Muzzle-tov! Why this accessory doesn’t mean “bad dog”

All is not lost - crisps fit nicely through a muzzle. Picture: Becky Rushton

All is not lost - crisps fit nicely through a muzzle. Picture: Becky Rushton - Credit: Becky Rushton

From baskets to Baskervilles, the humble muzzle seems to have a lot to answer for.

People see dogs fashioning this particular facewear and fear the worst. Perhaps images of Rottweilers straining at chains, snarling and snapping out of control may come to mind, but actually a muzzled dog is quite the opposite.

A dog is muzzled by an owner who recognises their potential for harm and takes control.

Take my own beloved Benji for example. I know that strangers and children scare him (a dog after my own heart, really), so when we're in a public place the ol' beige cage comes out.

Accompanied by a bright yellow lead with 'NERVOUS' emblazoned across it, I've done all I can to make his and everyone else's day out go as smoothly as possible.

I've found that the majority of people react in two ways to his safety-conscious get-up: some keep themselves, their children and dogs well away, sometimes going so far as to stop to one side to let me pass. (I love you all.)

Some people think a muzzle just means 'dog aggressive', and if they don't have one with them, bend down with a jovial 'Hello!' or offer the back of their hand for a sniff as they pass. Unfortunately Benji's grasp of English isn't the best and he doesn't understand the concept of a polite greeting, and a hand towards his face - whether it be front or rear-facing - sends him into a panic with a quick snap and snarl.

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He's come on brilliantly since I adopted him in January, he doesn't lunge at people like they're targets, but if a dog has a muzzle on you shouldn't really be putting any part of your body near his face. I keep him by my side on a short lead to avoid as much interaction as possible, but there's only so much I can do. I do sometimes wonder if a muzzled Staffie would get as much positive attention as a border collie.

I do find, as should probably be expected, that fellow dog owners seem to get it more than anyone else. Instead of reacting with fear when they see Benji's muzzle they often regard him with a smile and a sympathetic tilt of the head. Such a faith-restoring moment happened in the Rising Sun pub a few weeks ago - if it's a little cool to sit outside and it's not too busy indoors, we'll sit at a table in the corner with Benji muzzled and tethered underneath. We all watch the world go by and everyone is happy.

On one such occasion a couple with a dog and a young child were at the bar. My other half took Benji to the table and I paid for the drinks (no doubt a conspiracy disguised as helpfulness but I let it pass).

I chatted with the couple briefly about Benji, mentioned his fear of strangers and children, and commented on their rather large but very chilled dog. As I returned to the table I heard the woman tell her son very slowly and deliberately that the collie was wearing a muzzle, so give him lots of space, don't stare at him and just leave him be. My heart swelled. Such a small precautionary measure kept everyone safe and taught the youngster the importance of letting muzzled dogs lie.

The two children running and screaming through the pub soon after upset our little haven of equilibrium, but you can't control the world, can you? Just your dog.