The COVID19 pandemic hit us all hard, both financially, practically, and emotionally. It’s changed our lives and left many people struggling. During the pandemic, we’ve all been doing our best to cope. Interestingly, for a lot of people, a coping strategy has been welcoming a new dog into their home.
Let’s take a look at the details of this boom in dog ownership.
Rise in Dog Ownership Across the UK
Dogs are amazing animals: they adore their owners, they provide us with plenty of cuddles and love, they keep us active, and they make us smile. Therefore, it’s understandable that owning a dog is an attractive idea during such hard times.
The Pet Food Manufacturers Association explain that since the start of the pandemic, 3.2 million households in the UK have acquired a pet. 59% of these new owners were between the ages of 16 and 34. On the positive side, 74% of these new owners state that their new pet has improved their mental health during the pandemic.
So, what’s the problem? Well, unfortunately, there are a few problems that have arisen from this increase in dog ownership. Let’s take a closer look.
Nicole Paley, the CEO of the Pet Food Manufacturers Association states: “it is clear that we need to consider the welfare of these new pets. As our survey highlights, introducing a pet to a household in Covid times can have repercussions or create some unexpected difficulties.”
Many people who bought puppies during the pandemic, especially those who are first-time dog owners, may not have fully thought through the long-term commitment that comes with a puppy. No matter what their age, bringing a dog into your home is a big responsibility. Dogs need lots of training, plenty of exercise, mental stimulation, and attention. Aside from that, the costs involved can be a lot more expensive than people may think.
Lots of first-time owners have been overwhelmed by this responsibility and found training their new dogs difficult. 38% of new owners said having a new pet was as challenging as having a new baby. In the hurry to get a dog during lockdown, some people have rushed into buying a breed that might not be the right match for them.
Socialising your dog is vital, especially for a puppy who is still learning how to interact with other dogs and people appropriately. Due to lockdown, many dogs have been unable to learn how to socialise. This has the potential to cause behavioural issues moving forward.
Change is stressful for dogs, especially big changes. One of the major factors causing behavioural issues is dogs being unprepared to be left at home alone.
We’ve all been at home so much more than we ever have before, and our pets have become accustomed to having us around. Dogs Trust asked 6000 owners about their dog’s behaviour during lockdown and a quarter of owners said their dogs were displaying new behaviour problems.
As we transition to going back to work, our pets can feel confused and anxious. This is especially true for young dogs who have never known a world where they were home alone for so long.
Many owners haven’t realized that this would have such a big impact on their dogs. Only 10% of new owners were concerned about returning to work and leaving their pet at home. Some owners may not have known how to help their dogs get used to the idea of being home alone. Therefore, many dogs are experiencing separation anxiety and displaying unwanted behaviours to express their confusion and fear.
With so many people desperate to purchase a puppy during the pandemic, it’s not only costs that have risen exponentially. Some people have overlooked the crucial steps that ensure a puppy’s health. Owners purchasing a puppy during the pandemic have been less likely to:
- find a trusted, credible breeder
- ensure the puppy is the right age to leave their mother
- choose a breeder who has health tested the puppy and taken them for the appropriate vet visits
- check personally that the puppy is in good health
- meet the puppy in person (along with the puppy’s litter mates, mother and father) to ensure they’re coming from a suitable breeding environment
The Royal Veterinary College explains: “these buying behaviours unfortunately heighten the threats to puppies from being sourced from poor welfare environments, bred or raised on puppy farms, and illegally imported.”
This means that puppies bought during the pandemic are far more likely to have or develop health issues in the future. Battersea Dogs and Cats Home emphasizes: “thousands of pets have suffered the effects of poor breeding and ill health”.
Rise in Dog Kidnapping
Dog theft has increased by an estimated 19% during the pandemic, with criminals eager to cash in. Litters of puppies, young dogs, pregnant dogs, and dogs that could potentially be used for breeding have all been targets for dog theft.
Even older dogs that are popular breeds and working dogs have been stolen. It’s estimated that in 2020 alone, 7 dogs were stolen every day.
Shortage of Dog Food
With a huge increase in the number of pets in households in the UK, supermarkets struggled to keep up with the demand for dog food. A national shortage of dog and cat food pouches left many owners worried. However, dry dog food and tinned food were mostly unaffected.
Increased Numbers of Abandoned Dogs
Due to the many issues we’ve discussed, many new owners have found that they were unable to care for their new dog. Devastatingly, this has led to an increase in the number of abandoned dogs during the pandemic.
Battersea Dogs and Cats Home states that during the pandemic: “the two most common reasons we see for bringing in a dog are financial and behavioural; the unexpected loss of jobs and homes, or a lockdown dog that wasn’t the right fit.”
