Friend and colleague Chelse Wagner of Dog’s Best Friend and I were talking a few days ago about what life is like in the dog training world, and Chelse commented about her surprise that so few dogs were bothered by people wearing masks. She works with a lot of reactive dogs, and not only were few dogs bothered by half of her face being covered up, some dogs seemed to be more comfortable if she had a mask on. More comfortable? Now, that’s interesting.
Remember when masks became prevalent and articles appeared with concerns that dogs would freak out when confronted by mask wearers? In June, Gene Weingarten wrote in the Washington Post that several dogs had reacted fearfully to his mask, including one who “nearly took my hand off.” Curious about the issue, I asked my Facebook readers on June 11th how their dogs had reacted to people with masks. The vast majority said their dogs paid no attention. That has been my experience too. That doesn’t mean that there are no dogs who react to masks, just that their numbers seem to be small compared to the number of dogs who don’t.
Theoretically, there are many reasons to believe that covering up our mouths would be disconcerting to dogs who consider humans their pack mates. We know that changes in a dog’s lips, from “offensive pucker” to “appeasement grins” are important indicators of a dog’s internal state and potential behavior.
There is some indication that dogs do indeed pay attention to whether someone is smiling or not. Certainly we suffer when we can’t see the mouths of others while we are wearing masks. I find not being able to smile at people, or more accurately, not to have my smile perceived, to be disconcerting at best. There is some research that suggests dogs do indeed pay attention to our mouths. Miho Nagasawa et. al. of Azuba University found that 5 of 9 dogs could discriminate between photos of their owner’s smiling and blank faces, which generalized to photos they had never seen before of unfamiliar people. However, that was true only if the gender of the person was the same as their owner and doesn’t tell us how important the lower half of the face was, since authentic smiles affect the eyes too.
Researchers at the University of Veterinary Medicine in Vienna, Austria, led by Corsin Müller, did look at dog’s reactions to just the lower part of the face. They taught 11 dogs to discriminate between a happy or an angry face, sometimes showing just the top half of the face, sometimes the bottom. The dogs were able to discriminate happy versus angry, whether they saw just the top half or the lower half. Of course, there are many cues the dogs could be using, but certainly it seems reasonable that dogs, given their highly social nature, their focus on visual communication and their close relationship with us, are indeed paying attention to the part of our face covered up by a mask.
But what if–just spit balling here–they find that information confusing? I’ve always said that tail wags are a bit like human smiles: They are often the result of happiness, but not always. Smiles also vary tremendously. They can be cold and scary, especially the kind that aren’t authentic, as is usually seen by the lack of wrinkles around the eye, which are seen in truly authentic smiles or, a “Duchenne” smile. Human smiles are believed to be derived from submissive expressions or expressions of fear, and we pull the corners of the mouth back towards our ears as do frightened dogs. And what about all those teeth that we flash when we smile? How do dogs interpret that?
In addition, perhaps other visual signals are more salient to dogs. Chelse and I both believe that silhouettes are extremely important to a dog when being approached by a person. For example, I know legions of dogs who would be afraid of the person in the first photo, but not the second:
That hood! Guaranteed that would set off a lot of dogs. (Piloerected head fur? Or just strange?) All social mammals, us included, can’t take in everything all at once, and so we concentrate on the ones that are most salient. Is it possible that the expression of the bottom half of our mouths are not as salient as other cues?
Quick! Someone do research! I am flat out fascinated by this issue, especially the question of whether wearing a mask would make shy dogs more comfortable around unfamiliar people. Meanwhile, what about you? What has been your experience, with either your own dog, or dogs who see you with your mask on? I can’t wait to read what you have to say.
MEANWHILE, back on the farm: We had a heavenly break in Northern Michigan visiting friends who live on Lake Walloon. We were able to stay in an empty house right next door, so it all felt very safe. Not being able to hug good friends hurts my heart, but it was still wonderful to spend time with them. Here’s a highlight, thanks to friends D and J training the local Chickadees to feed out of their hand:
Here’s the Petosky jetty that Jim and I ran down to the end, dodging waves that swirled over the walkway. Just risky enough to be exhilarating, but not enough to be truly foolish.
