As the world changes and people begin to come out of isolation, we will be changing many of our daily habits and routines. One of the most common new things is that many will be wearing face masks to protect themselves and others. While we are learning to adapt and communicate with our faces covered, our dogs may be very confused by the inability to see facial expressions. Dogs may be stressed when they see people sporting their new fashion masks. So, what do we do? When dogs fear face masks it can be very traumatic when passing someone on the street or when her owner walks in the door looking like Darth Vader. I found a few hints and tips to help your doggo adapt and to feel comfortable with this new reality.
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Tip #1: Make masks a common household item.
If you have a few masks (or even just one), you can leave them around the house in plain sight. Placing them in areas that are familiar to your dog including her sleeping area, hanging from a chair in the kitchen or dining room, on the hook where you hang your keys or even wrapped around her treat bag. By placing the masks where your dog can see them, they become routine, day to day items. This will offer some familiarity and reduce the element of surprise.
Tip #2: Let him sniff the mask.
If you hold the mask and let him sniff it, he can see that it is just another object and not something to be guarded against or feared. Becoming acquainted with the unknown can ease stress.
Tip #3: Put your mask on in front of your dog.
If you put your mask on in one room and then walk into the room where your dog is, he may be shocked or outright scared. Remove the element of surprise by putting the mask on while your dog watches. She will see the transition from the real you to the masked you and the transition will be smoother. By seeing that it’s you “getting dressed” the level of fear will be reduced.
Tip #4: Wear your mask around the house.
Now that your dog has watched you put the mask on, try wearing it around the house. Wear it while you play a game of fetch. Enjoy a brief training session or a belly rub with your mask on. By doing this she will make the correlation that masks are for good times. Just wearing it around the house while going about your day, will make the mask common place.
Tip #5: Use treats to associate a potentially scary thing with a positive thing.
If you give your dog a treat when you hold the mask, when you put it on or when you are wearing it, he will associate the mask with good things. When you are walking your dog and he sees other humans with their masks on, have some treats ready before you cross paths. As you and your pup approach people you can give your dog a small treat before the shock or fear of seeing the masked people occurs.
Note: Dogs will not be able to read facial expressions through the mask. They will only see eyes. Using soft praise, gentle tones and attempt to make your eyes speak rather than your smile. It will help you to communicate with your pup in a new way.
Not all dogs will be afraid. Some won’t even be fazed by the change. Those that are nervous, new to your household and adapting, coming from bad situations or who are just generally skittish will need some extra time to get used to the changes going on around them. When dogs fear face masks it can be traumatizing just to go for their daily walks. By using the ideas listed above, you can help to make this transition a pleasant one.
I am neither a veterinarian nor a medical professional. The information in this article has been researched and sourced at the end of the post. All medical issues or questions regarding your pet’s health or symptoms should always be brought to the attention of your veterinarian for clarification, assessment, advice and treatment.