Pets: Muzzling proves to be a controversial issue among pet owners, but sometimes it's necessary
Lorrie Shaw | Contibutor
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.