OPINIONS LAST UPDATED : 06 JULY 2021
Lecturer in Psychology, Dr Emma Tecwyn, discusses the 'Pandemic Puppies' phenomenon.
For lots of people living under COVID-19 restrictions, it suddenly seemed the perfect time to get a dog. Lots of time at home, not much else to do, so why not?
Plus, there is evidence that having a dog can improve people’s work-life balance, and they provide a reason to get outdoors, which is known to be good for mental wellbeing. There are even some claims that dogs can ‘cure’ loneliness; fantastic for people stuck at home alone.
An estimated 3.2 million UK households welcomed a new pet into their family during lockdown, with dogs and cats the most popular animals, according to Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association.
Socialising a puppy early in its life—by providing positive encounters with as many different events, environments and situations as possible—is essential for a dog to learn how to behave around other dogs and people, and to learn the appropriate way to react to everyday events. Failure to properly socialise a puppy can result in it being fearful of new experiences, which can result in aggression towards other dogs and/or people.
Socialisation is a challenge at the best of times and requires a concerted effort on the part of the owner, but has been especially tricky with COVID-19 restrictions. Many pandemic puppies never had visitors to their home, didn’t interact with other dogs on their walks as people maintained social distancing, and were unable to experience crowds of people, children playing, or dog-friendly cafes and pubs.
Dogs are cognitively complex animals—especially in terms of their ability to reason about their social world. For example, research has shown that dogs understand human gestures and facial expressions, and even experience jealousy. Their remarkable social skills mean that dogs develop close bonds with humans.
Unfortunately, during the pandemic, many young dogs have not been introduced to spending time on their own. After all, lots of new dog owners have had no reason to leave the house—or even to be in a different room from their puppy. This has resulted in dogs that cannot cope with “alone time”, or even suffer from separation anxiety, resulting in extreme stress and potentially destructive behaviour when left alone.
Now, with restrictions lifting, people’s lives are gradually starting to return to “normal”. Dog owners are returning to the workplace, socialising more, and either leaving their dogs home alone, or realising that a dog no longer fits in with their lifestyle. As a result, there is now a threat of people relinquishing their pandemic puppies.
A Kennel Club survey has found that almost a quarter of owners fear they will not be able to provide a suitable home for their dog post-lockdown and that 17 per cent have considered rehoming. The Dog’s Trust charity warned between August 2020 and January 2021 there was a 41 per cent increase in traffic to its Giving Up Your Dog webpage.
Unfortunately, many of the dogs who are given up may have behavioural problems that have resulted from a lack of early socialisation or not having been taught to spend time alone, thus making them challenging to rehome. Behavioural problems like separation anxiety can be overcome, but this can be a slow process and requires a commitment on the part of the owner to gradually help the dog become accustomed to being alone.
Dr Emma Tecwyn Is a Lecturer in Psychology at Birmingham City University and has conducted research investigating the cognitive abilities of dogs.