We took a beautiful hike along Bear Creek in Petosky, a wonderful wild area right in the middle of town. Followed by lunch in a park with food from Julienne Tomatoes, followed by my first ice cream cone of the summer. About time–it’s not summer if I haven’t had an ice cream cone for heaven’s sake.
Wish Maggie and I luck in the next upcoming sheepdog competition. It’s a huge, difficult course, so we’d both better put our big girl pants on. I’ll let you know how it goes next week. Have a good week yourselves, whatever size pants you are wearing.
Amanda Gustin says
I have a nervous-bordering-on-reactive dog, who definitely startles easily and can occasionally find other people at stores just strange-looking for reasons I have never been able to parse. She has never been bothered by us wearing a mask, and now that I’ve started taking her to stores again occasionally (my community has extremely low numbers), she’s never been bothered by another person.
She DOES, however, associate me picking up a mask with something about to happen. We keep our masks in clean and dirty containers on the table near our shoes and her leash, and if I pick up a mask while I am in that area she gets frantic – it means I’m leaving the house somehow, and she wants to make sure she’s with me. It happens before I’ve put on shoes or touched her leash, so it’s definitely the mask.
Very interesting question. I know that dogs look and respond to our faces a lot–maybe they are putting the masked person in context with other body language? I’m certainly no expert–I look forward to seeing what others have to say.
On a lighthearted note–right after Covid changed our lives and masks became a part of our daily wardrobes, I saw a jpg of a German shepherd staring out a window, asking: “Why are all the humans wearing muzzles? Did they all bite someone?” Made me smile.
My dog does appear to notice my mask or others wearing mask! But I had my tv dish moved into the yard on a short pole and she gave it the side eye for three days and would not go near the thing! Go figure.
lak: Our Great Pyrenees Tulip barked for three days when we parked the truck on the left side of the barn instead of the right. I pretty much laughed at her for the entire time …
That woman with the hood would have sparked some serious barking from my dog, as would a man in a large hat. But masks? She could care less. We just started agility runs again at my agility club, just two people using the facility at a time, distancing and wearing masks. I wondered if my girl would perform differently with me running in a mask, but I couldn’t see any indication she noticed — probably watches my feet, shoulders, and hands more anyway.
Neither of my dogs even seems to notice. I showed Kate in Obedience two weeks ago, mandatory masking for all, no reaction whatsoever–and a Q. I have been training at the club building in a mask, with my friend who is also wearing one, since Michigan lifted its lockdown. No problem with either dog.
I train outside at home without a mask, although since I retied (!!!) I am training early in the morning, and people are parking their cars in the lot where I train, and walking past on their way in. No reaction, although everyone is masked.
My friend’s dog, a career-changed guide dog, has been a bit stand-offish, both to me and to other masked people she meets on walks. It would be overstating to call her fearful, but she’s cautious. I was on their porch with both mask and sunglasses last week, and it took some coaxing to get her within hand-licking distance. Once she was sure it was me she was fine. My friend reports it’s similar to her behavior when people start to bundle up in the wintertime.
Nan S says
My dog Abbey and her friend Topsy (my sisters dog) were best buds and had a play sequence that went like this:
I bite your face!
No, I bite YOUR face!
No, I bite YOUR face!
OW OW OW you bit my face!
SORRY SORRY SORRY I lick your face!
Ha Ha I got you! I bite your face!
They would do this repeatedly, mostly lying down like in your video.
I have wondered about this since early March. Olive, who would win grand prize at “what’s different in picture #2” contest has not reacted to masks at all. One reason I ponder is that she can see our eyes, and if we smile, our eyes do, too. Our eyes speak more than our mouths, perhaps? Also, our voices are more muffled, which I think she likes better. She also likes the quiet of our lives now.
Hats, postures, hoods, looming, quickly approaching, all alarms. Masks, not so much.
You look so relaxed feeding the chickadees. I strive for that.
Debby Gray says
I’ve been interested in the mask question too. I have a dog who seems anxious about many things. He is very sound sensitive. He also shows fear aggression around other dogs of all sizes. People are a different story he has always been friendly but somewhat shy around new people who soon become friends. But for months he saw very few people except me and when he did see them again they were wearing masks.
