While face mask restrictions are being lifted in some parts of the world, this isn’t the case everywhere. And, since dogs depend pretty heavily on being able to read a person’s facial expressions, a masked person can leave them feeling confused, and possibly even scared.
This may not be an issue when it’s you that’s wearing the mask. After all, your dog has learned to read your emotions in other ways too, from your scent to your body language. However, problems often arise when a dog encounters a stranger wearing a mask.
If you’ve noticed that your dog seems to feel uncomfortable in this situation, here’s how you can deal with this:
Work on Some Training Commands While Wearing a Mask
Practice these several times while wearing your face mask, ensuring that you reward your dog for listening each time.
If your dog is too uncomfortable to follow your masked commands, take your mask off and put it beside you. Then, use your hand to cover your mouth and continue on with your training.
Once you’re done, give your dog a few extra treats next to the mask. This way, you’re helping them to associate the mask with tasty rewards.
After a few sessions of this, try donning the mask again and giving your dog a simple command. Hopefully, this time, they should follow through without any problems.
Introduce Your Dog to Masked Friends & Family
Once your dog is completely comfortable with you wearing a mask, it’s time to bring in other people. However, start with people that your dog already knows, as this will make the mask a little less frightening for them.
Start by practicing at home. Ask a friend to enter the room that you and your dog are in, while wearing a face mask. If your dog greets them happily or seems comfortable with them, have them give your dog a treat.
If your dog seems nervous, have your friend stop as soon as they enter the room. They should then toss a treat toward your dog. Ideally, this should be a high value treat that your dog doesn’t usually get.
Once your dog takes the treat, have your friend move a little closer and toss another treat down. Keep repeating this until your dog is happy to take the treat directly from your friend’s hand.
Taking it Outside
Some dogs are comfortable around masked people in their home environment, but then start turning nervous when they encounter face masks outside.
So, before introducing your dog to strangers wearing a mask, ask a masked friend to approach you and your dog on a walk. Follow the same steps as before, where your friend rewards your dog for being happy and relaxed around the face mask.
You can reinforce this by also rewarding your dog each time they look at a masked person without getting worked up.
Meeting Masked Strangers
It’s now time for some real-world training. Take your dog on a walk, ideally somewhere that isn’t too busy.
Aim for your dog to be able to see masked people from a distance. Each time they see someone wearing a face mask and don’t react in a negative way, give them a reward. At the same time, give them plenty of praise too.
Over time, your dog will learn that face masks are nothing to be afraid of. Instead, they lead to tasty treats!
Once you’ve reached this stage, you can start to phase the treats out. To do this, reward your dog every other time they see a masked person, rather than every time. Switch to lower-value treats too, and keep cutting back on how often you treat your dog, until you’re only using a couple of treats per walk. That said, continue to use your voice as praise so that your dog knows how well they’re doing.
Even if mask restrictions have been lifted in your part of the world, training your dog to feel safe and comfortable around masked people can still be of benefit. After all, this pandemic has taught us that things can change in an instant. You never know if you’ll suddenly need to start wearing face masks again, so do your dog a favor and make this a part of their training.