Desensitizing Your Dog to PPE


Seeing other people wear face masks while out and about can take some getting used to for us humans. Can you imagine what it might be like for a dog? As a pet owner, you play an important role in helping your 4-legged companion get used to this new normal.

Before your dog gets up close and personal with someone wearing a mask, whether on your walk, at the park, or here at Canine to Five, we reached out to our dog training friends at K9 Turbo Training to share the best ways to desensitize your dog to PPE.

Keep in mind when going through these steps to make sure you’re always checking your dog’s body language. Are they stiff? Avoiding eye contact with you or your gear? Are they walking away or cowering? These are signs that you might be going too far, too fast. Think about the small ways we can break these steps down to help our dogs find comfort.

  • Normalize your gear: You can start by  leaving your gear on the counter, coffee table, etc, and reward your dog for simply looking at it.
  • Work on counterconditioning your dog to your gear in hand: Once they’re comfortable with your gear being in their space, you’ll begin to present it in your hand. At first, you’ll want to provide a lot of distance between you and your dog, keeping your hand close by your side, and rewarding your dog for seeing your gear. You’ll then put your gear behind your back and repeat this process while gradually moving closer with each repetition. If your dog is looking away or disengaging, that could mean we’re closing the distance too quickly, or that we need to add distance to our starting point.
  • Have your dog target your gear: When your dog becomes comfortable seeing you hold your gear in your hand, you can start rewarding them for investigating it. If they come up to sniff your gear, reward them. You can tuck your gear behind your back, then present it at your side or in front of you, and as they walk toward it, reward them. Slowly build on this to the point where you’re rewarding them for their nose coming close, or even touching it.
  • Counterconditioning your dog to you wearing your gear: Now that your pup has mastered seeing and smelling your gear, it’s time to move on to watching it all in action. As you go to put your gear on, be sure to reward your dog in small steps along the way. Mask on, reward. Glasses on, reward. Face shield on, reward. If your dog is feeling good, play a game with them! Or give them a nice enrichment toy to play with themselves while you continue to wear your gear and do your own thing around the house.

  • Counterconditioning to others wearing their gear: Once they’re comfortable with you wearing your gear, it’s time to witness others wearing it, too. Station up at your living room window, porch, or in your car. Anytime your dog sees a person in their gear, reward them with a tasty snack! Do this for all the people they see in any type of gear. Remember to check their body language. If they’re having a hard time, create more distance between you and the people you’re watching together, or leave the situation and decompress with a really fun game or soothing enrichment activity like a stuffed Kong.

The clients and staff at Canine to Five will be required to wear face masks when interacting outside and in the lobby. Getting your pups used to PPE will not only help them feel more comfortable while attending daycare, boarding, or grooming, it will make walks, car rides, and their home life more comfortable, too.

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