Davi Explains Mask Fear in Pets

With face masks now mandatory in Jacksonville and required in most public spaces, it won’t be uncommon for many dogs to feel confused or uneasy by the new normal. Humans understand why wearing a face mask is so important, but getting dogs used to seeing face masks on their owners and others is a whole new ball game.

Dogs rely on facial expressions to understand and communicate with their owners, so when a sudden turn of events – one that pets don’t understand – results in every face they see being partially hidden, it can create anxiety and fear. Even dogs that have already been properly socialized may be spooked by the sight of people in masks – and here’s why.

Dogs excel at reading body language and can detect even tiny changes in expressions. Since face masks naturally stop a dog from being able to interpret human emotion or sense your intentions, they are unable to tell how you are feeling which can create distress.

On top of this, some of the masks that people are wearing are downright scary, partly because of the design. Those pointed black masks and respirators that look like dog muzzles seem like a really bad idea to me!

The other problem with face masks? They distort your voice. Certain masks or face coverings can muffle or change the sound of your voice which adds to the confusion.
Because the presence of masks isn’t likely to disappear anytime soon, it’s a good idea to get your pet comfortable with people wearing masks. Luckily, with a little time and some tasty treats, you can help your dog feel happy and relaxed around people wearing face masks.

For starters, you might sort of wear the mask. Let it hang from your ear, or wear it under your chin, but not blocking your mouth yet, so your dog can still decode the important non-verbal communication coming from your mouth.

After lots of repetition, and once your dog associates the mask with good things being showered into his life, start wearing the mask for short periods. Put the mask on and walk to the treat jar. Wear it when you feed, play, and cuddle – times when the dog is comfortable and happy. It’s also a good idea to show other people in the household wearing masks so your dog knows it’s not exclusive to you. Very soon the mask will be a positive thing, and the dog will quickly conclude that the mask is just a new part of life.

Now you can focus on taking your dog out for walks – don’t forget to stay six feet apart from others! Bring a pack of treats with you on your walks and be sure to reward your dog every time they calmly encounter a stranger wearing a mask. Remember, patience is key. Some dogs adapt better than others to changes in their environment. Be patient with your dog. You may need to repeat this process a few times, or even go back a step once in a while but with enough perseverance, your dog will soon learn people in masks are just – you guessed it – people!

While these exercises may seem time-consuming at first, it is well worth the effort to make your dog comfortable with what is quickly becoming a symbol of our times.

p.s. – If you need a mask, check out this awesome option from JHS!