Neither people with masks nor people with masks and sunglasses nor people with masks sunglasses and hats seem to be a problem for him. I’m so glad! I’ve actually arranged some play dates for him not with dogs but with humans to keep him socialized.
I’ve also been interested in this question. I have a highly reactive dog who doesn’t seem bothered in the least, not by my mask and not by anyone else’s. I usually wear a black cloth mask so it’s really noticeable Really surprised me.
I’ve also wondered how this affects babies and small children. I know it’s hard for me that they cannot perceive me smiling at them.
I miss Bitey Facey – it was Sophy’s and Poppy’s favourite game when they were younger, and I particularly remember them playing it whenever I had to queue at the bank. One of the few games that can be played as well on leash as off.
And I too am fascinated by whether they notice masks. We don’t see that many as we live and walk in open country – just one or two people on their way to local shops – but they certainly don’t seem particularly worried by them. What I would love to establish is whether Sophy is still able to tell whether people wearing masks are smiling at her, which she uses as a cue before greeting them. I know she uses eye contact first, then checks for a smile, but is she looking at mouth or eyes or the whole body stance? I may have to set up a controlled experiment…
As a veterinarian, I have yet to see a dog react to the mask. But I will say we have had many of my reactive dogs behave better during this Covid season. I was thinking it was because the clinic was less crowded, we were seeing many dogs without their owners, and I saw a few outside. But maybe that Great Dane was behaving better because I was masked.
While wearing masks, dogs can still look into our eyes – the window to our souls – so I wonder how much does that play into dogs being unafraid of us during this scary time!
Chickadee training, ice cream and relaxing – the judges vote “10” on all! Well done!
As our dogs are used to us being silly by putting on strange hats, hiding under blankets, playing peek-a-boo behind the newspaper etc. it didn’t surprise me they didn’t mind us wearing masks. Humans are weird and so be it. Also our communication includes so many options (face and body language, words, sounds) there seems to be enough information getting through. That I tested at the vet yesterday.
What did surprise me was the fact that they don’t seem to mind other people with masks either. Especially the ACD, who is quite sceptical of strangers (or strange things in general) seems to have no problem with that. But then he is a real master of reading expressions and body language, so I assume he doesn’t need to see the whole face to extract the basic information.
I can empathise with the pain of not being able to hug friends or family. Found out about that a few months ago and was astonished how much it hurts. But there will be a time to hug again. Until then, we have to find other means of expressing our love and affection.
Thank goodness, we have dogs…
Good luck for the competition!
Sarah Cutler, VMD says
Hi-so glad to read about this issue. I’m a small animal house call veterinarian-do a lot of work with behavior as well-and since March 2020 I’ve been seeing all my patients while wearing a mask. Other things were different as well-seeing patients outdoors and not crossing the threshold to go inside their homes. Also-for a while I had no assistants, so arriving solo instead of duo. Needing to work solo upped my game so to speak….needing to keep working with the animals for cooperative vet care more than ever. All in all the dogs have been much more relaxed with me and vet care. I think the big issue is being outdoors but the mask factor did not seem to bother the dogs at all. In fact, as someone mentioned above, I wonder if it is soothing in a way because it eliminates them having to figure out what we are doing with our mouths. A lot of my patients were new pandemic puppies. Not only was I doing their vet care (teaching them about how fun the scale is, doing vaccines while they barely noticed, etc…) but I was helping owners do early eye contact, sit, calm, etc……and the pups were responsive to that even with masks on. Perhaps even more than usual. I think we talk too much anyway….so the masks help us humans as well as a sort of muzzle, really, to just talk less and talk quieter.
I like this topic! I’ve been noticing the same thing at our doggy daycare — all owners and staff are masked, and the dogs don’t seem to care a bit. My theory has been that they are focusing on the overall posture, and secondarily at our eyes and tone of voice – but I also throw some “woo-woo” in there, and believe that we each have a vibe or aura of some sort that they always pick up on, and which is not affected by the mask.
Good luck at the big, hard competition!!
