Dogs and the 'New Normal' of face masks

Did you know that dogs actually rely really heavily on facial expressions and body language to communicate with us? Well, they can't talk to communicate so it seems pretty simple when you think about it like that.

In this new normal of us having to increasingly wear masks out and about, this can make things a bit tricky for your dog. It may make them nervous or shy, and generally not behave like themselves – here’s why.

With most of our faces now covered, we are doing a lot more communication via our eyes. In the animal world though, eye contact is generally a sign of threat and danger.

Masks also distort our voices. Dogs have excellent hearing, but its been proven that dogs actually combine the sounds of our voices with our expressions to understand who we are. So here are some tips to help stop potential anxiety.

Getting your dog used to 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
  • Be sure to talk to your dog whilst you are wearing your mask
  • Reward reward reward. Both for when they don’t react, and also when they react positively.
  • Maybe try having some friends and family pop round and visit with a face mask on (current guidelines permitting obviously…)
  • Keep up the positive reinforcement when you’re out and about and are seeing lots of different people in face masks.
Meeting a new dog when you’re in a mask
  • Now that we may be wearing a face mask -it’s more important than ever to give dogs that you don’t know plenty of space.
  • Avoid prolonged eye contact with a dog you don’t know while you are wearing a mask. If you keep blinking or looking away, they’ll understand you’re not a threat to them.
  • If you do 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 you sense that your dog is nervous about people in masks walking past, then try to keep yourself as calm as possible so that your dog understands it’s not a threat. Reward them for being calm, and if they do react, try to distract them with some training – sit and down are both good.

As with any training or new situation, it's all about patience, perseverance and staying positive.