I used to live in a neighborhood that was extremely dog friendly. It was almost a prerequisite that you had to have a dog in order to live there. Right in the center of our neighborhood was a large open field that over time, became an unofficial dog park for all residents and their dogs. Every day, around the five o’clock hour, the park would fill with dogs and their people who would play for hours. It eventually became the thing to do. People would bring drinks, lawn chairs and we would all mingle and watch our dogs have a great time. It was here that I remember meeting one neighbor in particular. She had a gorgeous, fawn-colored American Pit Bull Terrier. An absolutely stunning dog… who also wore a muzzle.
Her name was Noia, a shortened version of the greek word “metanoia” which means, “the journey of changing one’s mind, heart, self or way of life.” I remember her mom telling me she thought very carefully about what she wanted her name to be. It needed to be something perfectly fitting for an American Pit Bull Terrier.
Noia was a rescue; a survivor of abuse and neglect. She was also dog-aggressive. I am very cautious to use the word aggressive versus reactive, because typically speaking a dog’s aggression is the root of some other underlying fear. In Noia’s case, she had never had prior interactions with other dogs. She just did not like them and she would do her very best to attack any time another dog came near.
Her human however was the epitome of a responsible dog owner. Noia always wore a muzzle in public. When other dogs and their owners would approach, Noia and her mom would change directions and work to avert Noia’s attention through various training methods. The duo was always in tune with their surroundings and were visibly working hard to learn appropriate public behavior. I remember the first time I ever saw them and thought to myself, “thank you for being such a responsible dog momma.” It was evident - clear as day - that Noia was being given the very best chance to overcome her fears and anxieties to achieve the life she was deserving of.
Living in such a dog-friendly neighborhood definitely had its perks. But there is so much that is misunderstood about dog-behavior and body language; for someone like Noia and her mom, living in such a dog friendly community was often a negative experience. People always had their dogs off-leash. That put Noia’s mom at a very big disadvantage as she tried her best to provide a safe environment for her dog. She would often have to ask people to leash their dogs just so they could continue on their way. And seeing this big, powerful dog in a muzzle - a training tool that so many people do not understand - the poor duo was written off as “the crazy lady with the aggressive dog.”
As someone who is not only a dog owner and lover, but also a pit bull mom who fights these types of negative stereotypes every day, it was very frustrating for me to hear Noia and her mom being verbally accosted on a regular basis, and behind their backs. I became an unofficial advocate for the two, always coming to their defense and working hard to educate people I encountered on the benefits of muzzle training.
There was one particular occasion where a friendly, educational conversation turned into a heated argument with a man who said, “if your dog has to wear a muzzle, you should probably just keep the dog out of sight.” Sadly, this is a common thought among people who don’t understand that a muzzle is nothing more than a training tool. Noia was deserving of everything the world had to offer… just like everyone else. And no one should have to live a life in hiding just because others choose to live in ignorance about something they do not fully understand.
To most, muzzles provoke images of lunging or snarling, aggressive dogs, because the canine world is divided into two very simple trains of thought: nice dogs who never bite and mean dogs who do. But it’s never that simple. Each dog is a unique being, with his or her own personality traits and quirks. Just like people, some are extroverted and love being social and outgoing. Others are introverted and prefer the company of a select few. The difference is, dogs do not have the communication ability to say, “hey, I don’t like this.” They communicate through their body and the sounds they make. When we have a hard time understanding them, that energy can build up into different forms of anxiety, reactiveness and sometimes, even aggression. And whether we are dog owners or not, we should always be conscious of the way other dogs are communicating with us.
A dog wearing a muzzle is not a bad dog. Quite the contrary. There are a variety of reasons for why a dog could be wearing a muzzle.
- They are simply practicing good muzzle skills for their next vet visit.
- They like to play rough with other dogs and the muzzle is a way to keep all dogs safe.
- They’re recovering from a painful injury.
- They like to eat items they shouldn’t: socks, chicken bones, stuffed toys, animal carcasses, dog poop etc.
- As a cue to others to give them space.
- They have anxiety around other dogs and strangers.
- Practicing for emergency situations.
A muzzle is nothing more than a training tool; a means to allow dogs the confidence in situations that would otherwise make them feel anxious or stressed. They are an instrument that gives dogs the opportunity to work through their feelings in a positive way to help them make good choices in every situation. They give both dogs and their humans the opportunity to take a deep breath and focus on the task at hand, rather than trying to manage both their surroundings and what is making their dog fearful and anxious. They are not cruel and a well-fitted muzzle allows a dog to eat, drink and breath with ease.
@texthecurmix is a proud advocate for muzzle awareness.
There is a quote I once heard that truly resonates with this topic… “Everything you’ve ever wanted is on the other side of fear.” Dogs, just like you and I, want a peaceful existence; one in which they feel safe. When you remove fear from the equation, you create a calm energy they can thrive in. Having a dog of course brings abundant joy into our lives, but it can also be a challenge all its own. The very best we can do is support one another, be advocates for each other.
@gracie_in_wonderland is an Alaskan princess.
Thinking back to the two years I lived in that dog-friendly community, I remember the great strides Noia made in that time. She went from being the kind of dog that couldn’t even be in the presence of other dogs, even with a muzzle on - to being confident and calm. Her muzzle did that for her. So the next time you see a dog like Noia or any of the gorgeous pups in this thread, don’t judge. Give them the space they need to thrive. A dog who is not friendly, a dog who is leash reactive… one who is anxious, nervous, or muzzled… they’re all good dogs.
If you are considering muzzle training, it is very important that you choose the right kind and size for your dog. Please consult a professional dog trainer who’s expertise is in muzzle training to help you get started.