You love your dog, and he adores you back. But why does your dog hates hats? Our Magical-Dog acted confused and barked at my husband when he wore a hat–until he heard his voice. But Bravo-Dawg didn’t seem to care. Some dogs act fearful, while others become aggressive when faced with hat-wearing people. What’s up with weird hat hate behavior? Has he become a fashion critic?
We take for granted our dog’s incredibly acute sense of smell and hearing. But dogs also rely on vision to navigate their world. Depending on the dog’s breed, age, and circumstance around the headgear, dogs may react in a variety of ways. To your dog, wearing a hat might as well be full-body-costume, confusing dogs so they can’t recognize the wearer.
How Dogs See & Why Hats Scare Dogs
Canine eyes see about as well as we do. The eyes of longer-nosed dogs like Collies include a visual streak, a high-density line of vision cells across the retina that allows them to see 320-degrees, while the vision is blurred above and below the strip. The structure gives sighthounds (and other chasing breeds) the ability to see movement out of the corners of their eyes. These dogs also see very well at long distances but may react most strongly to silhouettes they recognize, or hand motions. A hat changes the familiar silhouette to something unknown and therefore suspicious or scary.
Magical-Dog’s long German Shepherd nose conformation more closely matched sighthound eye configuration. But Bravo-Dawg’s brachycephalic face (a bit of a foreshortened muzzle) more closely matched other short-faced dogs.
Short-faced dogs have a centrally located area of vision cells on the retina with three times the density of nerve endings as the visual streak. Short-faced dogs see in much higher definition than long-nosed dogs; some even watch TV, especially the newer high-definition screens. This may give them an advantage in reading the owner’s facial expressions. But that also means a hat with a brim, or something like a ski mask that hides features may be particularly scary for dogs used to recognize your face.
Read this interesting recent study of how dogs react to human faces (or don’t!). Based on the study, your face offers just one clue who you are, so it’s important to “look” at hats from the dogs’ point of view. Here’s yet another article on how dogs recognize human faces.
On another note, we recently had Bravo’s portrait painted after his passing. When his buddy Shadow-Pup first noticed the life-size image (from about four feet away), he reacted to it as if seeing Bravo in person: tail waving, happy barking, play-bowing excitement…until offered the image to sniff. He then seemed to realize it wasn’t Bravo, and barked at ME. That made me feel we’d played a heart-breaking dirty trick (anthropomorphizing there, but still…).
Banishing Canine Hat Hate
In the same way that we prepare dogs for Halloween goblin costumes, take time to introduce your dog to any headgear you plan to wear. Dogs are smart, and often can generalize one type of hat to others, once they figure out the concept. Here are some tips that can help.
First, wear the hat out of dog-sight. That imbues the fabric with your signature scent, which is comforting to dogs who know and love you.
Next, hold the hat in your hand (don’t wear it!) to show your dog the headgear. You might even name it, so the dog learns what “hat” means—a nonthreatening fabric object that smells like you.
While in his presence, put the hat on, and take it off to show him, again naming it. Most dogs only become startled and misrecognize people when they are presented unexpectedly with a hat-wearing owner approaching them. So showing the dog the hat, and putting it on and taking it off in his presence, helps dogs understand. You’re not a “weird-shaped no-face monster” but a beloved owner wearing weird head-gear. Dogs understand people do strange things and won’t mind, as long as they’re not scared.
Try partnering the hat-wearing with a fun game, like fetch. That also can teach dogs that far from scary, a hat-wearing owner means great things for them, like a romp out in the yard. Learn more about positive training in the ComPETability book!
Does your dog object to hats? If so, how do you manage the issue? Do tell!
A version of this article first appeared on FearFreeHappyHomes.com
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Amy Shojai, CABC is a certified cat & dog behavior consultant, a consultant to the pet industry, and the award-winning author of 35+ pet-centric books and Thrillers with Bite! Oh, and she loves bling!