Face masks are a relatively new phenomenon for Canadians, and are becoming more prevalent in everyday life due to COVID-19. Our pets have always been able to see our faces, as well as the faces of strangers, and reading body language is one of their specialties.
Now that we’re covering up our faces, some pets are reacting with suspicion and fear, and may growl, move away, or even bark. Since face masks are here for the foreseeable future, it’s important our pets get used to seeing people wearing face masks.
Pet Sitters International spoke to Dog trainer Meg Marrs, founder of K9ofmine.com, who shares these tips for pet parents and pet professionals:
“The key to getting dogs used to individuals with face masks is the same way that any dog needs to be adjusted to new stimuli—basically, desensitization and counter-conditioning!
Start out by putting on a mask yourself and seeing how your dog reacts. If they seem relatively comfortable, you can toss them a few treats. Show them that good stuff comes from masked people!
If they seem a bit nervous, toss the treats far away from you so that the dog isn’t forced to come closer to the scary creature in order to get the treats, potentially pushing them over their threshold.
If the dog is really scared of you wearing a mask, have a friend wear a mask while standing far away from you, and feed your dog treats while they look at the masked figure.
Once you have that down, just apply the same principles out on your walks. If you see a masked individual, give your dog plenty of distance to feel safe and reward her with treats. Build up the positive association with masked people and your dog won’t mind masks in no time!”