Should All Dogs Be Muzzled in Public?

Here's the short answer to that question: No.

Here's the slightly more detailed answer: No. Definitely not. That would be mad, bad and dangerous.

And here's the downright verbose answer to that perennially posed media query…

Over the past years we’ve heard a number of alternative ‘dangerous dog’ solutions proposed. Ways and means by which we can prevent dog attacks from occurring. Ideas and suggestions which can help us rid ourselves of the menace of dog attacks. One of the most common ideas put forward seems, on the face of it, to be entirely sensible: to muzzle all dogs and keep them confined to a lead at all times in public. Well, whilst it may seem sensible – unfortunately, it is not. In fact I speculate that if we want to literally DOUBLE the number of dog attacks, especially the most serious ones, the way to do it would be to muzzle and confine all dogs to leads in public. I shall hereby try and explain the flaws in this ideology.

Dogs operate in and have personalities which can be linked to something known as ‘drives’. Whilst it is not my intent to make this a ‘technical’ dog behaviour article I shall list the recognised drives below:

The Prey drive: these dogs stalk, ‘kill’ their toys, shake objects and are highly stimulated by visual movements. They like to chase.

The Pack drive: these dogs are sociable animals who enjoy being touched by people, prone to separation anxiety.

The Fight drive: self confident or ‘dominant’ dogs who will guard themselves, their property, their family. Tends to hold strong eye contact even with ‘dominant’ people.

The Flight drive: unsure in strange situations, always needs to be aware of a potential route of escape, tends to be submissive and is most prone to ‘fear biting’.

Dogs may show a tendency to ‘be a high prey drive’ dog or dogs may exhibit high drive behaviour in certain circumstances – for example, a dog which may – by normal personality – operate for most of its life in ‘pack drive’, a friendly dog that loves people for instance, upon encountering its first ever squirrel the dog may instantly switch on to a very high prey drive response. So it’s not a simple case of being able to label one dog or breed as a particular candidate to fit one of the drive descriptions. Yes, we can generalise (Bull breed dogs tend to score highly on pack drive, they love people, love being touched, enjoy companionship) but these generalisations are what have gotten us in to trouble in the first place!

We simply cannot and should not attempt to define a dog’s personality by its breed type or EVEN its past history. For instance, a dog which has – for its entire life – never been nervous or aggressive about ANYTHING, when faced with a certain new situation or circumstance may exhibit high levels of ‘unplanned for’ behaviour. I often ask people to imagine in their mind how they feel about elephants. How do they feel when they see elephants on TV on a nature documentary. Most people have neutral views about elephants. We don’t live our lives in fear of them and they are not an animal that invades our daily thoughts. We have no ‘planned for’ elephant response behaviour. I then ask people to try and imagine how they’d feel if they walked into a room – a room they recognise and have used before, let’s say their boardroom at their place of work – and rather than being confronted by their work colleagues, much to their surprise a fully grown elephant is standing in the room. Now imagine how you might feel about elephants in THAT circumstance! Heart rate rised, shock, surprise, nervous tension, wonderment, planning for an escape route, sweaty palms – we have no idea how we’d respond to surprising circumstances, especially ones we’ve never planned for – yet we somehow expect our dogs to react consistently to all circumstances based on how they’ve behaved in the past. This is an error.

But what’s this got to do with muzzling and lead confinement you ask?

Well it’s all about the need for owners to be able to do two very, very (very) important things:

1) Allow their dog to exhibit normal behaviour whilst under proper control
2) Understand the risks associated with ‘unplanned’ behaviour

So let’s tackle these two issues.

Allowing a dog to exhibit normal behaviour means allowing a dog to exercise freely. There are some dogs – in fact most dogs – who absolutely thrive on the freedom to run and shake loose the constraints of a leash or the confinement of the four walls of their home and garden. To many dogs, this is their ‘reason to live’. This is their most treasured treat. It also keeps them healthy. If we are to constrain dogs and deny them the ability to exercise freely, a number of things will start to happen and start to happen quickly:

The dogs will start to become very, very wound up at home. Too much energy, no outlet for it. Anyone who has ever had to spend time in a confined space will realise how tedious that becomes. Think of a longhaul flight for an example. Sitting there, waiting for someone else to provide you with ‘release’, waiting for someone else to feed you, relying on others for your stimulation. Now imagine that your entire life was spent on a longhaul flight. I project you’ll do one of two things: You’ll either go quietly mad and spend your days asleep in a permanent bout of depression or you’ll go VERY mad and start threating to to do ‘crazy’ things in order to get your freedom back. To confine dogs to a permanent life on a longhaul flight will cause a lot of problems.

Dogs will begin to attack more people in their homes. No doubt about it. A dog who is ‘wound up’ a dog who has more energy than they are ever permitted to expend will be a problem dog. If we estimate that 2, maybe 3% of all the dogs in the UK are responsible for attacks and injuries caused by dogs as things stand today – by having a blanket ‘no dogs off lead in public’ law, you can comfortably project that we’ll have maybe as high as 20% of dogs who will pose a far greater risk to people. Yes, we may reduce dog attacks in public but my word, we will massively increase the number of attacks in the home. The net result will be more attacks.

Dogs need off lead exercise and they need the ability to socialise with other dogs. Dogs owners should understand that they have an obligation to keep their dogs under control (and do it! Not just understand it) and they should also recognise that dogs can have very, very different reactions to situations which are ‘unplanned for’. Again, think about how you’d react if you met a real life elephant face to face in a place where you were not expecting it. Don’t assume that dogs can’t have equally extreme reactions to new things.

(C) Ryan O'Meara and K9 Magazine.

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About Me
Ryan O'Meara
Ryan O'Meara is the founder of Total Pet Publishing, a former professional dog trainer, current publisher of K9 Magazine, author and commentator on social issues relating to dogs and business. He is a World Animal Day ambassador and one of the co-founder's of the leading UK dog adoption website
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Ryan O'Meara

Total Pet Publishing : K9 Magazine : ViVo Media

My name is Ryan O'Meara.

I am the publisher and editor-in-chief of K9 Magazine. I founded Total Pet Publishing, a specialist media company deciated to pets and pet owners as well as ViVo Media, a hyper-local media venture. I am a former professional dog trainer and author of three books, Clever Dog (life lessons from man's best friend), Newshounds and Amazing Dog Facts & Trivia.

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Should All Dogs Be Muzzled in Public?