The age of Covid-19 has also been the age of the dog. For many people stuck at home all day it was the perfect time to get a pet and they’ve provided important companionship during lockdown. However, a survey by Dog’s Trust found that many existing owners observed increases in behaviours such as barking or whining for attention. Lockdown has also meant that many new puppies have barely experienced being left alone at all. So what happens now we start to go back to the office and think about holidays?
Charities are bracing themselves for an increase in abandoned pets. According to research by Battersea, 31 per cent of people who bought a cat or dog in the first lockdown had not previously been considering a pet and 19 per cent now regret the decision. The frenzy to acquire a furry friend and restrictions on travel and meeting meant that more people likely bought illegally imported animals. Battersea recorded a doubling of the number of legal imports, which suggests a similar increase in illegal and farmed puppies bred in poor welfare conditions and therefore more likely to have health and behavioural problems.
Socialisation is absolutely key to a well-adjusted dog but was difficult to achieve when puppy classes were cancelled and meeting friends for dog play dates was off limits. As soon as DEFRA advice permitted dog walkers to restart their operations, my dog returned to a weekly walk with his regular day care, despite me working at home. I felt it was vital that he spent at least a couple of hours away from me and with other dogs. It’s odd for me to be in the house without him, which gives me a taste of his life when I’m at the office.
As well as time with other dogs, our canine friends need time to themselves. Dogs sleep up to 18 hours a day and having their humans in the house 24/7 may have prevented them from getting all the quiet time they need. Giving them a bit more ‘me time’ may start to acclimatise them to being apart from their humans.
Doggy day care
There are lots of options for dog minders but, as with most things in life, you get what you pay for. It’s important to choose carefully. This is also a three-way relationship and rapport is essential. Your dog is a family member so you will want to know that anyone looking after them is responsible, insured and knows how to handle emergencies – from runaways to dog fights to adder bites.
At the cheaper end, Borrow My Doggy allows owners to offer their pooch for free walks with borrowers who want access to a dog. Without the transactional element of paying the ‘borrower’, this offers a different kind of relationship, but it works well for many users.
An advert in the kitchen at my workplace offered dog walks for £5, which raised alarm bells for me. The average price is £12, higher for smaller groups or solo walks. People who simply offer walks rather than any residential care aren’t licensed.
If you are paying someone for dog day care or boarding in their own premises or home, they must be licensed by the local council. This is a surprisingly onerous process and you can be reassured that the proprietor has been assessed by the local licensee officer and a vet, has demonstrated their knowledge of dog behaviour and the Animal Welfare Act 2018, and has undertaken a range of risk assessments.
My dog tried a couple of largescale dog day-care facilities, but a dozen dogs playing and barking all day seemed to be causing him stress. A small group in a home setting suits his aloof personality better. For a more play-oriented dog, however, being chased by a group of lively collies for several hours is what life is all about.
Bear in mind also that what suited your dog pre-pandemic may no longer cut the mustard after 18 months shadowing your every moment but perhaps socialising less widely. We need to think like a dog, see the world through their eyes and the way they experience it.
Separation anxiety promises to be the new pandemic once life returns to something resembling normal. It’s not unusual for dogs to be distressed when their owners go out – the RSPCA estimates that this affects more than eight out of ten – but I spent a weekend recently with a rescue dog suffering extreme separation anxiety and it’s awful to watch. She paced, barked, panted and scratched at the carpet by the front door. Some dogs may hurt themselves or damage property as they pine for their owner.
This is a tough nut to crack and may require professional advice from a behaviourist. Barking is annoying for neighbours but an owner may not be aware just how distressed their dog is while they’re out. If the dog next door is howling all day, the owner may appreciate knowing about it so they can resolve the issue. A sensitive and reasonable conversation will be helpful for everyone, particularly the animal.
Doing what’s best
So what’s best for your best friend? Dogs can be hard work and the next few months will require some extra effort from us as owners to help our fur babies transition into another new routine. If you are finding managing the situation challenging, reach out for help from friends, other local dog owners and the range of professional behaviourists or charities able to offer advice and support. Don’t give up on your dog. They’re worth it! Since there is nothing quite like the tail-wagging welcome a dog gives you when you return, it’s good to make that time apart as bearable as possible for your devoted companion.
Postscript: You may need one-on-one help from a professional behaviourist to solve really complex problems, and most of the major dog charities offer training. Guide Dogs for the Blind recently launched a subscription training programme, which looks like a good place to start and helps support their activities. Most charities have seen a huge drop in income during the pandemic while demand on their services is set to increase.
You may also be interested in this earlier article: