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"Why Do You Hike In A Muzzle?"

Welcome to a little bonus blog! Since our last post was all about whether or not to let your dog off leash, I want to talk a little bit about the consequences of letting your dog off leash in inappropriate areas. This one is much more of a personal story, and food for thought as you move about the world with your dog.

Not all dogs are dog friendly, and that’s okay. I myself have one of those dogs. This doesn’t always mean that they are dog aggressive (although that too, is okay if they are) but more often just means that they are much more comfortable and happy going about their lives with minimal contact with other dogs. And honestly, they should be able and allowed to do that. One of the pups in my house definitely falls into this category.

This dog also happens to be a fairly high energy Border Collie/Cattle Dog mix. Hikes have always been a big part of his life, and pretty vital to his emotional well being. However, within recent years it has gotten harder and harder to get him out. As he has aged his tolerance of other dogs has gotten much lower, but that is easy to accommodate. Or, at least, it should be.

What makes this low tolerance difficult for me to accomodate is how many off leash dogs we run into

when we try and get out on the trails. Because Oliver isn’t exactly dog friendly, I am always careful to take him to trails that are on leash only. I will sometimes take him on a long line, but always pull it in to a normal length when we see others. However, no matter how big or frequent the “On Leash Area” signs are, we tend to run into at least one off leash dog per outing.

Sometimes, if the dog is small or mellow and not interested in us, we can just pass on by. Sometimes I manage to notice the dog before they notice us and we can change direction or hide. But, more often that not, I am faced with a large, bouncy, friendly dog charging at us at full speed. This usually results in me shouting “You need to leash your dog! We are not friendly!”. (I go with “We are not friendly” because under the circumstances I am not friendly either.)

Sometimes the owner manages to get their dog back under control, and occasionally I will get an apology. More often I will get comments about how my “aggressive” dog shouldn’t be out in public. Sometimes an owner won't even try to get their dog back. I will get “Oh he’s friendly”, or “He’s great with nervous dogs” or sometimes even “He won’t approach you” as the dog is clearly on approach.

When everything goes wrong, and we are faced with a rude full-speed greeting from just the type of dog that Oliver is least comfortable with, his most likely response is going to involve lots of teeth and shouting. Typically, when I am trying to enjoy a nice quiet walk with my old man, paying for a strangers vet bills isn’t the end result I’m generally looking forward to. To avoid that, we have started hiking in a muzzle.

Oliver has been conditioned to his muzzle for a long time. It is a tool that we use frequently with him for handling and vet visits. This dog LOVES his muzzle. As soon as he sees it he start leaping at you and shoves his face into it so hard, he often knocks it right out of my hands. All his muzzle means to him is squeeze cheese, bologna, and getting to stretch his legs. I also LOVE his muzzle. It helps me feel a lot less anxious about the likelihood of running into an off leash dog, because I know that he can’t damage anyone, and because my anxiety is down, we are much more likely to have a pleasant walk.

We still avoid off leash areas, and still do everything we can to avoid the off leash dogs when we see them, but having the extra safety net for those times when everything goes wrong goes a long way for me. It means that he actually gets out, instead of barely ever leaving my house.

I’ve gotten some comments about the muzzle being cruel, or that he shouldn’t be out if he needs it, and some days they can be hard to brush off. Sometimes I will claim we use it to prevent him from eating strange things because he has a history of blockages, when I don’t feel like going through the entire “well I don’t trust other people to actually follow the law” thing. At the end of the day though, I can brush those comments off because I know that wearing a muzzle has made his life better, because it means he can go out.

To be really frank, I hate that he has to wear it. I find it infuriating that I can’t just go for a walk in a park with my dog without coming across at least one person who thinks that the rules don’t apply to them and their “super friendly” dog. But at least we have it. If we didn’t, other owners lack of consideration for a dog who just doesn’t want to say hi, would leave Oliver a prisoner of his own home.

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