As lockdown eases, we now must abide by rules that require us to wear a facemask in places of public access. Covering our mouth and nose may be necessary, but can be scary for our dogs, especially as they are a new addition to our lives
Our dogs can tell a lot about us from our faces. They learn to recognise our expressions and are used to seeing people without facemasks, so it can be a real worry if they see us or other people with facemasks all of a sudden. It can also change the way we sound to them which can also be confusing for them.
Obviously, our dogs do not understand there is a pandemic and that we need to wear facemasks. They just see us suddenly covering our faces or go to the vet to see that they are covering their faces, too.
We need to ‘de-sensitise’ our dogs to facemasks, just as we should for any object at home which might be strange to them. This means introducing something to them in a slow, positive way so they see it is nothing to fear.
Here is a step-by-step guide to help your dog adapt.
Step one – introducing the mask
Do not put your facemask on straight away and expect your dog to be OK with it. Some dogs might accept it, but most will probably be a bit freaked out. Firstly, let them see the mask in your hands, let them sniff it and look at it so they can get used to the sight and smell of the mask. Try popping a facemask on but do not cover your mouth – just have it round your neck so they can get used to seeing it there.
Step two – covering your mouth
Now that your dog knows the facemask exists, it is time to get them used to seeing your face covered. Start by covering your mouth and nose with your hand for a few seconds while doing something your dog enjoys (like their favourite game!). If they seem calm and happy, reward them. Keep doing this for longer periods until they seem comfortable. Remember to stop if they seem scared or worried.
Step three – talking with your mouth covered
Still with your hand, now you can start talking to your dog with your mouth covered. This will help them get used to hearing people with their mouths covered. Again, reward your dog when they are calm and happy and only increase the amount of time you do this for very gradually.
Step four – wearing the mask
Now that your dog is happy with the idea of your mouth being covered and the way you talk when it is, it is time to build them up again with the mask. You will want to start just a few seconds at a time again and reward them when they are happy and calm. As they become used to seeing the mask on your face, gradually increase the time it is on for and start to introduce talking in it. Again, this should start as a few seconds at a time then gradually increase how long you have the mask on and speak for.
Step five – everyday usage
Once your dog is happy with you wearing and talking in the mask, you can start to get it out at random times during the day. Remember to reward any calm behaviour with a tasty snack or game and go back a step if they become worried. This should help them start to see facemasks as a normal part of everyday life and stop them being as worried.