This situation with masks has me wondering if there’s anything comparable with dogs who are anxious about people with beards. Have there been beard studies? I would imagine there’s a similar ‘can’t see your mouth’ anxiety for dogs who react, though of course there are certainly beards big enough to change a person’s outline too.
I was actually not surprised at all to find Georgie completely hasn’t noticed our (or others’) masks. If I stop to think about it, I would definitely say that she’s generally more attentive to my body language, hand signals, tone of voice, and actual specific words (she’s quite a verbal dog) than my face. I think facial expressions are kind if “micro” and most of the time pretty far away from the dog for them to really be focused on them, perhaps…? She does like to have her moments of gazing into my eyes for sure, but those are isolated moments; in most day-to-day activities she’s not that focused on my face.
The only indication I’ve seen that any of my dogs even notice when I’m wearing a mask is that my face-licker is clearly annoyed because she can’t lick my lips. Otherwise, no reaction from any of them to me or anyone else wearing a mask.
I am really curious as to why this is … my dog-showing friends and I had lots of discussions at the beginning of quarantine as to how judges wearing masks would affect novice show dogs, and it hasn’t seemed to be an issue fortunately.
Really interesting and timely post about masks! I love the comparison to the wagging tail – not all human smiles are kind and good. And the pictures of your vacation are amazing! That last bit, the mouth fencing, was what made me laugh out loud though. I love that activity between two dogs that know and trust each other, only I call it “fang hockey”. Mine do it standing up with a lot of jumps and dodging. When they do it lying down like yours are doing, I call it “phoning in the fang hockey”. 🙂
Diane Kaplan says
I love this and it definitely reflects my experience. Once when I was at a trial my dog erupted in high pitched barks as a whippet wearing pajamas approached. Same dog (and owner) went by in the other direction, at the same distance from us, a few minutes later with the dog “undressed” and my dog didn’t even appear to notice them.
My dog, Mickey, doesn’t have any reaction at all to people wearing masks. It’s actually something I wondered about. Is it just him or did other dogs feel the same? Thanks for being up this topic.
Also the Wikipedia link for a “Duchenne” smile seems to contradict what you wrote. I’m interested since my last name is Duchesne and pronounced the same. I hope it means an authentic smile with crinkles around the eyes!
Lynn Ungar says
Like Margaret, I figured is better practice obedience wearing a mask, since when we go back to trials they will probably be required. Didn’t appear to have any impact at all. Tesla’s only objection to masks is that they (mostly) prevent him from licking my daughter’s face when she comes over to visit.
I look forward to your column on the bitey face game–the Aussies not only love this game with each other, they also include me in the game if I sit on the floor. To be clear, I’m using my hands, not my mouth!
Very interesting conversation. I have a teenage Aussie pup, and nearly his whole life has been during Covid, so masks I guess are no big deal for him. But even the older pups in our Dogs Best Friend class that we’re taking right now seem to not bat an eye at masks on everyone. Maybe it does seem to settle them more by not having to decipher our mouths/teeth. Perhaps our mouths give different signs that we think they do?
Just last night, my teen son came around the corner with a silly, wide, open-mouthed grimace on his face, and the pup barked quite a bit at him. But once his face was normal, all was fine. He tried it again, with the same face, and the same reaction. The mouth was certainly weird, and perhaps to the dog it was interpreted as aggressive (on his normally happy human boy)? So the pup definitely is watching the lower part of faces.
Diane P. says
Perhaps our pup is an exception. The first time she saw me in a mask, she backed right up with ears flattened and a look of terror on her face. Same thing when she saw a neighbor who she’s familiar with. But, in no time, she’s become very unfazed by it all. I’m wondering if once she realized all the humans were doing it, it was no big deal. It’s the new normal now.
The article was ifascinating. I had assumed that the reason my dog and others were not bothered by masks is because they largely identify both who we are and our mood by scent. I have noticed that my dogs have reacted very differently to me for a while when I have taken antibiotics or been given large doses of anesthesia for surgery though.
My 1 1/2 year old doberman has not seen me in a mask, nor has she seen anyone wear one. I’m not sure how she would react. However, we just got an 8 week old doberman and had to take her to the vet. Masks are required and she did not mind the masks. I picked her up and she looked at me and tried to pull my mask off. It was like she was saying take that silly thing off. Mine was the only one that bothered her. It could be that she had never seen me in one and so it was abnormal to her. She had never met anyone at the vet, so maybe theirs weren’t abnormal to her? Interesting topic.
