I absolutely love your emails! This last week, I’ve received the same concern several times over and in fact, had personal experiences with this new situation myself.
Help, my dog hates the face mask!
Regardless of your stance on the face mask debate, we all must agree that in 2020 the mask is a part of everyday life.
Face masks are weird.
Dogs rely heavily on scent to navigate the world, but much of how they interact with us is based on facial cues.
Your mask experience probably felt a little awkward in the beginning. This, while you had the backstory. You knew to expect to see the mask, why people were wearing them, the variations of styles, the slightly muffled speech.
Your dog didn’t get the memo.
So Fido sees a person with half of their face covered and it is different, weird, and maybe even scary. Each dog is different. Some may feel just slightly concerned, some may outright panic.
It’s important to watch their body language. Reactions may include growling, lowering head, backing away, or trying to escape.
Twice, I have almost been bitten by dogs I’ve was working with. One of my clients had a guest suffer a bite.
Phritz Says Hell No to the Mask
A few months ago, I went to the post office with all my dogs in the car. I put on my mask to go in and my feral dog immediately growled, his hackles went up and he started backing away from me. At that moment all I could do was laugh and say hey Phritz it’s just me, and then I had to run my errand.
After the post office, we went to our favorite park. I wore my mask, played with him, threw the ball, and got him to do some sits and downs for treats. Later that day, and for the following week, I wore my mask in the house several times a day.
I made it a very lighthearted experience for him. Now the mask is no big deal.
If you’re anything like me and you love to take your dog all the places, masks on strangers really are a new part of everyday life.
( An unexpected benefit to me wearing my mask in the house is that I also trained myself. When I first started wearing them I was very nervous, anxious, and I had a hard time breathing. Now I’m up to three hours with few problems!)
Obedience Makes Everything Better
Integrating obedience commands is one of the best ways to acclimate your dog to new situations. The series of steps below use the sit command.
- Be cool. Take your time. Act natural and stay positive during the introduction and training process. If at any time your dog seems uncomfortable or nervous, back off.
- Introduction. Show your dog the mask. Let them sniff and explore it. They will figure out it isn’t a threat. Reward with a treat so they begin to associate the mask with a positive experience.
- Introduction on your face. After your dog is comfortable with the actual item, put your mask on. Be calm and speak in a normal but upbeat tone. Give them some treats or feed a meal.
- Walk indoors. Unmasked, leash your dog. Then, let your dog see you put the mask on. Walk to each room of your home. Have the dog do a sit in each room.
- Go outside. Walk around your yard or a small area your dog is very accustomed to. Take 10 minutes and do 6-12 sits.
- Enter the house solo wearing your mask. Now you are greeting them WITH the mask on. If your dog is still nervous be sure to have some super delicious treats to offer. Stay lighthearted, so if YOU feel nervous, wiggle your body! It sounds goofy, but the wiggling communicates a sense of play to your dog. (It also releases your stress – seriously.)
- Add others. Put your dog on a leash and ask your friends or neighbors to come to the front yard wearing a mask. Make sure they are equipped with super delicious treats and the wiggle secret. My favorite thing to lighten the mood is a salsa dance party. Once everyone is comfortable have your assistant tell the dog to sit for a treat. Do between 6-12 repetitions.
- Explore the Neighborhood. Take your dog for a longer walk wearing the mask. Do a sit at every other driveway or landmark of your choice.
- Go to all the places. Take your dog to a public place where people will be masked. I always make sure I have extra special treats for this. (Leftover chicken, hotdogs, pizza crust, or cheese.)
Stay patient and take your time! This is not a one day process. You may have to repeat a step a few times until you can see your dog relax. Remember, they didn’t get the COVID memo.
I sure hope this helps! Please let me know if you get stuck at a step or have any questions!There are no “bad” dogs, just mofos with problems. Problems generally have solutions, and I’ve encountered them all. ( Check out my easy, 30-minute Potty Training workshop.)