Where Did You Go? A Brief Synopsis of Dogs and Masks in a post-COVID World.

Just like me, I’m sure everyone is tired of hearing about COVID 19 and just wants it to go away.  Unfortunately, it’s here and now many states and/or businesses have mask policies in effect.  Whatever your stance on the mask ordinance is, it is here to stay.  Have you thought about how your dog feels about the mask ordinance?  As you start to venture back out into this new everyday way of life, it’s important to socialize your dog to the “new normal”.
Dogs use the information they gather from reading facial expressions, body language, and scent to figure out or “read” the people around them.  With most people walking around wearing masks our dogs are at a major disadvantage when it comes to reading a person.  Masks cover almost our entire face which prohibits dogs from seeing our facial expressions.  With just the eyes showing, a dog might take a stranger approaching as a threat, as direct and prolonged eye contact in dog language signals confrontation.  Another reason dogs and masks do not mix; dogs are the same as babies when it comes to object permanence.  If they cannot see you (your face in this case), you do not exist.  You disappeared.
As we approach the colder months in addition to masks, people will be wearing hats and hoodies.  The additional clothing will prevent dogs from being able to see a person’s face at all which can be very scary for them.  Imagine walking around and only seeing shadow people with no faces walk by.  Would you be freaked out? 
Of course! 
So, what can you do to help your dog?  Start by introducing your dog to masks at home.  Have everyone wear a mask in the house for a designated amount of time, let’s say 10 minutes.  Make sure to give lots of praise and treats to make it a positive experience.  If your dog is afraid, take the mask off and show them it’s you.  Allow your dog some time to calm down and try putting the mask back on.  Keep repeating this process until your dog is calm when you have the mask on.  Do not try more than two or three times if your dog gets visibly upset.  Take the mask off and try again later.  When your dog can remain calm while you’re wearing the mask, reward the calm behavior with praise and a treat. 
Once your dog has been desensitized to masks being worn by you at home, slowly work on socialization in public settings.  Some important tips to remember, do not force your dog to greet a person.  If your dog seems nervous or is visibly scared, do not pet them to “calm them down”.  Petting reinforces the behavior because you’re giving positive attention for that behavior.  Instead, walk your dog away and try again when they are calm.  If your dog is still nervous or visibly upset, let the person know that unfortunately, they won’t be able to greet your dog.  Do not reprimand your dog for any inappropriate behavior.  If your dog barks or growls simply walk away.  On the flip side, remember to praise your dog for calm behavior when someone with a mask approaches or passes by. 
Just like it will take us time to adjust to wearing masks; your dog will need time to adjust as well.  Remember to work on desensitizing them slowly and make sure to keep things positive.  If you need help, contact us about a training class!  We’ll get through this together.
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