Diane P: Your pup may be an exception, but she’s not alone. There are other dogs out there that have reacted to masks, it is just that they are in the minority. I would love to know why some dogs react but most don’t!
Nicole Levesque says
In agility classes I have noticed that the less confident dogs appear to work more enthusiastically if the handler removes the mask. I have asked students to work on appearing more happy with their eyes and to use more verbal praise to encourage their partner and compensate for the lack of visual feedback. Many students look so serious when trying to focus on the tasks at hand and it may appear to the dogs that their handler is unhappy with their performance!
Beth, I read the Wiki article again and realized that my writing wasn’t clear! My bad, thanks for bringing attention to it. Duchenne smiles are the authentic ones, which is what I meant to say.
Nicole, that’s an interesting observation about less confident dogs doing better in agility if their owners don’t wear masks. I’d love to watch! I’m wondering if the masks also change the quality of the owner’s voice…?
Love that your Aussies play “mouth fencing” Lynn! I hesitate to say it, but feel compelled .. careful of playing it with your hands. It can teach some dogs to react by snapping at hands coming toward their face. Might be in play, but I’ve had some tragic client stories associated with it. Sorry to be a wet blanket!
Robin, what a great question about beards! Please, there’s a great Master’s topic for someone, and a great lead in to a PhD!
Sarah, I think your comment about us being more quiet around dogs if we are wearing masks is so important! And fyi, I’ve talked to several vets who say that their practice is so much easier in some ways when either the owner isn’t there or they work outside. So many issues here: One is that outdoors doesn’t contain so many scary scents, nor is it full of the scents related to stress and fear. As an owner though, I have to say it’s hard to hand your dog off to someone else. I couldn’t do it if I didn’t know the staff well or absolutely have to. (Which I have to do tomorrow. Skip needs his heart checked at UW-Madison. I will hate, hate, handing him off when I don’t know everyone who is handling him. But, luckily, he’s a stable, easy going dog, he’s been there before and there are a lot of really good people at UW.)
Mary, love hearing from the veterinarians! Keep us posted on what you find… is it the masks, outdoors, fewer clients? So many questions!
Frances, yes, please experiment!
Nan S: Your description made me laugh out loud!
My dogs haven’t reacted to masks, but I’m curious if people are being more aware of social distancing and also providing more space for dogs (and not petting!). I am half serious and half joking when I say the distancing is wonderful for my reactive dog, there’s a new awareness to respecting personal space.
My dog could care less about masks. I don’t feel like he is more comfortable, he just doesn’t care. He still recognizes his human friends from afar (thank goodness he can great them from what I know is 6 feet away for me-perfect length of a leash). He still greets them like he does in the past, with folks he wants to kiss on the face receiving kisses on the mask now.
I haven’t seen my dogs even acknowledge masks. I don’t see any change in their behavior around people wearing or not wearing masks.
I don’t really watch people’s faces either though. Friends, yes. Strangers and acquaintances, no.
IC: Great point about social distancing being easier on reactive dogs! And less intrusive petting. We should all remember how our need to pet unfamiliar dogs is not nec’ly good for the dogs!
Chris Johnson says
I wonder if vets, etc are seeing calmer dogs because their people are home more? They may be getting more walks and quality time with their people, leaving their anxiety buckets less full. I’m doing private training sessions right now and the only real reaction I see to my mask is when the dogs try to kiss me and then kind of go, “oh wait, no mouth to lick!”.
Love that calm mouth play with your dogs! So quiet and still. Can’t wait to read your blog on the subject.
I have one dog who doesn’t seem to notice masks at all. The other one is curious whenever I put on my mask. He jumps up to me trying to get a sniff of it, wagging his tail. He doesn’t seem to notice masks on other people while we are on a walk.
Looking forward to your blog on living with dogs with different play styles. One dog goes overboard often and I need to step in.
