By Lynda Radecki

Are you really aware of the myriad of uses for the single best tool that arrives with your Greyhound on adoption day – its muzzle?

Every day, giddy and nerve-struck first-time Greyhound owners are embarking on one of the most rewarding experiences of their lives – rescuing a retired

A pair of greyhounds are muzzled at the Waterloo Cup Hare Coursing trials in Formby near Liverpool 15 February, 2005.  The 156th Waterloo cup could Britain's last major hare-coursing event before the sport becomes illegal under new laws banning hunting with hounds.    AFP PHOTO/PAUL BARKER
AFP PHOTO/PAUL BARKER

racing Greyhound and gaining a cherished new member of their family… unconditional love wrapped in a softly satin fur coat covering massively ripped musculature, perky and expressive ears, and gentle adoring eyes. On adoption day, thousands of reputable rescue organizations do everything possible to prepare new owners for this experience by offering abundant literature and detailed discussions involving everything you’ll ever need to know about your new addition in order to keep him safe and healthy. As well-intentioned as this barrage of excellent information may be, this experience can be overwhelming for new owners, their brains virtually bursting with more input than any mere mortal could be expected to process.

In all likelihood, you were introduced to the plastic basket muzzle that came with your hound, and told it is to be used when introducing him to his new housemates, around small animals, if he is prey-driven, and when allowing him to participate at Greyhound playgroups. Did you know that your Greyhound’s muzzle is a remarkable tool that has a myriad of other valuable uses that can save him from all types of hidden dangers and health issues, and you from unnecessary veterinary expenses?

I know (from personal experience) that as a new Greyhound owner we cringe at the sight of a muzzled Greyhound. We believe it is a cruel and harsh reminder of days in the kennel and at the racetrack, and that our Greyhounds look sad when wearing a muzzle… so we tend to dismiss it and everything we are told about it. We get home with our sweet, gentle Greyhound and the first thing we do is pack the muzzle away, or worse yet, throw it away. Sometimes we even go through a ritual verbal explanation to our Greyhound (really meant to soothe ourselves), about how he will never again have to endure the discomfort, humiliation, and emotional upset of having to wear that nasty, ugly plastic basket on his face. Yes, I did it too – I was muzzle phobic. No nasty muzzles for my dogs – ever!

And then, reality struck when a series of random events played out over time in our home. How many of you have endured any of the following small sampling of typical events:

  • A casual, non-aggressive, playful nip between two Greyhounds playing in your own back yard… and off you run to the veterinarian for stitches or staples.
  • Unexpected, brief, flash arguments between well-adjusted canine housemates over a delicious chewy treat or cherished toy (and once again, off to the veterinarian for more stitches!).
  • A Greyhound that cannot stop licking his paws constantly until his feet are raw, red, and painful with no measurable improvement made by way of traditional medical care.
  • Licking or gnawing at a healing laceration or wound so it never seems to heal, keeps reopening and gets infected (off to the veterinarian yet again).
  • Your Greyhound helping you out (thanks very much!) by removing his stitches long before they should be removed.
  • Your Greyhound helping you out (thanks very much!) by removing his stitches long before they should be removed. Hello Mr. Veterinarian!!!
  • Snacking on that irresistible ambrosia of the Gods… feces – his own, his housemates, or even the occasional, delightfully yummy, half-decayed, and moldy cat poop discovered in the flowerbed deposited by the family or neighborhood outdoor cat – Resulting in either vomiting or diarrhea (or both!).
  • Foraging in and consuming houseplants (including decorative moss or dirt) resulting in vomiting and/or diarrhea. And let’s not forget that Greyhound who, when left alone, likes to personalize your (I mean his) favorite chair with teeth marks and chew holes – perhaps even removing a little of the stuffing! Dining on cicadas and other interesting insects (beetles, spiders, etc.), frogs, and other wildlife (including the occasional unfortunate dead bird, mouse, or even squirrel found decomposing in
  • Foraging in and consuming houseplants (including decorative moss or dirt) resulting in vomiting and/or diarrhea. And let’s not forget that Greyhound who, when left alone, likes to personalize your (I mean his) favorite chair with teeth marks and chew holes – perhaps even removing a little of the stuffing!
  • Dining on cicadas and other interesting insects (beetles, spiders, etc.), frogs, and other wildlife (including the occasional unfortunate dead bird, mouse, or even squirrel found decomposing in perimeter of your large yard) – or eating mulch (some types of which can be poisonous and fatal if swallowed).
  • Making like a bovine, grazing on grass until he vomits a distasteful, yellow, foaming splatter of half-eaten grass and bile on your freshly cleaned or newly purchased carpet. No, they never vomit outside or on the tile floor – always on your expensive, special-ordered, hand-cut oriental wool rug!
  • Your sweet, gentle Greyhound suddenly deciding to pick up an itty-bitty neighborhood Maltese in his mouth without warning (Yup! This happened to us! Thankfully without any injury inflicted – just a very startling and frightening moment).

