With face masks now being mandatory in Victoria and encouraged to be worn in other parts of the country, some dogs may feel scared or anxious when seeing their owners and others wearing face masks.
Masks limit a dog’s ability to read us
Dogs are very visual and communicate with humans and other dogs through facial expressions and body language so by wearing face masks we have limited the dog’s ability to read our facial expressions and only focus in on our eyes, which can exacerbate the problem.
In the dog world, direct eye contact can be perceived as a threat, while our dogs have learned to read our facial expressions so well that they know when we smile or have a relaxed expression, it is a positive sign.
So, if a dog is meeting a person for the first time and all they can see are two eyes staring at them, it can be very intimidating , as they have no other way to read our facial expressions.
Even with their owner, an anxious dog may bark or move away when they walk in the door with a mask, so it is always important you talk to your dog in a light upbeat manner to know all is well.
Sensitise your dog to your mask
It’s also a good idea to get them used to you wearing the mask.
Step 1: Let dog sniff and investigate a mask. Give a treat when they sniff and there is no reaction
Step 2: Let dog see you putting the face mask on while talking to them. Start with just putting it partly on your face and give a reward for no reaction.
Step 3: As they become familiar with the mask and are not reacting, gradually cover more of your face, again using praise and treats to reward a calm response.
Step 4: Wear it at home for a short while a couple of times a day, always encouraging and rewarding calm behaviour.
If at any time your dog does react, then take the mask off and go back a step in the process.
When you leave your home wearing your mask, take some treats with you to further encourage your dog to respond positively to others wearing masks in public.
When you are out in a face mask
If you meet a dog when out wearing a face mask, ensure you don’t stare or stand over them. Blink your eyes and look away a few times to show that you are not a threat and talk to them in a friendly light voice. You need to show with your body language that your intentions are not a threat.
It’s also important that you do not walk up and pat or touch them. Pat your leg and let them come to you when they feel comfortable. If they don’t want to, then leave them alone.
This is something we should be doing at all times when we meet a dog we don’t know, with our without a face mask.
For my tips on how to greet a dog (or not!) in my ‘At Home with PETstock’ video on Facebook, click here.
Look for signs of anxiety
When you are introducing your dog to your face mask, or if out and about, always check for the subtle signs of anxiety such as licking of the lips, yawning or panting. For more tips on how to tell if your dog is anxious or not, click here.
No face masks for pets!
Do not put a face mask on your pet – even for social media photos.
There is limited evidence that pets and companion animals can get infected with COVID-19 and no evidence they can pass it to humans.
Therefore, there is no need to place a face mask on your pet and doing so may cause them significant distress and in some cases cause life threatening breathing difficulties.
As a precaution, practice good hand hygiene and minimise contact with your pet if you are sick.
To watch my ‘At Home with PETstock’ video about this on Facebook click here.
About the Author: Lara Shannon is a NDTF certified dog behaviourist and trainer, Executive Producer and Host of Pooches at Play on Channel 10 and editor of Poochesatplay.com. Lara also runs her own dog training and boarding business in Melbourne’s Bayside area and is the Author of Eat, Play, Love Your Dog.