WEARING a mask or face covering is becoming the new normal for all of us.

While we do so to protect our neighbours and community, it can mean we struggle to communicate.

For our four legged friends it is even tougher to understand.

Government rules mean masks must now be worn in an enclosed space, including shops, supermarkets and on public transport.

Dog trainer Joe Nutkins, who runs a training centre in Ardleigh, says it will be a big change for dogs to understand.

Joe, who has been helping train dogs for 15 years, said dogs may be confused by the disappearance of people’s facial expressions.

“I became aware because of my own dogs and some dogs starting to come back for classes,” she said.

“A lot of people said it was something they hadn’t even thought about.

“The lack of facial expression can make canine communication harder as facial expressions are one of the main ways dogs focus on us to determine how we feel and our response to something.

“Face coverings are going to be a way of life for some time to come. By acclimatising our dogs to us wearing face coverings it will help them feel less concerned about seeing other people wearing them.”

She added: “They are so many different types of masks.

“Most are plain or have a design on them but you can get them with dog faces on them or zombie faces.

“For a dog that would really confuse them.”

READ MORE >>> The Colchester restaurants giving 50% off in August

Joe, who is a Kennel Club Accredited Dog Trainer, said getting used to face coverings was even more important for assistance dogs who are more likely to spend time in shops.

She said: “Support dogs which accompany people to different places will need to be comfortable with seeing people in face coverings so they can continue to do their great work without feeling stressed.

“But places which are more dog-centric are likely to have people wearing masks too.

“It may also have other dogs which aren’t prepared and are worried.”

Joe, from Clacton, suggests introducing masks or face covering to your pooch to help them adjust.

She said: “You could hold it up over your mouth and nose for a moment then take it down again and praise your dog, have a game with them, fuss them - whatever they enjoy.

“Start at home by showing your dog your face covering, gloves etc and putting them on for a moment then off again and wearing around the house.”

Joe, 40, says for many dog owners they will need to be more expressive with their eyes and body movements.

“I put my mask on and looked in the mirror and it was quite difficult to see the changes in my own eyes.” she said.

“Dogs will pick up on the movement. I was looking for it and it was difficult to see. They may have to use hand signals and gestures. “

READ MORE >>> Burger King, Costa Coffee, Greggs and McDonald's update face mask rules

Joe also suggests wearing your mask at home to help dogs get used to the change.

She said: “A little preparation now will really help our dogs, and you can be doing a lot of this with other pets in your home as well.”


During the pandemic Joe had to stop running her classes in person.

As she was not eligible for any business support she turned to online tutorials and had to borrow some money to keep afloat.

“I closed up not knowing if I would have a business to go back to,” she said.

“New protocols are in place but it means getting to work an hour early and staying for an extra hour.”

A cat in the UK has been reported to have caught coronavirus and Joe hopes the news won’t cause panic among dog owners.

She said: “We don’t know yet how it was spread. I would tell people not to panic and take any precautions they think necessary.”

To find out more visit www.facebook.com/dogtrainingforessexandsuffolk.