Let’s take a minute to re-evaluate, understand, and embrace the single most valuable tool you have at your disposal – your Greyhound’s muzzle. A muzzle offers an amazing way to deal with a myriad of everyday problems that all Greyhound owners endure – issues beyond the typical examples such as safe introductions, playgroup etiquette, and use in multi-hound households. In fact, almost every problem you have ever had with your Greyhound that involves his

A pair of greyhounds are muzzled at the Waterloo Cup Hare Coursing trials in Formby near Liverpool 15 February, 2005.  The 156th Waterloo cup could Britain's last major hare-coursing event before the sport becomes illegal under new laws banning hunting with hounds.    AFP PHOTO/PAUL BARKER
AFP PHOTO/PAUL BARKER

mouth can be nearly “cured” by using his muzzle in creative and intelligent ways.

Muzzles are not cruel, they are not inhumane, and they are not a painful emotional reminder to your dog of his days in the kennels. In fact, many Greyhounds get downright giddy with delight when their muzzles are worn, possibly because it reminds them of the most enjoyable and sociable times (turn outs, training, and competitive racing) during their careers. Some people misinterpret this excited behavior as anxiety, when in fact it is your Greyhound delighting at what might be coming next – a run, a walk, a ride in the car – yippee! And, in the majority of cases, an open plastic basket muzzle does NOT make your dog hotter. Most of all, by a stroke of great fortune, your Greyhound arrives already conditioned to wear his muzzle on a daily basis! How lucky can we be? [Author’s note: On a hot, sunny, humid day your Greyhound will pant or get easily overheated with his muzzle on or off. Always use caution in the heat. If it’s a scorcher outside, (whether a muzzle is worn or not) forgo extended yard time by encouraging your dog to do his required business, and quickly return him to the comfort and safety of your air-conditioned or pleasantly cool, ventilated home. If you can’t, or don’t ever, visually monitor your dog while he’s in your fenced yard, it is very important to monitor on excessively hot days. A Greyhound (especially black-coated hounds) can suffer heat stroke in just minutes during scorching hot weather.]

A lot of the resistance expressed or felt about the muzzle is not, as we profess or believe, because the dog doesn’t like it – it’s because we humans just don’t like it and refuse to use it. And, it’s often because we simply don’t like the way it looks or the impression it might give other people. Perhaps we feel it’s a too much of a pain to use, or we make a personal choice not to embrace the benefits of muzzle use.

Whatever our reasons, we need to stop making excuses about hating our muzzles, and open our eyes to all the positive benefits offered by this simple, inexpensive, piece of well-designed plastic. Make no mistake, these muzzles are used in the racing industry for very good reason – most notably to keep unnecessary expenses to a minimum and secondly to keep the dogs safe from unnecessary injury! Muzzles are not some “Hannibal Lecter-ish” facial contraption meant to label Greyhounds as poor pathetic inmates in the Greyhound prison system. No matter how you feel about dog racing, this is one valuable piece of equipment for which we should all be thanking the racing industry.

And, let’s think about this for a moment – would you send your three-year-old child out in the street riding a bike or scooter, unattended, without a helmet? Why do we monitor our children and protect them when they are in a situation where they could get into trouble, hurt, or exposed to things that cause illnesses or health problems – but not our beloved Greyhounds? Why are we willing to let our beautiful and deserving retired racers outside unattended and unmuzzled? Why do we resist the muzzle and refuse to use the single best tool we have available to keep our dogs healthy and safe?

If you haven’t guessed by now, following far too many mishaps (some serious and always expensive) caused by my own initial case of severe muzzle phobia, I have become a convert – a veritable muzzle aficionado… a “muzzle maniac” if you will… working diligently to spread the good muzzle gospel as one important aspect of responsible and intelligent Greyhound ownership. Once embraced, muzzles have been the single best thing that ever happened to my Greyhounds and my pocketbook – something I only saw clearly when the light bulb of realization finally went on and I “got it!” What? You mean all this time I had the answer to many of my issues right in front of my (unmuzzled) face and I didn’t see it? You mean I could have saved tons of money and my dogs could have been safer

A pair of greyhounds are muzzled at the Waterloo Cup Hare Coursing trials in Formby near Liverpool 15 February, 2005.  The 156th Waterloo cup could Britain's last major hare-coursing event before the sport becomes illegal under new laws banning hunting with hounds.    AFP PHOTO/PAUL BARKER
AFP PHOTO/PAUL BARKER

and healthier had I only realized the multitude of benefits in using muzzles a long time ago?

