My dog has a fear aggression problem with other dogs. When he sees another dog he gets scared, becomes defensive and ultimately will attack them. The only thing that has worked when we go out in public has been to use a muzzle. However, even though he is not physically injuring other dogs anymore, he seems to be getting worse in terms of his actual fear. It was our obedience instructor that suggested we use the muzzle. What do you think?

I would not suggest the use of a muzzle in dealing with a fear aggression problem. A muzzle may be used in dangerous circumstances or when particular situations arise (an injured dog at the vet, for example) but should not be used in trying to correct (or even deal with) any sort of aggression problem, as muzzles will, in the long run, make the aggression worse.

Picture it this way (pardon the bit of anthropomorphic analogy) - you're scared of walking through a bad neighborhood. If someone strange approaches you and you feel too threatened you are likely to strike out in defense, thinking you need to protect yourself. The only way you would feel safer might be if you looked a little bit bigger or could wear some "tough looking" clothes in order to intimidate any potential attackers. Maybe you could talk in a mean gruff voice and make them think twice about coming after you.

Now... would you feel more or less vulnerable if someone handcuffed your hands together? Would you be more or less likely to strike out at anyone or anything that approached, no matter how innocuous it might be? By putting a muzzle on a dog, you are basically doing the same thing. You are causing the dog to feel more vulnerable than it would be otherwise. You are preventing the dog from using any other form of intimidation it might have, in order to avoid violence in the first place. Much of dog communication about dominance, status, threats, etc. are done through the face and mouth. By preventing the dog from using these nonviolent means, you are forcing them to turn to the only other defensive mechanism they know - outright aggression - far earlier and more reliably.

If you don't feel like you can safely handle your dog in these circumstances, then find a qualified behaviorist and get them to work with you and your dog. If you have no other choice in very limited circumstances than to use the muzzle then it could be used as a stopgap - but continued use of a muzzle will only exacerbate the aggression problem. I know many "dog trainers" advocate the use of muzzles in working with aggression problems in dogs. However, I do not know of any professional behaviorists that do. I have also never seen a situation where the use of a muzzle actually resolved the problem. I have seen many where it made it worse.

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