Okay, I think everyone needs to slow their collective roll for a second.
Practically the instant the Montréal pit bull ban became an imminent threat, images like these started popping up.
Sad dog in a muzzle, I get it. It makes people feel bad. I don’t know if our knee-jerk reaction to muzzles is born out of their portrayal in TV shows or movies (e.g. “Lady and the Tramp,” “Homeward Bound”) or out of our own fear of being muzzled, but boy, these photos hit that nerve hard.
“Hes got this look of ‘what did i do? Was i bad boy? Im sorry mom.’ Awful for those in montreal…im soo sorry to those who have to ‘punish’ their good babies [sic],” one person commented.
Initially, I wasn’t going to say anything. I didn’t point out that all these dogs are wearing what appear to be Baskerville muzzles, which are lightweight, allow the dog to drink and receive treats, and have enough room for panting, assuming they’re sized correctly. I didn’t note that irony that half the people so enraged over a muzzle would probably slap a prong collar or choke chain on their dog without a second thought. After all, no matter the quality of the muzzle, these dogs certainly look sad, and they almost certainly weren’t counter-conditioned to associate good things with the muzzle. After all, Montréal’s city council didn’t allow enough time for people to actually muzzle-train their dogs. Besides that, I didn’t want to derail any part of the overall conversation, which I agreed with: BSL is bad.
Then I saw this.
This was written by an organization that I thought I would love to work for. Like, dream job, literally. They’ve been advocates for pit bulls and rescue dogs. They have materials they provide to other non-profits for free. But I was so disappointed with the part of this statement that pertained to muzzles.
Before I go any farther, I’m going to say this: I do not think Montréal’s proposed rules for muzzling pit bulls are okay. They’re bad. Muzzling a dog 24/7 (or even just any time they’re outside) will likely cause problems. Pit bulls who have no issues with dogs or people should not have to wear a muzzle just because they’re pit bulls. Even pit bulls who do have issues should not have to wear a muzzle at all times. It’s not fair, it’s not right.
That being said, there’s nothing inherently wrong with a dog — pit bull or otherwise — wearing a basket muzzle, and they certainly have the potential to make communities safer.
Nelson and I have been working through The Muzzle Up! Project for a few months now (yeah, I’ve been a little inconsistent with it). I started it because of our last vet visit, when the vet tech almost had to muzzle him just to administer a sedative, and that wouldn’t have been a basket muzzle that fit pretty comfortably and he had learned to associate with treats and fun stuff. That would’ve been a cloth muzzle shoved over his face that forced his mouth closed and left only his nose for breathing. Since it only took one negative experience for him to become anxious at the vet, I would much rather teach him to wear a muzzle than have four vet techs sit on him just to get a rabies shot. That’s reasonable, right?
There are plenty of other instances when basket muzzles will keep dogs and people safer. Let’s say you have a dog who loves to play with other dogs, but she’s inappropriate and grabs lips and jowls while she plays. With a dog like that in the mix, playtime could quickly escalate into a fight, but teaching her to wear a muzzle could allow her to continue playing while preventing the most inappropriate part of her behavior.
The Muzzle Up! Project has many more stories like this, not to mention instructions, tips and videos on muzzle training your own dog. The whole point of the project is to educate people and remove the stigma of the muzzle, which, clearly, even some of our better organizations need help with. Assuming the owner knows what they’re doing, the dog is trained and the muzzle is appropriate to the situation, there is nothing cruel about muzzles. If you don’t like the way they look, that’s fine; I don’t like the way they look either, and no assortment of pastel colors or bedazzling materials is going to make them appealing. Really, though, think with your brain and not with your childhood associations. I can’t imagine the number of responsible owners who will (and already do) get crap from uneducated schmucks whose most personal experience with a muzzle is that 30 seconds in “Zootopia.”
Like I said, I was hesitant to even mention this, because Montréal obviously did not give its residents the time or resources to comply with its garbage law, especially not in a way that didn’t create negative experiences for their dogs. I also realize that short, simple, absolutist messages make a bigger impression on the public, and messages with a thousand caveats and qualifiers are better left to blogs that get read by the same six people and my mom (love you, guys). However, if we can’t introduce a little nuance into the conversation without the whole thing falling apart, I don’t think we’re much better than the opposition. At the very least, I think there are plenty of ways to oppose BSL without explicitly furthering the stigma of muzzles.