This is Bugs. Bugs had a rough start in life and learned early on that lunging and yelling at people was an effective way to get the to give him some space. Bugs was returned to rescue by multiple potential adopters because of this behavior, so he came to live and train with me. Our goals were to improve his adoptability by giving him foundational skills and working through his reactivity towards new people.
For everyone's safety, we built a positive association with his muzzle so that he could wear it in situations where there might be new people. Conditioning the muzzle was also a great opportunity to build up his confidence through training. He learned that he could get good things by putting his face in the muzzle and that he got to go on adventures when he was wearing it. He could eat and drink while wearing it and he was able to fully open his mouth and pant if he needs to cool down. Basically, he could do most things non-muzzled dogs could do, but he couldn't bite anyone.
It was clear that new people made him extremely uncomfortable and to his credit, Bugs had not bit anyone. It was a lot of lunging and muzzle punching at this point. We wanted to keep it that way. The muzzle kept him and the people around him safe while we worked through his reactivity and built his confidence.
Dogs wear muzzles for so many reasons, and none of them mean they are bad dogs. Bugs has come so far in his training and has learned to make friends with people who respect his boundaries.
The Muzzle Up! Project explains this perfectly.
"Dogs might wear muzzles because:
He eats rocks, socks, or other non-food items that can be toxic or cause expensive and life-threatening surgeries.
She is nervous of other dogs, and the muzzle helps keep everyone safe during off-leash hiking or on-leash walks.
The muzzle works as a cue to tell other owners to give the dog some space.
The owner wants to teach their dog to be comfortable wearing a muzzle in case the dog must wear one someday at the vet's office."
Sometimes muzzles get a bad rap, because it feels like they reflect poorly on the dog. I have worked with dog guardians who feel nervous that their friends or neighbors will judge their dog if they are wearing a muzzle. But the truth is, the muzzle is just a valuable piece of equipment that makes everyone safer.
Bugs is living his best life with an adopter who believes in him and is committed to helping him trust the world. We were able to work through some of his reactivity and prevent the behavior from escalating.