Cathy Balliu says
I miss dogs playing biteyface. My two youngest border collies play outside sometimes as long as I’m not watching. But their playstyles don’t mesh well. Spot is unaware of body positioning and tends to body-slam Micah. Micah then is hesitant to engage since she doesn’t like being knocked around. Sometimes I see Micah and Pete playing and it’s awkward but so cute.
Masks don’t seem to bother our pups. The reactive Cavalier King Charles (yes, a reactive one does exist!) doesn’t seem to notice. And our Westie puppy just loves people and greets with whole-body wiggles, despite the fact that the people are wearing masks.
Oh, and here’s a Shout Out to Chelse Wagner! She has been a huge help to us with two of our dogs, both Westies. She’s amazing!
Lesley Dipple says
My GSD is dog reactive and people carrying shopping bags or pulling a shopping trolley are regarded with suspicion until she is sure it isn’t a dog. Masks she could care less.
Nana911, totally agree about Chelse! She rocks!
I have a 14 week old puppy and was concerned about that because he is quite shy. But after picking him up at puppy play the other day, he licked my mask all over and then reverted to my forehead. 🤔
Cathy B: Maggie and Skip have the exact same issues–Skip is a hip slammer and Maggie hates it. So rough when dogs both want to play but have different play styles. I’ll be writing much more about this in a future post.
Lorie Coenen says
My reactive 12 year old BC, Murphy loves social distancing. He has paid no attention to masks. His only close encounter with masks is at the vet and he has been there a few times this summer. He behaves well for them so it has not been an issue. I muzzle him going into the vet just to be safe but after he is out of my sight they often remove the muzzle and comment he is very good for them. His vet calls him stoic. Maybe he views our masks as human muzzles. 😁
Hi to Chelsea at Dogs Best Friend. She worked with us several years ago and taught us so much.
Very interesting, and for the average pet dog, I’m not surprised. However, there are some exceptions to that and I’m sure they are for very different reasons.
One – not mask related – I was trialing my mastiff in Utility obedience and he was a worrier during certain exercises such as scent discrimination. I personally have found that most if not all dogs that are trained to the Utility level of performance tend to be very focused on the most minute of body signals from their handler. Mainly due to the required training from a distance of 30 feet to respond to physical cues only to perform exercises such as signals (stand, down, sit, and come).
I had a problem with muscle spasms in my face and my doctor tried to treat them with botox resulting in a crooked smile. During the scent discrimination exercise, he would worry and glance up at me and my relaxed posture and smile would calm him and he could work. But when my smile was affected, he was even more worried and failed even more exercises.
Two: I now have a Great Dane service dog, also trained to Utility level, but trained to sense my muscle spasms (which now affect my whole body) and to assist. When we go out in public, he will repeatedly sniff and check my masked face, and again on occasion while at the store. We suspect that his awareness of my needing his help is a combination of scent, and body cues, and his insistence on sniffing and physically checking my face and mask tend to support that theory.
kathy Northover says
Here are my thoughts. Both people and animals are capable of biting. By covering our mouths do we become less threatening? To carry that one step further, would a dog-reactive dog feel less threatened and be less reactive if he/she saw another dog wearing a mask?
So enjoyed re-watching that talk! Although I’m totally disgusted with myself for missing the head turn in the video, AGAIN!
I’m hearing the same from the animal care tech’s in the shelter. There are a few dogs that are initially frightened by the masks, but the majority are not. (?)
Why is Skip needing to have his heart checked?? Did I miss you talking about this earlier? Sending positive thoughts for him, and for you and Maggie’s trial.
Gayla: Skip has a grade 4 heart murmur caused by a congenital mitral valve leak. It’s pretty serious, and many people would have sent him back to his original owners rather than keeping him. But we fell in love and couldn’t send him back. I do work him on sheep because it is his greatest love in life, but that means doing all I can to keep track of how his heart is doing. This test will see if his heart has enlarged since the last test in April. Cross your paws!
kathy, re bite risk from a covered mouth. Now that is a great question!
Jan, thank you for sharing your story. It’s fascinating (although I’m so sorry you have to deal with this!) It says alot about how sensitive some dogs are to our faces.
