Help Your Dog

July 2, 2020

Costumes or facial coverings—even just hats—change our general appearance to the dog and we may be perceived as a threat initially. Or the dog may simply perceive [the facial covering] as an impediment to their ability to read our facial expressions and body language. I would suggest trying to desensitize the dog by putting the mask up to your face for very brief periods of time and, at the same time, rewarding your dog with something that he likes—treats or petting if your dog likes that. You will be combining desensitization with positive reinforcement. The goal is always that the dog associates good things with the appearance of the mask whether it’s on your face or not. Next, you can start to increase the time of mask wearing while spreading out the rewards or randomizing them. All of this should be done in a setting where your dog feels most comfortable. If your dog has had previous bad experiences with somebody wearing a mask, you can do the same things and think of it as a counter-conditioning exercise. Pair the presence of the mask with delicious food, at a distance and in a way that keeps your dog under threshold. They should be voluntarily moving towards you, all wiggle between the shoulders and the hips, not stretching to take food that is close to a scary mask. Dogs outside of the socialization period are not great generalizers, so masks inside the house may not translate to people outside the house; same for familiar and unfamiliar people. Wear it around the house. Wear it when feeding and during walks. Wear it, give treats, and take it off when the treats are done. Toss lots of rewards around the mask, holding the mask, putting the mask on and off. Every day, every meal. Of course, I was going to do a slow introduction to Alastor as I had to wear [a mask] in the Barnhunt blind. I didn’t do it and he almost broke my nose trying to pull [the mask] off. The puzzled look he gave me when he couldn’t see my mouth was very informative. I then made sure my eyes were “smiling” to let him know it was okay. Gave him treats every time I talked to him.  I’ve trained a behavior using the mask. I toss it and ask for a retrieve, reward, put the mask on my face, reward, and then take off, reward and toss it again. Now it’s a pretty exciting game when the mask comes out. Mask = play time and cookies. My dog has learned the different masks that I wear mean that we’re going to different places. It’s really amazing. She knows which mask means we are walking in the neighborhood, which mask means I’m leaving, and which mask means we’re going hiking. This is classical conditioning. A equals B. Make the mask mean you’re going to do something awesome. If you think about it, it’s actually a really good visual cue for a dog to know what’s happening next.  Indy knows masks equal closer contact with people at the store via curbside pickup, or at our destination. He associates things very quickly. Masks aren’t scary for him—he walks right up to people with masks on and waits to be petted. He’s a dog who adores humans. The sight of a mask makes him very happy!  Tried and true desensitization and counter-conditioning is the best. Mask on, give a treat. Mask off, no treats. Rinse and repeat dozens of times, gradually increasing length of time that you keep the mask on, and throwing in some easy training during the mask-on segments. Be sure to vary the duration of mask-off segments as well—sometimes a few seconds, sometimes 30 seconds, sometimes minutes. Practice with a few other family members and friends, and voilà, you have a dog who’s comfortable and confident with masked people! Jody Epstein is a certified behavior consultant and certified professional dog trainer. She holds a master’s degree in Animal Behavior from Tufts University. Jody has been training professionally for more than 12 years. Jody is part of the Academy of Pet Careers team, teaching the next generation of trainers.

  • Most Recent News

    Firefighters battling California wildfires visited by Kerith the therapy dog

    October 29, 2020

    Battling wildfires can take an emotional and physical toll on firefighters, but a two-year-old golden retriever has come to rescue, relieving stress and providing comfort to firefighters on the front lines. Kerith is a certified crisis response therapy animal through a nonprofit organization, Pet Partners. Kerith and her handler, Heidi Carman, started volunteering at MarinHealth […]

    Read more

    Big Dogs Need Owners

    October 9, 2020

    When the shutdown orders took full effect, it became nearly impossible to find a small dog available for adoption as Southlanders sought furry companions. In many Southland shelters, only larger breeds remained available for adoption. Now Los Angeles Animal Service is touting the joys of big dogs while offering discounted adoption fees for larger breeds […]

    Read more

    Service Dog Walkathon

    October 9, 2020

    On Saturday, October 3, hundreds of walkers from across 15 states joined the path to bettering the world for children with autism and their families as part of BluePath Service Dogs’ fourth annual walkathon. The family-friendly fundraiser – this year held virtually – raised more than $120,000 to further BluePath’s mission of providing autism service […]

    Read more

    Service Dog In The Marching Band

    October 9, 2020

    In a year that is anything but normal, the Jones College Maroon Typhoon Marching Band has welcomed its first known service dog member this fall. Laurie, a 3-year-old golden retriever, is baritone saxophone player Sara-Beth McKellar’s service dog. The Vicksburg native was diagnosed with epilepsy as a sophomore in high school after her first seizure. […]

    Read more

    Church Blesses Animals

    October 9, 2020

    St. Mary’s Church of the Immaculate Conception in Port Jervis hosted a special outdoor service last Sunday afternoon to bless the community’s pets, animals and other living creatures. In keeping with current pandemic rules, pet owners wore masks, remained distant, and took part in praying for dogs, cats, turtles, and other pets and animals around […]

    Read more

    Police Welcomes New Canine

    October 9, 2020

    Young Kingston Police service dog Bask may look small, but his handler says his training and energy are proving that he’s up to fill the shoes of his predecessor. “I think he’s going to be a great little dog,” Const. Jeff Dickson said, looking down at his new partner. A partner that, wearing the right […]

    Read more

    Dog Park For Travelers

    October 9, 2020

    St. Petersburg is widely recognized as a dog-friendly city, and St. Pete-Clearwater International Airport is making sure its four-legged visitors and their humans feel welcome by rolling out the artificial turf carpet. With the completion of the airport’s parking and roadway project – part of a series of multi-million dollar improvements at the airport over the […]

    Read more

    Service Dog Helps Firefighters

    October 9, 2020

    Firefighters battling the Archie Creek and Thielsen fires have had some long, exhausting days. But for some, their troubles seemed to melt away once they got back to camp. Why? Meet Ralph Colombo. He hauls oversize loads. And joining Ralph is his service dog, Cowboy – the morale boosting, firefighting puppy. “He just keeps my […]

    Read more

    Pet Therapy Program

    October 9, 2020

    Saturday, October 10 is World Mental Health Day, which this year has a new sense of urgency for many. Covid-19 has taken a mental and emotional toll on healthcare workers across the U.S but there is a program boosting the spirits of doctors and nurses on the frontlines. At UC Irvine Medical Center in Southern […]

    Read more

    A Service Dogs Place

    October 9, 2020

    A new Pineville nonprofit that helps people with disabilities obtain service dogs has made its first match. The Saber Life Foundation was started in March by Danea Key and her husband Joel. They provide people with trained service dogs, paying 51 percent of the cost, with the client paying the other 49 percent. Service dogs […]

    Read more

    More Recent News