When we talk about muzzling, many people with reactive/aggressive dogs say they would never muzzle their dog because they have to defend themselves in a fight. After many conversations, it seems that this is a primary concern of many; therefore, we would like to talk about it in length. For the sake of this article, we talk about dog-reactive and dog-aggressive dogs while we know there are plenty of other reasons to muzzle a dog.
We would love to provide statistics from actual research to make this article more trustworthy, but there aren't such resources. Every probability in this article is arguable; it is only based on our experiences while working with reactive dogs in the last 12 years. Our goal here is to point out a few more aspects of this topic that you might haven't considered before, not to judge people who think otherwise. At the end of the day, you know your dog, know your environment, and do whatever you feel is the most responsible thing to do!
An excellent way to think about this is that your dog shouldn't be the one defending themselves as default. When we meet with another off-leash dog, Mia is behind me while I ask the owner to leash their dog. If they don't succeed or it's a stray dog, I shout, stomp, etc. to scare the other dog away. I do everything so the situation cannot escalate to a fight, and as evident this sound, it worked 99% of the time. Having the muzzle on your dog helps because it talks for itself, and people argue less when you ask them to call their dog back, and you don't have to worry about your dog lunging at the other dog in the meantime.
If the other dog does come up to you despite all your efforts and your dog is not wearing a muzzle, there is a high chance that a reactive dog will bite since that's why you consider a muzzle in the first place. Once the other dog is bitten, probably they will snap back even if they are friendly by default, and just wanted to say hi initially. With the muzzle on, your dog could still growl and snap to let the other dog know they are not welcome, and most of the cases, the other dog will leave you without making a fuss about it, or the other owner will rush over to finally collect them.
If all above fails and you are the unlucky one who met with a purely aggressive dog who goes for yours without second thoughts, you will have a much easier time breaking up the fight if you only have to worry about one dog biting. If you have tried to separate fighting dogs, you know how hard it is, even if you have experienced people around to help. Dog fights are messy, and people can injure easily when they try to separate them. It's safer for everyone involved if you can focus on grabbing and securing only one dog.
Another thing to consider is that if you know that your dog tends to provoke a fight, the best way to prevent it is to control your dog. Unfortunately, you cannot be sure that the other dog is not a crazy, aggressive dog who will go straight for yours, but it rarely happens in reality. Of course, there are countries and regions with many stray dogs or loose guard dogs where this wouldn't stand, but this applies to our experiences in Europe/USA. We are not saying we haven't met with aggressive dogs, but we (humans) did chase them away without them getting in contact with the dogs. In general, the chances that your reactive dog will start a fight with an otherwise neutral dog is much higher than running into another dog who would go for yours.
The third aspect of this topic is that your mood and emotions will influence your dog around triggers. You have a much better chance of handling a stressful situation if you can stay calm and confident, and this will also help your dog's reaction. If your dog is muzzled, you can be sure that the wiggly, overly friendly pup who keeps running up to you cannot be hurt, or you don't have to worry about your dog redirecting the stress and grabbing you while you are holding them back in a high-stress situation. You can focus on redirecting attention, rewarding good behavior, which will help your training progress.
Last but not least, if you have a reactive/aggressive dog that seriously injured/killed another dog, in many states and countries, your dog will be the one being euthanized. In many cases, it will not even matter how the accident happened if your dog was already labeled “dangerous” before. There is no reason not to muzzle and risk this - even though you feel there is a low probability.
If your dog is also human reactive, there are even more severe consequences. You cannot control the environment all the time, especially if you live in a busy place. You do not want to risk, e.g., a kid running up to you from behind or a man walking by you and tripping and scaring your dog.
We understand that giving your dog the freedom to defend themself is coming from the desire to keep them safe, but there are many more aspects of this than letting two dogs fight, and whoever wins will be safe.
Your best option to protect a reactive dog is to ensure they can't hurt someone or another dog while you train to solve the behavior issue if possible. After off-leash dogs attacked Mia, we muzzled her on most walks and hikes for a year while worked hard to resolve her trauma. These days we barely need the muzzle anymore, but muzzling was a great tool to control many situations before escalating and preventing Mia from making bad decisions. Muzzling will not solve your problem by itself but can help the training be more successful and effective.
You can check out the reviews of the muzzles in this post by clicking on the “Muzzle” filter on our Review page.