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COVID-19: Introducing your dog to face masks


As dog owners we all know the little cues that our dogs look for from their owners and the people around them. Some of those cues are verbal, some through our body language and demeanour, even smell, but others come from our facial expressions. Facial expressions form part of the picture that helps our dogs to understand and process how to respond to us, so can have a big impact in making them feel safe and relaxed.

The rules for health and safety due to the COVID-19 pandemic mean that it is likely that a kennel will require you to wear a face mask when dropping off and collecting your dog but the new rules requiring face masks to be worn in shops mean that exposing your dog to face masks (whether on their family, or strangers) is inevitable. 

Even the most confident or well-socialised of dogs might find seeing people with their faces covered a bit odd to say the least, and other dogs might find it very scary. So in the “new normal” that we are all experiencing, how can we introduce our dogs to face masks without spooking them out or unsettling them.

Our advice at The Good Kennel Guide is to turn this into a fun but calm game, whilst also not drawing too much attention to things- the focus needs to be on making this feel more normal. It is most important to ensure that your dog is always relaxed and to not try to introduce them to face masks too quickly. Our handy step by step guide is below.

What do I need to introduce my dog to face masks?

Lots of treats

Something (other than a face mask) to hide your face- a scarf, bandana or jumper will do

A variety of different face masks (homemade or bought)- bear in mind the variety of different masks that you (and your dog) might see when out and about

What advice do I need before I introduce my dog to face masks?

We recommend only progressing from one step to the next if your dog remains calm and relaxed. If not (i.e. if your dog starts barking, growling or gets spooked), you should slow down, and repeat the step again, or even go back a step until your dog gets used to this new behaviour. 

Try to complete all of the steps with just one member of the household to start with, each family member introduced should start again from the beginning so as to not throw too much at your dog in one go. 

We also recommend that any children introduced to a dog whilst wearing a face mask, or participating in this activity, is supervised at all times. You could try keeping your dog on a lead or behind a baby gate whilst your child practices wearing a face mask until you see how they react. 

Puppies should be introduced to new things early on, but definitely within the first four months of their lives, whilst they are still learning what is “normal”.

Step One- Introducing your dog to face masks

Cover your nose and mouth with your hand and give your dog a treat. Repeat this several times so they learn to associate hiding your face with getting a treat. You should also try giving simple commands such as “Sit” so that they get used to hearing your voice without seeing your mouth move. You could also try this whilst doing normal day to day activities such as reading or sitting on the sofa.

Step Two- Introducing your dog to face masks

Repeat step one but with a scarf or bandana covering your nose and mouth. If they stay relaxed try moving around the room whilst your face is covered, keep talking to them and keep the treats coming throughout. 

Step Three- Introducing your dog to face masks

Lay some face masks and coverings out on the floor and let your dog take a look at them and smell them. Reward your dog for interacting with them but not reacting. You could also try picking up the masks and holding them, bringing them to your face but not putting them on yet whilst you gage your dog’s reaction.

Step Four- Introducing your dog to face masks

Repeat step two wearing one of the face masks. Let your dog see you trying it on, keep talking to them, and keep rewarding them by hand. If you dog has had a previous bad experience and shows a particular dislike to one of the masks then try using other ones to start with to build their confidence- remember the aim is to get no reaction- so try leaving a trail of treats between the masks and avoid turning it into a game of hide and seek. 

Step Five- Introducing your dog to face masks

Try wearing a different face mask from the selection laid out in step three. Again, keep talking to your dog and keep the treats coming.

Now you are ready to try the face mask on in different surroundings so your dog can get used to seeing you wearing one in different places that you might go to together. We suggest starting in the garden, then introducing it to walks or in the street. You might also start rewarding them if you see a stranger wearing a face mask in the street or passing by to, if they remain relaxed and do not react to it. You could also start working through the steps again with a different member of the household, you can then move on to more than one member of the household wearing a mask. Eventually your dog will start to associate face masks with normal life, and certainly with getting lots of treats and cuddles.

Please note: This is just one method of teaching. If you are ever in doubt, please seek professional advice. 

10 reusable face masks with transparent window £15.99

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