How To Head Off Your Dog’s Hat Hate

You’ve noticed your dog hates hats. As in people wearing them. What’s going on? Has he become a fashion critic?

We take for granted our dogs’ incredibly acute senses of smell and hearing. But dogs also rely on vision to navigate their world. Depending on their breed, age, and the circumstances around the headgear, dogs may react with defensiveness, fearful aggression, or actions such as hiding when they see humans wearing hats, even people they know and love. The hat might as well be full-body costume, because it confuses your dog and he doesn’t recognize the wearer.

Why is that, and how can you fix it? Read on.

How Dogs See

Dogs see about as well as we do. The eyes of longer-nosed dogs include a visual streak, a high-density line of vision cells across the retina that allows them to see up to 270 degrees, while the vision is blurred above and below the strip. The structure gives Greyhounds and other sighthound breeds the ability to see movement out of the corners of their eyes. These dogs also see well at long distances but may react most strongly to silhouettes they recognize, or to hand motions.

Short-faced dogs, on the other hand, 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 owner’s facial expressions. That means a hat with a brim, or something like a ski mask that hides features, may be particularly scary for dogs used to recognizing your face.

Banishing Hat Hate

In the same way you might prepare dogs for Halloween goblins, take time to introduce them 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 in his presence, helps dogs understand. You’re not a “weird-shaped no-face monster” but a beloved owner wearing weird headgear. Dogs understand that people do strange things and won’t mind, as long as they’re not scared.

Try pairing hat-wearing with a fun game such as fetch. That can teach dogs that far from scary, a hat-wearing owner means great things for them, like a romp in the yard.

This article was reviewed/edited by board-certified veterinary behaviorist Dr. Kenneth Martin and/or veterinary technician specialist in behavior Debbie Martin, LVT.