Here are just a few examples of muzzle uses as preventatives and cures, some of them downright miraculous, for your consideration:

  • I spent literally hundreds of dollars on veterinary care (canine allergy specialists, dermatologists, and general practice veterinarians) to try and solve a disturbing foot issue with one of my hounds whose feet were red, raw, bald, foul smelling and irritated. She came to me this way as a 7-year-old, relinquished senior suffering from many health issues. We tried salves and medicated powder, numerous allergy medications, bandaging, washing daily, etc. Nothing worked until one day, not too long after coincidentally giving myself over to muzzling my 4 Greyhounds whenever I was away from home, I noticed that her feet had simply cleared up all on their own. It would seem that all along the problem amounted to a veritable “vicious cycle” syndrome – perhaps resulting from some obsessive-compulsive, subconscious, calming behavior – or maybe just plain boredom. She licked and chewed (for whatever the reason), the feet got wet and itchy, so she licked and chewed more. The more she licked the worse they got and the worse they got the more she licked. With a muzzle coincidentally in place during my absences from home, it prevented the deep and abrasive licking and chewing she had been engaging in, the cycle was broken, the feet healed, hair grew back, and the licking subsided. To this day (4 years later), her feet remain normal and healthy. A $10 muzzle solved a problem that I spent well over $500 and many hours in veterinary offices trying to fix. [Authors note: Before you leap out of your seat in horror, she is not muzzled 24×7 – only when I am physically unable to monitor her still sporadic foot-licking behavior. Under supervision she responds well to a sharp “Stop” command.]
  • One of my dogs is, I’ll just say it straight out, a poop eater. She also (I thought coincidentally) suffered from lots of intestinal and urinary problems. Once again, lots of money was spent on fecal and urine tests, abdominal ultrasound, antibiotics, medications meant to soothe the digestive tract, special high fiber diets, and more. We tried every medicinal and homeopathic suggestion we could find including supplementing all my hounds with tablets designed to make all feces “taste bad” (I thought this a rather humorous concept at best – makes poop taste bad? – and still it did not achieve the desired results). Nothing helped until I began to religiously muzzle her whenever outside, diligently remove all feces from the yard as often as humanely possible, and monitor her outdoor activity. She stopped snacking on that poop ambrosia (most irresistible when fresh and steamy), and her constant intestinal, urinary, and digestive problems disappeared (along with my frustration!). Again, I spent hundreds of dollars at my regular veterinarian and assorted veterinary specialists before finding that a $10 muzzle and a little extra pick-up effort cured our woes.
  • One day long ago, while enjoying our ritual walks in a prior neighborhood, we met up with a neighbor and his regularly unleashed 3 or 4 pound white, fluffy (and totally adorable) Maltese with whom we had interacted many times before. Without warning, while I carefully controlled the two hounds I was walking, my gentle, sweet, painfully shy, and totally cat safe Greyhound bent down for an innocent sniff and in a flashing millisecond picked that Maltese up in her mouth to the complete and utter astonishment and horror of the Maltese, her owner, and myself! The little dog screamed, I screamed, and thankfully the fluffy white Maltese was gently dropped without injury or even a scratch (other than some slimy Greyhound slobber) on her. After the shear horror and embarrassment ceased, and I spent days apologizing to the shaken but understanding owner, I realized that had my dog had her muzzle in place, this blindingly fast, unanticipated, and (no bones about it) dangerous situation could have been avoided completely. From that day forward, muzzles were always carried on my walks and placed on my Greyhounds whenever small, unleashed dogs were in close proximity. No matter HOW gentle a hound is, or how safe around your own cats or small dogs, you can never be 100% sure how he will react around town in new and unavoidable situations involving unfamiliar small creatures. [Authors note: Carrying along, or wearing a muzzle on your dog at all times also gives strangers a visual clue that it might not be the best idea to let their little fluffy Tinkerbelle approach off-lead. It does NOT say, “My dog is dangerous.” It says, “I am a responsible and considerate owner who cares about the safety others.”]
  • Many people complain of their hounds grazing on sweet, irresistible grass during the Spring-thru-Fall months. Muzzles appointed when the dogs are in an open grassy area keeps them from eating large volumes of grass, mushrooms, insects (mine love the fat, juicy Summer cicadas!), sticks, mulch, stray toys/chewies/balls, etc. and ending up with upset tummies and vomiting on your favorite carpet. Worse yet, ingesting certain things can lead to an intestinal obstruction – always very expensive to remedy and frequently fatal. [Author’s note: Having done my fair share of observing my Greyhounds for several years, as well as hours of research about the practice of grass eating in canines, it is currently my personal opinion that dogs gain no benefit from eating grass and do not do it for all the numerous – sometimes downright ridiculous – reasons offered. It is simple… grass tastes sweet, it tickles when eaten, and – since Mom hates when I do it – it’s just plain fun! ROOOooo! Dogs are carnivorous. They are not cows and they are not vegetarians or alfalfa-eating health nuts. They do not require “roughage” to digest their meals. In fact, grass is indigestible and often lurking with bacteria and other unhealthy microscopic organisms that can (and will) cause any number of unpleasant digestive and intestinal disorders. Dogs do not eat grass because they are bored with their diets, as if they believe momma forgot to serve them their fresh house salad as a proper appetizer before their main course. It makes them vomit because it is sharp and it tickles going down. Dogs do not eat grass because they have an upset stomach and are using it as a method to induce vomiting – our dogs are not Bulimic, so let’s not personify them too much or give them any ideas about eating disorders, okay? In fact, on the occasions when grass does not cause vomiting, it passes all the way through the system undigested – intact wads of grass, wrapped in feces – further fueling my personal belief that the ingestion of grass provides no benefit and should be avoided if at all possible. Have you ever found your dog waddling slightly askew away from his morning constitution with a little brown ornament dangling from a half-in/half-out blade of long undigested grass? Yikes!]
  • Muzzles should ALWAYS be available and used when visiting the veterinarian or when in any unfamiliar or potentially anxious situation. At the veterinarian, if any procedure must be performed that might be uncomfortable for your hound (i.e., nail clipping, examining or expressing anal glands), it is far better to use the basket muzzle than the cloth muzzles the veterinarian uses that hold the mouth closed – cloth muzzles do not allow the dog to pant when stressed, and can cause increased anxiety and mild hyperventilation. Likewise, if you and your hound are visiting anyone in an unfamiliar house (especially homes with infant or toddler children) always use your muzzle – and when the visit is not prolonged, leave that muzzle on the entire time. It is far better to wear a muzzle, than having to follow someone in a blazing high-speed car chase to the hospital to treat an accidental bite to an innocent child who unnerved your Greyhound or startled him accidentally. And always bear in mind that dogs who bite can be confiscated from you by your local county officials, quarantined for extensive periods of time, and even euthanized no matter how innocent the event or what kind of logical explanation you can offer for an accidental bite. [Authors note: Thankfully, my dogs have never bitten anyone. Whew! One thing I managed to do right!

