Help dogs adjust to Covid-19 face masks

More and more people are wearing masks out in public and the RSPCA is offering dog owners tips on getting pets used to the new face coverings.

Since 15 June in England, everyone travelling on public transport must wear a face covering and, in Wales, a three-layer covering is recommended where physical distancing is not possible.

Lorella Notari, head of RSPCA’s clinical animal behaviour team, said: “For many pets, seeing people in face coverings will be a new experience and some may feel anxious of afraid. Dogs use our facial expressions to understand what we are feeling and so having our faces covered may be strange for them.

“To help during this time, we’ve pulled together some training tips to help your pet feel happy and relaxed around people wearing face mass. We would advise that, when introducing pets to face masks, you do so gradually and to only progress if your pet is happy and relaxed.

“These tips can be particularly helpful if your dog tends to be shy in the presence of new people of unfamiliar faces.”

Step 1

Put on a face mask but keep it ‘half on’ so that your dog can see your mouth and nose. Our dogs are used to seeing people with scarves so this should not cause any particular reaction. Keep the mask half on while you feed your dog, give treats and play with him. If you notice no difference in his/her behaviour, put the mask on gradually. Cover your mouth a few times, then proceed to cover your mouth and nose. Repeat the same positive actions and interactions a few times and take it slow.

Step 2

Ask your family to do the same, the consistency and gradual progress will help.  Also, try to change the type of mask – using masks of different colours, for example. This will help get your dog used to the different ‘looks.’

Step 3

Put your mask on just before entering your home. If your dog seems more excited than normal, ask him/her to sit and then give them a treat. Ask your family members to do the same. This will help your dog to make positive associations with approaching people wearing face masks.

Step 4

Dogs tend to focus on people’s faces, and for shy dogs, not being able to see human facial expressions may be confusing and trigger fearful reactions. If your dog gets used to familiar people with face masks, they will more likely not get scared if strangers with face masks approach them.

To further encourage your dog, when walking them, ask for their attention and give out a treat if you see him/her focused on someone with a face mask.

For more advice to help your pets during lockdown, please visit the RSPCA’s website: www.rspca.org.uk/coronavirus.