Dogs and Facemasks – Is Your Dog Worried?
Dogs are exceptionally good at reading body language in other dogs, but they are also very clever at interpreting cues given by human beings. Not only are dogs capable of following the direction of a pointed finger, they are also very astute when it comes to reading facial expressions of people.
This is why some dogs have found it difficult to adapt to people wearing facemasks. Some may become anxious, frightened or confused when they cannot see a person’s face, especially as the voice may seem different, or muffled, when speaking from behind a mask. In this Holidays4Dogs article we will look at ways of helping the dog that finds facemasks troubling.
By using lots of tasty treats your dog will soon learn to get used to you and other people wearing facemasks; it just takes a little time and patience.
Gather plenty of yummy tit bits and sit somewhere comfortable at home, where your dog will be relaxed. Let the dog see and sniff your facemask. Next, hold your hand up to your face, with your facemask held between your fingers – give lots of tasty treats if your dog remains focused and calm. Repeat the process, but this time talk to your dog and ask him to do something he understands, such as sit, rewarding as soon as he does so.
If all goes well, put your facemask on and give your dog plenty of treats for eye contact and then for performing a few tasks or tricks he already knows well.
Rewarding for eye contact is an important part of this training as in the dog world, eye contact is often seen as threatening and with only the eyes on show, confusion can be created in some dogs. Try to avoid lengthy stares at your dog while wearing your face mask – practice flicking your eyes away or looking past him from time to time, but at the same time reward him for looking at you.
You can also introduce hand signals to help your dog and in fact, eventually, you could teach your dog just to react to hand signals alone. Always give your dog plenty of tactile praise when wearing your face mask so that you keep that connection with him.
As long as your dog remains calm you should be able to work through these stages pretty swiftly. If, at any time, your dog seems anxious or confused – stop and go back a few steps, or take a break and try again another time.
Once your dog is comfortable with you wearing a mask indoors, you can continue with the training out and about, getting him used to other people wearing masks. Each time you see another person wearing a mask approaching, give your dog a treat. If you stop to talk or interact with other people wearing masks, give your dog plenty of treats. If you have friends or family who can help with this by dropping treats on the floor as you meet, this will all help to keep your dog relaxed.
When you yourself meet a strange dog while wearing your face mask, it is best to let the dog come to you – this is a sensible precaution anyway when meeting another dog you do not know. Try not to give the dog direct eye contact in case this makes the dog feel threatened. Avoid bending down, or over, a strange dog – this is normally never a good idea if you do not know the dog, but is perhaps even more important while wearing a face covering. If the dog is already nervous, someone looming over him in a face mask just might be the last straw.
The majority of dogs will soon get used to people wearing face masks and plenty of dogs won’t care one way or another! However, it is still a good idea to make things as easy as possible for your dog and let him know that face masks are nothing to worry about.
Has your dog had issues with people wearing face coverings? Do let us know how your dog has coped with this ‘new normal’.