Dogs are masters in communication when it comes to body language resorting to subtle signs such as a quick flick of the tongue to more evident ones such as an air snap or a muzzle punch. It's important to take notice of these signs and learn what dogs may be communicating, so to understand what is triggering them in the first place and address the underlying emotional turmoils. Muzzle punches in dogs should be taken seriously as based on context they can sometimes be a warning of an impending future bite and therefore a professional should be consulted for safety.
Pack a Punch
As the name implies, a muzzle punch is when a dog purposely bumps into a person or other dog with his muzzle while the mouth is closed.
The "punch" can range in intensity from a slight poke of the muzzle to a more forceful push. When dogs deliver a muzzle poke or punch they may target different body parts.
A muzzle punch can take place when the dog is jumping up towards the face of a person or it can be targeted towards a person when he or she bends down towards the dog perhaps to kiss or hug him.
If you have ever been muzzle punched by a dog, you likely know it as your nose of jaw may be hurting. Some people even develop nose bleeds.
According to Patricia McConnell, a muzzle punch may fall into several different categories: attention-seeking muzzle punches, playful muzzle punches, affectionate muzzle punches and warning muzzle punches.
As with several other behaviors in dogs, it's important to look at the context in which muzzle punches occur and other accompanying postural signals so to better understand under what category this behavior may fall into.
A dog may playfully deliver a muzzle poke to the owner's hand or back of the leg to elicit attention or as an invitation to play or seek affection. Muzzle pokes can also be directed to the shoulder of another dog as a way to test (in a rude way) whether the other dog is willing to play.
In these cases, the muzzle pokes may be a distance-decreasing signal meaning that the dog wishes to decrease distance, get closer and interact. Below is a video of a dog who barks and repeatedly 'muzzle pokes" another dog to get him to play. Or in other words he is "pestering the dog" to convince him/her interact.
Some muzzle punches can be a distance increasing signal meaning that the dog is trying to increase distance so to stop an interaction that isn't welcomed. In this case, the muzzle punch can be a precursor to a bite.
A dog may for example give a hard stare and then deliver a muzzle punch in the face when he's chewing a bone as a warning to tell the person or dog to move away from his resource. Or as mentioned, it can take place when a person bends down as to loom over the dog to pet him or perhaps deliver a kiss or hug.
Below is a video of a dog who happens to muzzle punch a person who is kissing him/her. The person was very lucky not to get hurt. Notice the "pre-muzzle punch signs" consisting of whale eyes and the dog trying to turn the head away.
Muzzles and Muzzle Punch
Often, people assume that when dogs are kept on a muzzle they are completely safe to be around as they may not be able to bite. Yet, dogs can still cause injuries despite wearing a muzzle. A muzzle doesn't prevent a dog from delivering a forceful muzzle punch which can injure a child or small dog, and on top of that, basket muzzles still allow fingers to make it through the openings. Sometimes, dogs even manage to remove them.
A muzzle is therefore not a tool meant to solve behavior problems and a dog wearing it is not supposed to be exposed to situations he's not ready to deal with.
A muzzle is meant to be used in conjunction with behavior modification techniques as the dog progresses. As you can see in the video below, a dog can still potentially harm even when muzzled which can lead to potential injuries.
"Muzzling is not a guarantee of safety and caution should still be exercised when working with an aggressive dog. Dogs wearing a basket muzzle can still cause injury by performing a muzzle punch..." ~Debbie Martin
Did you know? A muzzle punch is classified as a level zero (along with air snapping without contact to the skin) on a Cara Shannon Dog to Human Bite Hierarchy. While level zero may seem low, it's still suggestive of an intent to harm and should be taken seriously.
Disclaimer: this article is not meant to be used as a substitute for professional behavioral advice. If your dog is muzzle punching or showing other signs of aggression, please consult with a behavior professional.
- Canine and Feline Behavior for Veterinary Technicians and Nurses, By Debbie Martin, Wiley-Blackwell; 1 edition (November 17, 2014)
- Raising Canine, Cara Shannon Bite Hierarchy, retrieved from the web on August 17th, 2016
- The Other End of the Leash, Muzzle Punches, Air Snaps and Tooth Clatters Revisited, retrieved from the web on August 17th, 2016