COVID-19 has not just been a stressful time for human beings but for animals too. Changes in our own lives and daily routines have, subsequently, led to changes in the routines and lives of our pets too.
With an ever-changing situation, it can be difficult to understand how to ensure not only your wellbeing but that of your pets. In today’s blog post we focus on an issue that has become incredibly common since lockdown restrictions were eased, and indeed may be implemented: how to get dogs used to seeing people in masks.
Like many of us, the concept of wearing a facemask was a rather alien experience. This is the same for our four-legged friends too. Dogs (who pick up on peoples’ emotions through facial expressions, tone and posture) can be confused by the sudden hiding of the mouth and the muffled voice.
Firstly, it is important to get your dog used to a face mask and to teach them that they are not to be feared. Teaching your dog in a relaxed environment, at home for example, is the first step to helping them to adapt and to be comfortable with seeing people in face masks.
Stand next to your dog wearing a face mask or covering your face with your hand, and give your dog usual instructions, play with them and be in their presence. Once your dog is used to seeing this and is comfortable, move onto step 2. If your dog seems noticeably uncomfortable, put the mask out of sight or remove your hand and try again the following day.
If your dog is still uncomfortable, place the mask on the floor slightly away from you and spend some time playing with them. Once you’ve finished playing, put the mask away and try again the following day.
Next, put the mask up to your face, for a few seconds, and reward your dog. Repeat this so that your dog gets used to seeing the mask being put up to your face and is comfortable. As your dog becomes increasingly used to this, continue to put the mask up to your face and put the mask on. Continue to give instructions to your dog such as ‘sit’ or ‘stay’ so that your dog is also used to receiving instructions. If the dog appears uncomfortable, simply slow the process down or start from the beginning.
Once your dog is comfortable with you wearing a mask it is time to do the same thing with another person wearing a mask. Ideally, this ought to be an adult you live. To start, ask the person to enter the room, without approaching you, wearing a mask. If your dog acknowledges them and remains calm, give them a reward.
Like the previous steps, if your dog seems uncomfortable or anxious, ask the person to approach from a further distance and start to build up the proximity that they have towards you and the dog. Remember to reward your dog for calm behaviour. As the dog become more relaxed ask the person to move closer to you.
Once your dog is comfortable with people they know wearing a mask inside, it is time to move your training sessions outside.
Start by practicing the first few steps again outside. Once your dog is comfortable, ask the person they know to approach wearing a mask. Make sure they approach gradually, stopping a distance away and only getting closer once the dog has had time to adjust. Remember to reward your dog every time they look at the person calmly without becoming agitated.
Once your dog is staying calm when someone they know approaches them wearing a face mask it’s time to get out there and put your training to the test.
Maintaining social distancing when out in public will allow your dog space and time to adjust to different environments as well as following government guidelines. For the first few trips, make sure to reward your dog for staying calm around strangers wearing masks or other face coverings. This will help show them that people in face masks in a general setting are nothing to be afraid of.
The VCMS would like to thank both the general public and veterinary professionals for their cooperation and understanding during these difficult times and hope that these small tips can help your dog to feel more comfortable.