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Helping Your Dog Get Comfortable with People Wearing Face Masks


Face Masks Largely Hide Our Faces from Dogs

Dogs are incredibly good at reading our body language, even the smallest of our facial expressions. Since a face mask covers half of our face, dogs lose some of their ability to read us.


Face masks can be frightening for a dog. They can make him nervous and uncomfortable. Some dogs may react pretty intensely (barking, growling, snapping, lunging, cowering, submissive urination, etc.)


Many people today are wearing a mask, so you want to get your dog comfortable with seeing humans with partially hidden faces before he meets people outside your family (vet, groomer, trainer, etc.) In fact, once your dog is comfortable with your family members wearing a face mask, add sunglasses or a hat so that he learns that it’s OK that humans can become “faceless”.


Helping your dog get used to this new way of life is important for him, your family, your friends, and your community.


What You Need:

1. A sandwich bag full of small food reinforcers (pea sized pieces of food that your dog adores)

2. Your face mask


Steps for Introducing Your Dog to the Mask:


1. Show your dog the mask by offering it to him at his level, in front of you. Don’t hold it up above his head. Let him come towards the mask on his own. If he chooses to sniff it, great! Provide a reinforcer (small, pea-sized piece of food). Repeat this a few times (3-5 times).


2. Put the mask on, but put it on your neck, so that it’s not covering up your mouth and nose. If he’s hanging around you, great! Provide a reinforcer (small, pea-sized piece of food). Repeat this a few times (3-5 times).


3. Cover your chin with the mask. If he’s hanging around you, great! Provide a reinforcer (small, pea-sized piece of food). Repeat this a few times (3-5 times).


4. Cover your chin and bottom lip. If he’s hanging around you, great! Provide a reinforcer (small, pea-sized piece of food). Repeat this a few times (3-5 times).


5. Cover your mouth. If he’s hanging around you, great! Provide a reinforcer (small, pea-sized piece of food). Repeat this a few times (3-5 times).


6. Cover your mouth and part way up your nose. If he’s hanging around you, great! Provide a reinforcer (small, pea-sized piece of food). Repeat this a few times (3-5 times).


7. Cover your mouth and whole nose, wearing it as you normally would. If he’s hanging around you, great! Provide a reinforcer (small, pea-sized piece of food). Repeat this a few times (3-5 times).



Wear your mask around the house and outside several times for just a few minutes a day, while you’re doing different things: doing dishes, feeding the dog, watching a TV commercial, letting the dog out to potty, hanging out with your dog, etc. You want to generalize this new mask as much as possible.


Once your dog is comfortable with you wearing your mask, be sure your family members and anyone your dog interacts with frequently wears their mask around your dog as well. The more you can generalize this, the easier it will be for your dog.


Notes:

The first time you try this, the goal is not to make it through all the steps. If you only do step 1 with success, then that’s great! Next time, do step 1 and then try step 2. Then add 3, and on and on.


If your dog is uncomfortable, nervous, anxious, or stressed at any of the steps, take a step back and make it easier for him. For example, if he doesn’t want to go near you when you have it on your chin, go back to putting on your neck. You may have to repeat that step a bunch more times. That’s OK. You’re only going to move to the next step, when your dog is 100% comfortable with the previous step. How do you know if he’s comfortable? He takes the reinforcer (food) from your hand in a relaxed, happy state. If he is leaning in towards you, but has his front feet planted as though he’s a canine version of a giraffe – he is NOT comfortable. Go back to a previous step. The key is to move through the steps at your dog’s pace – not at the pace you want. Your dog guides you to the next step.


How do you know your dog is comfortable with you wearing a mask? He doesn’t notice it. He doesn’t notice your new t-shirt today, that’s the same reaction you want when you wear a mask.


It’s important to emphasize that you are not using food to lure your dog closer to the mask or to you when you are wearing the mask. Luring him closer when he’s afraid will only serve to create bigger problems. Instead, you are reinforcing his behavior of being interested and then just hanging around you when you have the mask on.


After your dog is comfortable with your family members wearing masks, you want to get him comfortable with a mask and sunglasses or hat. When you look at it from your dog’s point of view, if you are wearing a mask and sunglasses or a low hat, he can’t see any of your face which makes it harder for him to read you. This is not unlike getting your dog used to seeing people with full riding or ski helmets.


Don't Let Your Dog Think a Face Mask is Alien

Humans start looking a little alien! (Just joking!)


Life is tough enough today, take a few minutes daily to help your dog get comfortable with face masks so that everyday life is easier & less stressful for you and your dog.

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