Maureen Finn says
My dogs seem to be fine with the mask, but years ago, when I had to wear a respirator mask to feed the sheep (dusty hay and dealing with hypersensitivity pneumonia), I thought the sheep would be freaked out. Nope. They could not have cared less (but there was hay involved, so…) But my Rottweiler girl was for the first couple of times.
I haven’t noticed it as an issue with dogs in general, which has surprised me. I work in Rottweiler rescue, so assume the dogs would be more wary, but it hasn’t been so. The only incident I had was with one I picked up a dog from the shelter a couple months back who was seriously uncomfortable with me. He was a huge puppy (looked like part Great Dane!, but purebred) of 16 months, and as he came around the counter every hair on his back came up when he saw me, standing there in a mask, eyeglasses, and baseball cap – a trifecta of scariness. He was very jumpy with me, but not aggressive, although I didn’t push it either. He (embarrassingly) dragged me all over the parking lot as we waited for the foster home to meet us there – I think he just wanted to get away from ME as much as it being due to not being leash trained. He was much better with the foster – also wearing a mask and glasses, but no cap, and a male, which he (the dog) seemed more comfortable with (he had been surrendered by a male owner).
My 2 year old lab reacted strongly the first time she saw me with a mask, barking and jumping at my face. With just a few short sessions of mask wearing she stopped reacting and has trialed in NACSW and scentwork fine while I wore a mask. She never reacted to others wearing a mask and my 5 year old lab never reacted to myself or anyone else wearing a mask. The two year old in general is a much more intense in your face dog then my older lab. Overall with all of my training friends dogs none of them have reacted to the masks.
Ron Bevacqua says
Dogs and the wearing of masks………perhaps dogs know the old saying……..”EYES ARE THE WINDOW TO THE SOUL”
Melanie Hawkes says
The video of Maggie and Skip play biting is gorgeous! It makes me want to get a second dog!
Sara Watson says
I do not believe this is the case. I am working at my vet three days a week. In families who come without masks, the dogs are more upset when the dog views techs and vets with masks. With the families wearing masks, not as much concern. It is what the specific family and community is doing that the dogs experience.
I am a dog walker.
When mask requirements started I first walked into my clients home with a mask; however down so the dog(s) knew it was me. The dogs did not seem to react to the mask in a negative manner. They did just lick the mask. Therefore I discarded after each client.
Thank you very much for speaking on the subject.
I too wondered if dogs react to masks.
Hoods, hats or umbrellas get a reaction from some.
Please let me know if you have any questions.
Without reading any response (or even the entire intro – apologetically – but I will get back to reading all) I was surprised when my mask did not bother my dog at all. Okay I just looked up at a blog response from Ron – and that’s where I am going. I think the eyes tell more than the mouth. I have a mask that covers quite a bit of my face, but a co-worker said to me – “I know you are kidding – I see it in your eyes”. Dogs perhaps see no different, up close at least. I do think from a distance other factors can play into response.
Carrie V says
My dog is leery of anything new/different. The first time he saw me in a mask he stopped short, backed up, clearly displayed fear. I immediately took off the mask, told him look, it’s me, it’s ok. When I put the mask back on he was fine. He has not seen me, or anyone, in a mask since then, so I don’t know how he would react now. We have a vet visit coming up (one of the things he is most afraid of). Should be interesting. I am hoping they are now able to allow me to stay with him. I don’t trust leaving him with anyone else given his fear and dog-reactive issues. (I am hyper-aware of where other dogs are in relation to him and act quickly. I know others are not so observant.)
Good luck at the competition!
I volunteer walking dogs at a shelter. I did consider how the dogs may react to me wearing a mask. I have read that some dogs can react to hats, sunglasses, helmets, etc. I generally only work with the easy-going dogs rather than the shy or more stressed dogs. None of the dogs seem to react or care about the mask except one big puppy that kept trying to take it off me with his paw to play with it.
Duff has seen me only in a mask once at a vet visit a few a few months ago. He wasn’t bothered by it nor by the masked office staff.
We hike in deep woods where a mask is unnecessary.
(Tho I carry 2 just in case of an emergency).
On our way there at stop lights, he doesn’t react at all to anyone waiting to cross.
