Pandemic Puppies: Tackling a growing problem
In March 2020, as the reality of lockdown began to bite and millions of people began to adapt to their new circumstances, the UK saw a huge increase in demand for pets.
Dogs in particular were seen as a way to gain companionship and give purpose to daily exercise regimes.
According to Pets4Homes, by May 2020 there were more than 400 buyers for every pet advertised in the UK. Pet insurance policies increased by 59%, according to data from LV= General Insurance, and Google searches for “buy a puppy” increased by 115%, with prices for some of the most sought-after breeds reaching record levels.
Fast forward just over a year, and animal shelters are bracing for an incoming wave of animals, and pet sales websites are filling up with listings for puppies being resold.
According to the Dog’s Trust, between August 2020 and January 2021, there was a 41% increase in web traffic to its Giving Up Your Dog page. Battersea Dogs & Cats Home predicts a likely increase of up to 27% more dogs abandoned or left to stray in the next five years.
So why the change of heart?
Dr Tammie King, animal behaviourist at Mars Petcare, says: “We know pets bring a host of benefits for humans, including relieving anxiety and loneliness, so it’s no wonder many people decided to adopt. But complications can occur when their cute bundle of fluff transforms into a juvenile delinquent, destroying any valuable possessions in their path.
“This is normal adolescent animal behaviour, but without the right skills it can be difficult to manage. Many puppies purchased during the first wave of lockdowns will be reaching this stage right now. Combining this with possible separation-related anxiety as their owners go back in to work, it can be a very challenging situation to navigate.”
Anna Webb, animal behaviourist and A Dog’s Life Podcaster, says many of those who took dogs on during the pandemic didn’t consider the longer term responsibilities involved: “Lots were drawn to happy faces on social media, but when their puppy arrived the cute factor soon turned into chaos as puppies are not born trained.
“Once puppies bought last April turn into teenagers – that’s about 7-10 months for a dog – those youngsters can become difficult to manage. When online sites saw a huge increase in re-sales, the dogs were more or less all at that age”
What’s complicating things further is the booming business of online puppy sales. Webb says: “The pandemic may have changed the way dogs are rehomed forever. On a recent show I did with Ira Moss from the charity All Dogs Matter, we discussed how young dog owners who’ve spent upwards of £4,000 – £5,000 pounds on a puppy during the pandemic are now reselling these dogs online instead of bringing them to a shelter, as a means to recoup some of their costs.
“A charity has the resources and checks in place to help re-home a puppy properly, but going about it this way means the animal is often shoved from pillar to post and sold to the highest, and often unscrupulous bidder.”
It’s worth noting that many of these new and exasperated dog owners are young themselves, (59% are under 34, according to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association). This same demographic may be unable to afford dog trainers, as well as more likely to use an online marketplace.
However, all experts concur that owners should beware of advertising or selling pets online and instead opt for rescues or shelters, which have far more expertise to ensure pets are rehomed safely.
Rob Bays at Battersea Dogs & Cats Home says: “Dogs are brought to us for behavioural reasons and also due to changing circumstances, and we welcome all. We always recommend that if people are looking to re-home a dog they go through a rescue or shelter. Before making any decisions, be sure to do your research.”
At the moment, according to Pets4Homes, the most popular dog breed in the UK is the French bulldog, but the greatest spike in demand and interest during the pandemic was the Cavapoo (achieved by crossing the Cavalier King Charles spaniel with the poodle).
Pre-Covid this type wasn’t even in the top 10, but it now leads the pack with a total number of 1,882 prospective buyers for each puppy, compared to 769 per pup pre-pandemic.
Common health problems for Cavapoos include hip dysplasia, epilepsy and eye problems, and while these dogs are renowned for their intelligence and loving temperament, they can also be known for their barking, digging, jumping up, hyperactivity and, you guessed it, separation anxiety. Researching your breed is the number one thing to do before adopting, say the experts, but even if it’s after the fact, it’s still a good idea.
Dr Angela Hughes at Mars Petcare says: “Even after you already have the dog, it’s never too late to research your breed. “It’s important to understand what is hard-wired and innate to the dog and what can be trained and taught. As an owner you need to figure out what you can shape and change. Understand the traits you need to accept, and learn to manage and work with them.”
Tips to calm your dog
Mars Petcare has other tips that exasperated owners can try before taking the dramatic step of rehoming their dog:
Realise that most “problem” behaviour is completely normal. Things such as digging, chewing, barking, scratching, and jumping up are all normal dog behaviours. Your pet is not trying to purposely upset you, they are simply behaving in a way that serves a function to them. Try not to label the behaviour as good or bad, but instead recognise possible reasons why.
Recognise the “good” behaviour and reward, reward, reward! Dogs require training and if you aren’t purposely teaching them what is “right”, they will learn as they go along. Be mindful of what behaviours you want to occur more frequently and reward those when they occur. Toss a treat, play a game or provide a pat (whatever your pet loves) when you notice a good behaviour. For example, if your pet is laying down quietly on his bed, give a reward.
Understand pet body language. Dogs can’t talk to us, but they can tell us how they’re feeling through their body language. Sadly, many people ignore this communication or they don’t recognise subtle signs.
Reduce stress. It’s not just us that gets stressed, our pets can be too. The most common behavioural issues tend to be those relating to fear, anxiety and aggression. These all generally occur when an animal is feeling stressed. Help your pet by providing them with an enriched environment where they have opportunities to engage in species-specific behaviours like long-lasting chews or long walks.
And if all of these options have been exhausted – what’s next? Dr Hughes says: “If things become antagonistic and you cannot live together, forcing it to work is not good for either one of you. You can overcome a lot of things, but you can’t overcome everything. If one is miserable, both are miserable.”
(Article source: Forbes)