Our reality has changed a lot over the last few months, we live in this situation that has never been experienced before and it has changed our lives.
But how are our pets reacting to this?
On the one hand, during the confinement period we were able to spend more time with our pets and devote them a special and different kind of attention; on the other hand, the different stages of deconfinement and the fact that we are returning to a different kind of normality gradually, have caused some problems for our pets.
After so many months at home of constant presence, our pets may show some signs of separation anxiety and even fear of seeing people in masks is not uncommon.
One of the measures in lifting lockdown to control COVID-19 spreading, is the use of a mask, which most often makes us unrecognizable in addition to muffling what we say (preventing pets from hearing us or even seeing us smile). Although most dogs do not have any type of interaction (positive or negative) with the mask, some may show fear, suffer from anxiety and, for that same reason, may even show aggression towards those wearing it. Some (fortunately rare) situations have even been described when dogs did not recognize their pet parents.
It is very important to take into account that dogs and cats are somewhat visually-oriented. They communicate with each other and with us by “reading” facial expressions and body language; they pay special attention to the eyes, the position of the ears and the tension – or lack of it – around the mouth.
Our pet dogs and cats have adapted to interact with people. They have learned how to read our facial expressions and our body language (since we do not have the key elements for animal communication – such as moving ears and an expressive tail) and the use of a mask doesn’t allow them to read us, which can lead to situations of fear.
To reduce fearful reactions in our pets, we leave some tips not to despair and modify the behavior of your dog and learn to better accept the new reality of masks, especially when they go out on walks:
- Make sure that the first training sessions are short and at home, in a quiet environment;
- Present the mask to your dog, let him smell and give him a reward (a trear, his favourite toy…) as a positive reinforcement (this positive booster should only be used for this training);
- Place the mask calmly and gradually – the mouth should be the last part to be covered and make it a game; it is important that you check your dog’s reaction: if he stays calm, reward him; if he gets anxious, remove the mask and calm him down;
- When your dog is fully accustomed to you wearing the mask at home, repeat the process on the street. Preferably in a quieter place, with few people at first;
- As soon as he accepts a masked person on the street, practice again with different people, different masks, and in different locations. Dogs need to practice in many contexts before generalizing what they learn;
- Like any other type of training it is important to feel calm and relaxed to transmit these sensations to your dog;
- When your dog feels comfortable with the mask and whenever you come into the house wearing it, start by talking like you normally would so he can hear you and recognize your voice;
- If on the other hand you find a pet that you don’t know while wearing a mask, move slowly and speak calmly. Give pets extra space and time to know you and understand through your body language that you’re relaxed and you mean no harm. Let them come to you.
It is a new reality and it is the new times to which we all have to adapt, including our pets. From the point of view of our pets, the world as they know it has undergone major changes. Humans wear masks, their hands smell like disinfectant all the time and, in general, it seems like they’re all further apart from each other. If we can read the nonverbal signals that our pets give us, we will be able to help them minimize the effects of all these changes.
And while we manage this human pandemic as a community, you can manage your pet’s health in a personalized way by downloading the PETABLE App on your mobile phone. More than ever, health comes first and their health should not be neglected in this pandemic era – available for Android and iOS!