This is a dog who happily gives “growling heck” to anybody too loud whilst waiting at a bus stop. Those wearing a hoodie or a coat sleeve flapping has been given strong attention in the past as well.
In some ways (though not, with all the darn construction everywhere!!) our world has been a bit quieter.
People wearing dark/large sunglasses can bother him….makes me wonder how how dogs “read” our react to big toothy grins
Are they eyes more calmin,more truthful? What about scent? Do dogs combine scent and eyes when deciding when to react or not?
Good topic for any post graduate research.
Lauren Winchester says
Their play biting is so … QUIET! I’ve got two westies and if anything, it sounds like a squabble turning into a fight when they “play alligator” as I call it. But, they’re very vocal anyway. Neither of my boys seems to care about masks on anyone, but they’re both very used to making eye contact with me so I think that must just be our developed style of communication.
Someone gave me a mask with a cartoon-character, sharp-toothed, evil grin. The first time I put it on, Red Dog was temporarily taken aback, sniffed the mask, and then shrugged. Otherwise, we have not seen any reaction to masks.
50-pound Red Dog and the Pug play mouth-fencing games, usually lying down to equalize height. Red Dog could easily fit the Pug’s head in her mouth, so an essential part of the game is pretending that their mouths are equal.
Equality rules do not apply in chasing games, however. Which is interesting – dogs often try to “win” many play games, but the goal of mouth-fencing seems to be a draw.
Well, as far as I can tell, shamus has not reacted at all to either me, or anyone else he sees wearing a mask. The only time I’ve worn a mask with him, is when we are working, so that might have something to do with it, given his focus is elsewhere. As for other dogs, I can’t tell. it’s probably a visual thing.
Keeping our paws crossed for skip tomorrow/today, and hoping that there is good luck in the competition. Also can’t wait to read your article on play soon.
I love the biteyface video! Spring has been an only dog her whole life, but she discovered (and adopted) an abandoned kitten on the first day of quarantine. Biteyface is definitely their favorite game. Spring sticks to the open-mouth variety, but Berwyn really bites often holds on for quite awhile before she scrapes him off…and then gently pokes her face or paw at him until he latches on again. It’s still very cute, though I admit I miss the days when he was dwarfed just by her head.
Neither of them seem to care about masks, though Spring strongly disapproves of the delay my post-outing hand-washing routine brings to our greetings.
The first time I wore a mask I had our dog Rocky watch me put it on so he obviously knew it was me under the mask – no reaction then or since to me or anyone else. I saw a cute cartoon recently with a dog looking out a window, watching people pass by. The caption read: I wonder why those people are wearing muzzles. Did they all bite someone?
Alice R. says
My guy who notices everything, and could be generously described as cautious, isn’t bothered a bit by masks on me or anyone else. Although he usually prefers to meet people for a bit before greeting, after all this time social distancing he keeps trying to meet women on walks. Not sure what will happen when he actually can again.
Love, love the bitey face video. Hubby loves every dog I have, but is really a one dog (if that-they win him over) at a time grumpy guy with the usual complaints of how much things cost, etc. so I’ve never had more than one at a time. I’d love to though; I love watching them play.
Pati Diridpni says
As a longtime reader and enthusiast of your blog I must say this one article has been on my mind allot lately. My Great Pyr Labrador mix is very intuitive towards me and my wearing a mask around her has not daunted her enthusiasm or happy positive behavior at all. She acts no differently around or towards me or anyone wearing a mask. I have noticed that Lemon zero’s in on my eyes always when greeting me. I know she takes in my whole appearance but eye contact with her is key to me.
I am relieved for her and me. I do not want my best friend and companion to ever feel afraid or tentative around me. She was a shelter rescue that came with her own agenda. Now we share a dual agenda, living a happy safe life together. We are Paradise Camp Fire survivors from November 8th 2018.
It occurs to me that most dogs in the northern two-thirds of the country are already conditioned to seeing lots of people with scarves covering their faces for part of the year. I wonder if there are regional differences to how dogs react?
Xu Amisa says
My dog has no adverse reaction to seeing me with a mask. When I return to the house wearing my mask she easily recognizes me and reacts with pleasure. She can lick my lips accurately through the mask.