Golden Retriever with odd bursts of aggression/unexpected behavior…

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I have a 4 year old Golden Retriever that is overall a typical golden (except he's afraid of water). As a puppy he was extremely playful with other dogs and at about 2 years old he often played with a Bernese Mountain dog in the neighborhood and a Golden Doodle. They did play a bit rough, running around each other, little nips but they had a ton of fun and no issues, kept coming back to each other. He has been to dog parks and has been totally fine there and often isn't too interested in the other dogs, just sniffing around, he'd run around with a Rottweiler a bit but overall over the six or so visits he mostly just kept to himself or he'd play with a ball. During this period he did have jumping issues around people on leash and a bit of pulling.

There was one incident around this age where he slipped his harness and ran towards 2 staff-like dogs on leashes. They were pulling their owner over and he lost control, my golden was barking and had stiff body language. I made the mistake of grabbing him from behind and he turned and bit me out of what I believe to be fear, this was the only time he's bitten me or anyone else. After this incident he has never been the same with meeting other dogs. He is often unpredictable and when another leashed dog is approaching him, he lays down and as soon as they come over he is lunging forward and barking a ton as he's being pulled back. It appears very aggressive and intimidating. However, there has been the case with some dogs he has been absolutely fine, they sniff each other and that was that. But because of his unpredictability I tend to avoid other dogs when out on walks and he wasn't taken to a dog park in a long time.

When I moved in with my wife she has 3 toy dogs and the initial meet was similar to what we expected with some growling but was quickly over in seconds and they get on just fine. He has tried to play with them and has been a bit too rough by trying to pull them underneath him with his paws which I've discouraged but beyond that he has integrated well with them. He doesn't eat their food or get aggressive over food, he does try to play as I said but he's still trying to learn the size difference, and he doesn't respond even when they're barking and growling. When out on walks he is showing what I believe to be leash aggression as we pass other leashed dogs. I let him off leash on an empty park a few times and there was one recent incident when a spaniel came over and they seemed to be fine, doing the front down/back up playful pose and my dog was chasing the spaniel. Then all of a sudden my dog had pinned the spaniel down and was growling with a slight snarl, the spaniel wasn't yelping and I managed to separate them with nobody being injured luckily.

He has been doing better on his walks with our other dogs and we've gotten a double leash one that hooks to the front and top which helps in controlling him and keeping him calmer when people and/or dogs pass. He has been making a lot of progress in that area and I believe walking in his little pack has helped him tremendously.

I have been looking into potentially getting a basket muzzle but confused if this will have the long term outcome I am looking for. I want to encourage him to meet dogs and play with them with the muzzle on to be able to avoid the aggressive behavior escalating. This way I can socialize him with dogs in the area that I know are friendly (small community, most dog owners know each other) without the risk of him injuring another dog. I plan to reward him with treats every time he behaves well with another dog and eventually take the muzzle off completely. However I'm not sure if this is an effective method as most information I can find is muzzle tend to warn other owners away from your dog and that seems like the opposite of what I'd like.

Once he has the muzzle, can he ever not wear it? How do I figure out what is triggering this aggression? He can be perfectly fine with dogs, he can sniff them and even start to play with them but eventually he either goes too far or he gets aggressive all of a sudden.

tl;dr

Golden Retriever was socialized as a pup/young dog. Always had some leash issues walking well, jumping in excitement and had some anxiety. Still was able to have play sessions with neighborhood dogs and at dog parks.

Changed at some point and now lunges more often at passing dogs, sometimes barks aggressively, or randomly goes from sniffing/playing with a dog to barking aggressively or pinning behavior. Can't predict how he'll act in any given situation.

Fine with other dogs in home for most part except still learning how to play with a smaller sized dog.

Should I get a basket muzzle to further socialize him, allow him to play with other dogs or will this have the opposite impact? Will he ever be able not to wear it outside?

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