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Time to Put On Your Party Hat! Muzzles at the Vet....

The old Labrador Retriever in the picture is my Drakey boy. He's now 12 years old and blind, battling a lifetime of ocular disease that eventually turned to cancer and the loss of one eye. He is now a sweet old man, but his whole life he's been unpredictable. When he was a young lad I took him to the behaviorist at Cornell University School of Veterinary Medicine, where I was student.

He would have these fits of rage towards other dogs for no apparent rhyme or reason. I could not trust him in the home with any dog. The previous year he'd broken the jaw of my dad's new puppy; minutes before they were playing enthusiastically. So unfortunately he led a pretty solitary life....until the muzzle! The behaviorist explained that Drake never learned how to remove himself from an unwanted situation or interaction. He'd grown up with other dogs, had extensive socialization, but still couldn't help himself. When he was fed up with playing or when a dog came into his bubble, instead of walking away, he blew up. So, what to do???

I was torn because I wanted Drake to be able to play with other dogs, but I couldn't trust his 80lbs of muscle and rage. The behaviorist recommended a basket muzzle. Drake could bark, pant, drink water and take treats with it on, but he could not seriously hurt another dog. It took some weeks for him to get accustom to wearing it, but eventually it was old hat....pun intended. He'd wear it at the dog park and at family gatherings with all the other dogs and something amazing happened. Drake blossomed. A whole new side of his personality came out. He played more, he actually never had an outburst with the muzzle on and now years later, lives with two other dogs and a cat muzzle free. I believe the muzzle helped him socialize and forced him to think without the use of his teeth how to move through different situations.

So why am I telling you Drake's story? It's because some owners hate muzzling at the vet. A whole range of emotions can be seen from embarrassment to anger to fear for their pet. Some think muzzles hurt, some take it as a personal offense that we'd think their dog would bite, and others remain quiet until the dog shows aggression....sometimes too late! When you bring your pet to us you become part of our team and our family. I need to be able to trust you, the owner, as much as your pet. I will always treat your pet like my own. If I think your pet MAY bite, whether out of fear, pain or aggression, I'm going to recommend a "party hat" aka a muzzle. I'm usually pretty good at giving a dog or cat a chance, but I'm also pretty good at reading their mood and body language. You could say I do it for a living.

The key to all of this is dogs act differently in different situations and muzzles don't hurt, but may actually help their mood and behavior. We have two different versions at Coyote Ridge Veterinary Clinic. We have the traditional soft cloth muzzle or the basket muzzle you see Drake wearing. Different dogs respond better to one or the other. So the next time you bring your pet and you're at all concerned about their behavior, let's have an open and honest discussion about the next steps and whether to use a muzzle. More often than not it makes things go quicker and smoother and everyone is happier. If you enjoyed this blog, please subscribe. If you have any questions about what I've discussed feel free to call us at Coyote Ridge Veterinary Clinic, (970)663-7387 and I'm happy to have that conversation with you. We are your near by neighborhood vet clinic and urgent care and can't wait for you to "Join the Pack"!!

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