The new normal: dogs and face masks

Dogs rely on facial expressions and body language to understand and communicate with us, so the new normal of having to wear face masks everywhere can be tricky for them. Your dog might be nervous when you’re out and about – and here’s why.

With most of our faces now covered up your eyes are now doing all the work. But in the animal world, direct eye contact is often a sign of threat or imminent danger.

The other problem with face masks? They distort your voice. Dogs have amazing hearing, but did you know your dog is actually used to hearing your voice and reading your facial expressions at the same time?

Let’s start with positive ways we can encourage them to know it’s still you under there. These are our tips on how to stop potential anxiety and get them used to our new normal. 

Getting your dog used to face masks

The best way to start is when you’re safe and sound at home.

  • Let your dog sniff your mask
  • Start by wearing it for a few minutes at a time
  • Talk to your dog whilst wearing your mask
  • Rewards are key – reward them when they don’t react – and also when they react positively! Both are great behaviours
  • Get friends or family to pop round and visit with a face mask on, if they can

Then, keep up the positive reinforcement to get your dog used to seeing lots of different people in face masks.

Meeting a new dog when you’re in a mask

It’s good to give dogs you don’t know lots of space. And now we’re all wearing masks, it’s more important than ever. 

If you’re outside with a mask on and you meet a dog that doesn’t know you, try not to make direct eye contact with them. 

Keep blinking and looking away so they understand you’re not a threat to them. If you need to interact with them, approach slowly and reach out so they can sniff your hand. Let them come to you!

Meeting strangers in face masks

If your dog feels nervous when strangers walk past wearing face masks, keep as calm as possible so your dog understands it’s not a threat. Make sure you reward your dog for staying calm, and if they do react, try distracting them with some training (sit and stay are both good). 

As with all types of training, be patient, persevere and stay positive.

5 thoughts on “The new normal: dogs and face masks”

  1. Tobe seems to be fine with the whole face mask issues, there have been one or two issues, but these characters are what I believe he would be uncomfortable with if they were warring a mask or not and I tend to trust his judgment

    Regards

    Micky Syrett

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  2. Thank you for these thoughts. I honestly hadn’t thought about it but I’m a countryside dweller with lots of space so I’ve not considered wearing a mask when out with my dogs and all other dog walkers I see have been courteous and careful throughout, many of them friends. I always have a mask in my pocket in case of emergencies so perhaps I should see what the dogs think of it.

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  3. I think this kind of explains my dog’s behavior when I have a mask on, he keeps on licking it, perhaps to make me remove it to see my face. Hopefully, we can all live mask free soon and not have to create another kind of anxiety for our dogs.

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  4. Thank you for this post. Bacon is ok around people in masks, but once, person was wearing full teeth/ growling mask. He got terrified! Stressed and started barking non-stop. I think fashion is fashion, but people need to think too what they put on…

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