Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby: Does my pitbull really need a muzzle?

Dog Charmer by Tom Shelby
Does my pitbull really need a muzzle?

Dear Tom,
My husband and I recently adopted a seven-year-old pitbull from our local shelter. He’s a happy, mellow, friendly dog who loves anyone and everyone he meets.

Unfortunately, in one of his previous homes he and another dog escaped from the backyard and managed to seriously injure a neighbor’s pet rabbit. As a result, the city issued a “dangerous dog” mandate that requires him to wear a muzzle whenever he’s out in public.

This seems excessive to us — he’s never shown any aggression towards other people or dogs, and we have him on a leash at all times when we’re out and about. We’re worried that the muzzle makes him appear much more dangerous than he actually is. Do you think that a muzzle is necessary in this case?


Dear Katie,
Thank you for being one of the good guys by adopting a dog in need of a home. Depending on who you read and how you define, there are probably six to eight different types of aggression. The dog that chases a squirrel or a mouse is presenting predatory aggression which is common to most dogs. The eight-week old puppy that chases a blowing leaf is presenting predation.

I’ve lost count of all the people who asked me what they should do if a dog is threatening them. The first thing I tell them is what not to do, invite the dog to give chase and bite by turning your back and running. My standard poodle Paula Jean, killed a chipmunk in the woods during a hike. Being well trained as she is, had I seen it coming I could have told her “Leave it!” and the chipmunk would have lived to see another day. Paula Jean is nothing close to a candidate for a muzzle!

The fact that in your letter you mentioned it was two dogs that attacked the rabbit actually leaves the possibility that your dog was just a bystander, not to mention the rabbit survived the attack. A pitbull-size dog could kill a rabbit in a heartbeat, and yet the rabbit survived the assault of two dogs?

Add to that the fact that he’s friendly toward people and dogs when you walk him tells me that muzzling him is not only unnecessary, it’s quite detrimental to his further socialization and growth. The original pitbull was bred to never bite a human but rather fight other animals in a pit as onlookers placed bets.
There is no domestic animal that denotes the body language of a human better than a dog. Now picture the response of everybody who sees a muzzled dog. That dog will never experience the joy of friendly strangers and dogs as everyone backs away fearfully and suspiciously. And that in turn that will make the muzzled dog more fearful and suspicious.

In this case, take the muzzle off!

Dog Charmer Tom

Cooperstown author Tom Shelby will answer pet owner questions on dog training.
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