Around the world we have all felt the impact of COVID 19 and the resulting restrictions and lockdowns. Several studies have revealed how the restrictions have also impacted dogs and their owners.
A British study showed that four times as many dogs had company all day during “lockdown” compared to the number of dogs who did pre-lockdown. In addition the number of dogs in the study who typically were left alone for two or more hours a day dropped from 48.5 percent before COVID restrictions were put in place to 5.4 percent during the restrictions.
The dogs in the same study were walked on a leash and less often than before the restrictions resulting in the dogs having fewer interactions with other dogs. Owners also reported that they played with and trained their dogs more often during the restrictions than prior to them.
Another study looked at the impact of the company of dogs on humans during lockdown. Not surprisingly, researchers found that dogs (and other animals) were sources of emotional and physical support for people. They also identified specific challenges for the owners such as accessing veterinary care, coping with the loss of a dog and, particular to essential workers, arranging care for their dogs.
A US report indicated one US childrens hospital had treated three times as many children for dog bites than usual since the COVID related restrictions were put in place. The report authors suggested that increased child-dog exposure (due to children being home rather than at school), the dog being affected by the general stress of their household, and inadequate adult supervision of children around dogs contributed to the large increase.
As COVID 19 vaccinations become more readily available, many dogs will go through yet another change as owners spend more time away from home and their dog. This could lead to many dogs experiencing separation related issues. Other dogs may need to adjust to seeing more people or spending more time with children if their owners are providing childcare to assist parents returning to work.
Owners can help their dogs adjust to changes in a number of ways, some of which are:
- Learning a new activity together. If in person classes are not available, there are fun, online, reward- training courses owners can take. A new activity can build self confidence in a dog and challenge the dog mentally.
- Taking advantage of the online resources and learning dog body language in order to recognize signals that indicate the dog is feeling stressed and make changes before things escalate.
- Providing enrichment activities and food dispensing items to keep the dog busy and engaged.
- Arranging for the dog to have social time with dog friends if the dog enjoys the company of other dogs.
- Practicing leaving the dog alone for short periods of time and gradually building up the time so the dog becomes comfortable.
- Arranging for appropriate care for the dog in the owner’s absence.
If you are an owner who will be providing childcare for parents who are returning to work, plan to supervise closely, to teach the children appropriate behavior around dogs and to give the dog somewhere to go away from the attention of children when he needs it. Access online programs and learn how children should and should not interact with dogs. Involve children in the learning.
Hire a qualified, certified force-free trainer or behaviour consultant or enlist the help of a veterinary behaviorist if your dog has behavioral issues he needs help with like separation distress or anxiety.
It looks like more changes are in the way for many and, as dog owners, we can make these changes as comfortable as possible for our dogs.
Jane Bowers, BA, CPDT-KA, CABC
Christley, Robert M., et al. “Impact of the First COVID-19 Lockdown on Management of Pet Dogs in the UK.” Animals, vol. 11, no. 5, 2021, https://www.mdpi.com/2076-2615/11/1/5. Accessed Feb 2021.
Dixon, Cinnamon A., and Rakesh D. Mistry. “Dog Bites in Children Surge during Coronavirus Disease-2019: A Case for Enhanced Prevention.” The Journal of Pediatrics, vol. 225, 2020, pp. 231-232, https://www.jpeds.com/article/S0022-3476(20)30824-6/fulltext. Accessed 02 2021.
Shoesmith, Emily, et al. “The Influence of Human–Animal Interactions on Mental and Physical Health during the First COVID-19 Lockdown Phase in the U.K.: A Qualitative Exploration.” International Journal of Environmental Research and Public Health, vol. 18, no. 976, 2021, https://www.mdpi.com/1660-4601/18/3/976. Accessed 02 2021.