Adrienne is a certified dog trainer, former veterinary assistant, and author of the online dog training course "Brain Training for Dogs."
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. Dog owners are often 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 just the other day gave you those great-tasting cookies?"
Then, they will shake their shoulders and apologize to their friend: ''I can't understand what is up with Rover, he has never barked at people before, go figure!''
Yet, if we take 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 unusual in dogs. As a matter of fact, when I first started my very first behavior consultations, my mentor always reminded me to take off my hat as a precaution.
While I never wear a hat when meeting a new dog, I always make sure to have plenty of hats in my toolbox when running puppy classes.
Why Do Dogs Not Like Hats?
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 and 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, claims in her book The Other End of the Leash 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.
Get Your Puppy Used to Hats From the Start
Because a dog's comfort with removable parts is largely informed in their formative years, hats—along with plenty of umbrellas, eyeglasses, masks, hoodies, costumes and other oddities people may wear—were always part of my toolbox when leading puppy trainings. 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 equals great things!
Ways to Get Your Dog Not to Fear Hats
If your dog is particularly fearful of people wearing hats, help him out by wearing a hat for a few weeks. Be particularly 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, so 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, your dog may start loving people wearing hats!
Note: 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.
Hats Aren't the Only Things Dogs Are Afraid Of!
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 with 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 dogs who usually start this barking concert are generally shy and particularly alert and wary of their surroundings.
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 Farricelli
dogexpert on September 13, 2010:
Whitney, I disagree. It is because it changes the shape of a person's figure. Hats do not hide a person's face.
ocbill from hopefully somewhere peaceful and nice on August 30, 2010:
and now Halloween is coming up. watch out.
Elizabeth (MeMe) from Live Oak, Fl. on August 27, 2010:
Your hub was very interesting.
J Beadle from Wisconsin on August 27, 2010:
Both of our dogs get upset when they see other people walking their dogs. If we are walking they are fine and they love other dogs at the dog park. It makes it seem like they resent other dogs from getting a walk when they are unable to!
Whitney from Georgia on August 27, 2010:
They can't see the face, and it makes them nervous.