In conclusion, once we allow ourselves to really grasp the power and goodness of the muzzle, we can truly realize the pride and satisfaction that comes with knowing we are doing absolutely everything possible to keep our dogs safe and healthy.

In our house, we lightheartedly refer to muzzles as “hockey masks” and apply them with a happy tone in our voice and positive reinforcement! My dogs do not resist their safety equipment and do wear their “masks” daily whenever they must be left in the house unattended… even if I am just working in the yard and my “pack-o-hounds” get unruly or agitated for any reason, or simply decide to argue over the most comfortable chair in the house. They obediently offer their noses up, graciously and matter-of-factly accepting those masks as a normal daily routine. It is not cruel… I muzzle quite simply because I adore my hounds. When someone new meets my dogs and asks why they are muzzled, the first thing I say is “Because I love them!”

So, please dig that muzzle out of the closet or drawer and use it to your Greyhound’s best advantage. If you no longer have a muzzle or yours is broken or in disrepair, get a new one from your adoption group or on the Internet and use it. It is the easiest and most economical way to help your Greyhound stay safe and healthy – and reduce unnecessary veterinary expenses. My emergency medical expenses have plummeted since I embraced the muzzle. Last week, I ran into my veterinarian’s office manager at our local Starbuck’s, and she said “We haven’t seen you in quite a while!” I smiled and said “Yes, that is true and such a relief! Those muzzles are an absolute miracle!” Now, with all that extra money remaining in my own savings instead of subsidizing my veterinarian’s hot new BMW, perhaps I will indeed be financially able to retire before I am too old to enjoy it! One can only hope.

I cannot express how valuable muzzles are. If other breeds of dogs came equipped with, and their owners used, this wonderful tool that our Greyhounds are already conditioned to wear, there would be far fewer reports of dangerous bite incidents and related injuries (both to humans and other dogs), or accidental ingesting of dangerous or indigestible matter leading to often fatal obstructions. In fact, there would be far fewer dogs of all breeds turned over to shelters and needlessly destroyed due to behavioral issues. Please embrace the muzzle and realize its value. Use it willingly and ritually, because you too, love your Greyhound! I know you do… because you wouldn’t be reading this article if you didn’t!

About the author: Lynda Radecki supports Virginia Greyhound Adoption (VAGA) located in Chantilly, Virginia (www.virginiagreyhounds.org). She formerly served 2 years as Vice President, and remains a VAGA member and volunteer who specializes in public communications for VAGA, and provides Greyhound behavior and medical consultation when requested. Lynda currently shares her home with four retired racers, one rescued Whippet, and four felines.
Reprinted with Lynda Radecki’s permission 8/2007