feel free to comment.

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