Facial coverings during lockdown could make our dogs feel confused and concerned as they can’t read human facial expressions or cues. Dogs are really good at reading our facial expressions to tell how we’re feeling. It could be confusing for them to see people’s faces covered. Face masks are a more usual part of our everyday lives. It is important to teach your dog that they’re nothing to worry about. Information here is from Dogs Trust and other reputable sources.
How to introduce face masks to dogs
- Tasty treats
- Something to cover your face, like a scarf or bandana
- A face mask (homemade or bought)
Start at home where your dog is comfortable, take it slowly and make sure they stay relaxed.
A step-by-step guide
1 – Simply hold your hand over your mouth and nose for a moment then give your dog a treat. Repeat this several times so they get recognise your face being slightly obscured and learn this means a treat is coming their way.
2 – Next, keep talking as you cover your mouth and nose so your dog can hear you speak without seeing your mouth moving. For dogs seeing our faces move is very important, so this might take a little time to adjust! Repeat several times so they’re comfortable listening to you talking with your face covered and then getting their treat.
3 – Use a scarf or bandana and cover your mouth and nose for a little longer and reward your dog, so they learn that this isn’t anything to worry about.
4 – As long as your dog appears relaxed, start to move around the room while your face is covered, talking to your dog and giving them treats as you go.
5 – Introduce the face mask itself. Let your dog see you trying it on, then talk to them and move around as before while scattering treats or feeding them by hand. They’ll learn that seeing people walking and talking in facemasks isn’t anything to be concerned about.
6 – Once your dog is comfortable with you wearing a face mask, start again from the beginning with others in the home so your dog feels comfortable no matter who has their face covered.
Building a routine with your dog
Now you’re ready to try outside in your garden or the street. Repeat any steps necessary so your dog is always relaxed. Take your mask out with you on walks and give your dog a treat every time you see anyone else wearing one! Over time, with plenty rewards, they’ll soon be taking people in face masks in their stride.
Introducing dogs to children wearing face masks
An adult must always actively supervise a mask-wearing child and a dog. They must be responsible for rewarding the dog. Keeping your dog on lead or behind a child gate gives both dog and child their own space in which to practice safely.
Introducing puppies to people wearing face masks
All puppies need to be introduced to new objects, sights and sounds, in the first four months of life. This is when they learn about ‘normal life’ and work out what to make of all the new people and things they experience. If masks become part of our everyday life, then they’ll need to get live with those too. Watch Dogs Trust’s advice on introducing your puppy to the world around them.