What Can We Do?
This all sounds really dire, but thankfully there are proactive steps we can take to help tackle the problem.
Socialise and Train Puppies
There’s a lot of ways you can socialize and train your puppy at home to help prevent future behaviour problems. While it’s best to start this process straight away, starting it at any point while your dog is young is useful.
You can introduce your dog to new sounds, textures, and experiences they’re going to have in their day-to-day life. Do this gradually, take breaks when they’re stressed, and give them tons of praise.
Introduce them to other dogs and teach them how they should behave. Teach them how they should walk on the lead. Train them to respond to basic commands, such as sit, stay, and come. You can do this on your own, or if lockdown restrictions allow, you can attend puppy classes to help you get things on the right track.
Get Dogs Used to Change
Whether you’re a new dog owner or you’ve had a dog for years, you need to get your dog used to the changes that are coming gradually. While you’re still at home, ensure they have a quiet space during the day when you would usually be at work.
Try to prepare your dog for you returning to work by gradually building up time they spend alone. You can give them puzzle toys and chew toys (that are safe for them to play with alone) to make their time alone more pleasant.
It’s a good idea to walk your dog before you leave them, so they’re tired and are less likely to get stressed. This process will make you being at work far less worrisome for them and help to prevent separation anxiety.
Mental and Physical Stimulation
Ensuring our dogs have all the physical and mental stimulation they need reduces the risk of behaviour problems developing. Your dog’s breed will determine how much stimulation they need.
As well as walking our dogs, most dogs will need extra mental stimulation too. This could include playtime with you. You can introduce puzzle toys or make up games (such as hiding their treats) to get their mind working.
Seek Help If Needed
If you’re struggling to cope with your new dog’s needs and they’re exhibiting behaviour problems, try to seek help first to resolve the problem rather than rehome them. There are lots of great articles, videos, and guides online to help you cope. The Battersea Dogs and Cats Home have a range of great advice on dogs and puppies.
If your local restrictions allow, you can also attend puppy or dog training classes to help you get back on track. If you have the resources, a professional dog trainer is an excellent option.
If you’re struggling to financially take care of your dog, local charities such as the PDSA may be able to help you. The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals (PDSA) can provide eligible owners with low cost or free treatment for their dogs.
Finally, if you have tried all other options and are unable to keep your dog, you can still help. Contacting a rescue centre than trying to resell your dog ensures they will be well looked after. It also ensures they’ll go to a good home that will provide for them going forward.
Take Extra Safety Precautions
There are lots of safety precautions you can take to try and protect against dog theft. These precautions include:
- Ensuring your dog is microchipped and their details are up to date
- Neutering or spaying your dog so they can’t be used for breeding
- Walking in pairs where possible
- Varying walking routes
- Being aware of your surroundings
- Not leaving your dog alone outside of a shop or in your car
- Carrying a personal alarm
- Keeping your dog on the lead, especially if they don’t have good recall
- Using lockable attachments to lock their lead to their harness or collar
The Blue Cross has a comprehensive list of ways you can protect yourself and your dog against dog theft.
Adopt Don’t Shop
If you’re considering welcoming a new dog or puppy into your household, you can help reduce the number of unwanted dogs by adopting from a rescue centre rather than buying a dog. If you do choose to buy a dog, ensure you buy from a credible breeder and do lots of research into the breed before purchasing.
Dogs are excellent companions and can help us through tough times in our lives. However, it’s crucial we take care of their needs just as much as they take care of ours. It’s important we adopt or buy our dogs carefully and responsibly, so both dogs and owners can be happy, healthy, and safe.
Pet Food Manufacturers Association, (2021), “PFMA Releases Latest Pet Population Data”.
Dogs Trust (2020), “The COVID -19 Crisis Facing The UK’s Dogs”.
Royal Veterinary College, (2021), “RVC Research study reveals consequences of extreme demand for puppies during COVID-19 Pandemic”.
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, (2020), “Battersea Research Reveals ‘Imminent’ Animal Welfare Crisis For Lockdown Pets”.
Direct Line Group, (2021), “Dog theft increases by 19 per cent during lockdown”.
BBC, (2021), “Supermarkets warn pet boom causing food pouch shortages”.
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, (2021), “How COVID-19 Has Changed the Dogs That Come to Battersea”.
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, (2021), “Dog Advice”.
Battersea Dogs & Cats Home, (2021), “Puppy Advice”.
The People’s Dispensary for Sick Animals, (2021), “Our Services.”
Blue Cross, (2021), “How to protect against dog theft”.