How to help your dog get used to seeing people in a face mask
At the moment in the UK it is compulsory to wear a face mask in many enclosed public spaces, including public transport, museums, galleries, shops, supermarkets and shopping centres. A growing number of people are also wearing face coverings in other public spaces - such as parks and high streets - in order to protect themselves and others from spreading coronavirus. Whilst this is great for preventing the pandemic, some dogs may feel anxious or afraid if they see someone wearing a face mask and they may need you help to understand that everything is OK.
Mask Photo by Kate Trifo on Unsplash
Dogs communicate with us in a number of ways. They use our facial expressions as a cue to understanding what we are thinking or feeling and it may be very confusing for them to see us or other people with our faces covered. Luckily, the RSCPCA has compiled some useful information on how to train your pet to feel comfortable and relaxed if they see people wearing a mask.
Before we begin, you need to acknowledge that the best way to train your pet is to do it gradually. Don’t rush through the steps and don’t overwhelm your pet. Little and often is better than racing through each task. Only progress to the next step if your pet is relaxed and happy. If they seem anxious or tired, stop and move back a step or continue when you feel they are ready to do so. Most dogs will pick learn surprisingly quickly and will get used to seeing people in masks but if you have a dog that can be shy when meeting unfamiliar faces, it may take a little longer to master. You know your dog and their limitations so make sure you work with this and don’t push them too hard.
Doll Photo by Evgeni Tcherkasski on Unsplash
At home, put the face mask on but have it pulled down so that it is over your chin but your nose and mouth are exposed. Most dogs are used to seeing you in a scarf or other neck covering so this should not cause any distress. Feed your dog, play with them and give them treats with the mask on in the same position. If they are OK with this, pull it up gradually. To start with, cover your mouth a few times but leave your nose exposed – then cover your mouth and nose. Repeat the same positive actions with playing and treats a few times, monitor your dog’s reaction and respond accordingly. Don’t rush.
Now get your family involved and ask them to do the same, first with the mask over the chin and then gradually moving it up until your dog feels comfortable seeing them in a mask. Get them to play with the dog whilst wearing a mask. It is important to be consistent and progress gradually. Once your dog is comfortable, try changing the type of mask. For example, using different colours or shapes to help your dog get used to the different kinds of face covering you may encounter in public.
Next try putting your mask on just before you come in through your front door. If your dog seems more excited to see you than usual, ask them to sit and then give them a treat. Next, ask you family members to do the same. This will encourage your dog to make a positive associations with approaching people that are wearing face coverings.
Shy or nervous dogs
Dogs tend to focus on people's faces. If you have a shy or nervous dog, then not being able to see your facial expressions can be confronting and they may become scared. By getting them used to seeing familiar people wearing face masks they should be more confident if a stranger approaches them wearing a face covering.
Sad dog Photo by Amruth Pillai on Unsplash
How does your dog react to face masks? Have you got any extra tips for helping your dog get used to face coverings? Let us know in the comment section below.