Dog Charmer: Muzzle or not

Pitbulls have a bad rap because of a few who train them to attack.

A happy, mellow pit bull may appear dangerous if wearing a muzzle. — Courtesy Tom Shelby

Dear Tom,

My husband and I recently adopted a 7-year-old pitbull from our local shelter. He’s a happy, mellow, friendly dog who loves anyone and everyone he meets.

Unfortunately, in one of his previous homes he and another dog escaped from the backyard and managed to seriously injure a neighbor’s pet rabbit. As a result, the city issued a “dangerous dog” mandate that requires him to wear a muzzle whenever he’s out in public.

This seems excessive to us — he’s never shown any aggression towards other people or dogs, and we have him on a leash at all times when we’re out and about. We’re worried that the muzzle makes him appear much more dangerous than he actually is. Do you think that a muzzle is necessary in this case?

Thank you for your help,

Dear Katie,

Thank you for being one of the good guys by adopting a dog in need of a home. Depending on who you read and how you define it, there are probably six to eight different types of aggression. The dog that chases a squirrel or a mouse is presenting “predatory aggression,” which is common to most dogs. The 8-week-old puppy that chases a blowing leaf is presenting predation. The movement of the leaf elicits the prey drive in the puppy who chases it. I’ve lost count of all the people who asked me what they should do if a dog is threatening them. The first thing I tell them is what not to do, invite the dog to give chase and bite by turning your back and running. My standard poodle, Paula Jean, killed a chipmunk in the woods during a hike. Being well trained as she is, had I seen it coming I could have told her “Leave it!” and the chipmunk would have lived to see another day. Paula Jean is nothing close to a candidate for a muzzle!

The fact that in your letter you mentioned that it was two dogs that attacked the rabbit actually leaves the possibility that your dog was nothing more than a bystander, not to mention that the rabbit survived the attack. A pitbull-size dog could kill a rabbit in a heartbeat, and yet the rabbit survived the assault of two dogs?

Add to that the fact that he’s friendly toward people and dogs when you walk him tells me that muzzling him is not only not necessary, it’s quite detrimental to his further socialization and growth. The original pitbull was bred to never bite a human but rather fight other animals in a pit as onlookers placed bets. Another type of aggression is “pain aggression.” Imagine that your own dog that would never dream of biting you gets hit by a car and suffers a broken leg. And it bites you from the pain of moving that damaged leg when you pick it up to bring it to the vet is an example of pain aggression. That’s why the original pitbull was trained to refrain from biting a person, so that the handler of a fighting dog was able to pick up the losing dog in all its pain before it was killed and remove it without getting bitten. Unfortunately, the temperaments of pitbulls have been tremendously tarnished by the publicity of the drug dealers who attack trained their pitbulls.

There is no domestic animal that denotes the body language of a human better than a dog. Now picture the response of everybody who sees a muzzled dog. That dog will never experience the joy of friendly strangers and dogs as everyone backs away fearfully and suspiciously. And in turn that will make the muzzled dog more fearful and suspicious. In this case, take the muzzle off!

Dog Charmer Tom

PS: This being America — land of litigation — I suggest you consult with a lawyer to make sure a judge’s decision for a muzzle in Hartwick doesn’t apply to Oneonta, N.Y..

Have a question for the Dogcharmer? Write him at Find him on Instagram @DogTrainerDiaries.



  1. The whole thing about fighting pit bulls never being human aggressive is a myth. Dog fighters call human aggressive dogs man-biters and man-eaters, If dogs won good money in fights they would not be gotten rid of if they happened to be aggressive towards people. One of the most prolific dog fighters and pit bull breeders of all time was John Colby. In the early 1900’s, police had to shoot one of his fighting dogs after it got loose and mauled a child. Then one of his other fighting dogs mauled his child nephew to death. His breeding bloodlines still exist today. Another noteworthy human aggressive fighting pit bull is Zebo. That dog attacked its owner’s son, but the dog wasn’t removed from the gene pool. Far from it in fact as the dog was sold and then used as a stud dog. There have been many other stories about human aggressive fighting pits throughout the years and dog fighting is still rife.

    And, for the most part it is not drug dealer’s pit bulls that are killing people. It is loved family pit bulls that have never been abused and that have been treated well. Pit bulls have been selectively bred to be incredibly game (ready to fight), tenacious (to not give up a fight and to die trying), to have a sky high tolerance of pain (to continue fighting if injured), to attack without warning or provocation (they are required to go straight for their opponent as soon as released) and to be extremely powerful in jaw and body (to inflict maximum damage). Those traits make them more dangerous than most other breeds and that is why they are the deadliest dogs around. They have killed hundreds of people in the US alone and have catastrophically maimed countless others. They are also the dogs banned the most around the world. Additionally, it does not matter how they are raised as people do not train or raise their pit bulls to maul themselves, their children, other family members, neighbours, etc to death (or the brink of).

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