Reasons Why Dogs Are Afraid of Hats
Fear of Hats in Dogs is Not Unusual
If your dog is afraid of hats, rest assured, you are not alone. Countless dog owners face this problem. Often dog owners are quite surprised when their dog unexpectedly barks at one of their friends. They will go up to Rover and say something along the lines of: ''What is wrong with you buddy? Don't you remember Peter, that guy that the just the other day gave you those great tasting cookies'?"
Then, they will shake their shoulders and tell their friend as to apologize: ''I can't understand what is up with Rover, he has never barked at people before, go figure!''.
Yet, at a closer look at the circumstance, Peter has never come to visit wearing a baseball cap. Rover was really confused by Peter's new and unusual silhouette that sort of scared him off for a second.
As mentioned, a fear of hats is not unsual in dogs. As a matter of fact, when I first started my very first behavior consultations, my mentor always reminded to take off my hat as a precaution.
From those early days on, I never wear a hat when meeting a new dog. On the other hand, I always made sure to have plenty of hats in my tool box when running puppy classes.
A Matter of Lack of Early Exposure
Hats are not the only objects dogs may fear. Backpacks, sunglasses, umbrellas, bags or anything that alters a person's natural silhouette may cause the calmest dog to become alert and fearful.
It may happen anytime, anywhere, from walking on the boardwalk and seeing a sailor for the first time, to seeing the postal carrier carry a large bag full of mail. Many dogs are also disturbed by people carrying large items such as ladders, doors, baby strollers or a large pot of petunias.
It often happens unexpectedly. The dog looks up and within a second from calmly walking, the dog emits a loud bark that freezes everybody. The most common prototype of dog that starts this barking concerts are generally shy dogs who are particularly alert and wary of their surroundings.
Many dogs do not like people wearing hats and often this may be attributed to a lack of thorough socialization during the puppy's crucial socialization phase.
All puppies undergo a small window of opportunity during which they should be properly socialized. This brief period of time is generally between four weeks of age up to four months. This is when puppies should be exposed to as many people, animals and objects as possible. This should include umbrellas, people wearing hats, costumes and so forth.
Patricia McConnell, an applied animal behaviorist and dog trainer, author of the book ''The Other End of the Leash'' claims that dogs do not understand the concept of ''removable parts.'' In other words, they see people wearing a new hat as if they were an outer space alien.
This is why hats were always part of my tool box when training puppy classes along with plenty of umbrellas, eyeglasses, masks, hoodies, costumes and other oddities people may wear. I made sure to not only have hats, but a variety of them including baseball caps, beanies, berets, boater hats and even sombreros!
Those hats were worn to get puppies used to people wearing them and lots of happy praise and treats were doled out by people wearing them. Puppies soon learned that people wearing hats were nothing to fear and that actually they brought good things. People wearing hats= great things!
People Wearing Hats are Great!
If your dog is particularly fearful of people wearing hats, help him out by wearing a hat for a few weeks. Be particulalry fun and rewarding to be around during that time. When you put the hat away, then act boring.
Another nice approach to use when dealing with dogs fearful of hats worn by strangers is to have friends wearing hats walk nearby while you feed your dog treats. Make sure you give those treats before your dog is able to react so the dog makes positive associations. It's important to work under threshold.
Timing is important, make sure when your dog sees the person wearing the hat he is fed the treats by following the open bar closed bar dog training method. Treats are fed when the person wearing the hat is around and treats abruptly stop being fed when the person wearing the hat is out of sight.
Desensitization and counterconditioning are very effective ways to help fearful dogs out. Make sure to put your dog up for success by preventing him from going on a barking frenzy each time he sees something odd. If each time he barks at a person wearing a hat this person walks away, he may think that it is thanks to his barking this person has left, and therefore, he will feed on this fake confidence which will make the problem put roots.
Expose him to as many people with hats as you can and let him know that great things happen when a person with a hat gets near him. With time and perseverance, you dog may start loving people wearing hats!
Disclaimer: behavior modification comes with risks. For safety and correct implementation, if your dog is fearful of people wearing hats, please consult with a dog behavior professional.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2010 Adrienne Janet Farricelli