With everyone spending much more time at home during the coronavirus pandemic and loneliness at a high, lockdown might have seemed like the perfect time to buy or adopt a dog.
Puppy sales have been at an all-time high this last year, but it seems that the pandemic might have had some major consequences for our four-legged friends.
According to new research by pet wellness experts Itch, more than a third of lockdown dogs haven’t ever been to a park, with as many as three in five (62%) never even leaving their own home.
If that weren’t sad enough, two out of five pups are yet to be introduced to another dog and almost half have never met a child.
The results also showed that 71% of new owners are concerned their dog will have separation-related issues once life returns to normal.
More than 40% had also experienced regret over their decision to purchase a puppy, with many admitting they hadn’t realised the amount of work that goes into raising and caring for a dog.
Oli Juste, leading dog trainer and behaviourist, known for Channel 4’s Puppy School, is the first member to be announced on Itch’s new advisory panel; a team of animal experts, who are helping make pet wellness a priority for all four-legged friends with practical advice and guidance.
Oli spoke about the findings and shared some advice for re-integrating your puppy into post-lockdown life.
He said: “With a growing part of the population experiencing loneliness, it isn’t surprising that in a moment of hardship, such as 2020, many fell back on a ‘man’s oldest friend’… the dog. However, Itch’s study suggests some are finding dog-parenting more challenging than they thought.
“It’s extremely worrying to read that 62% of ‘lockdown pups’ haven’t been in an environment other than their home yet. Although you can always train an older dog new tricks, when it comes to socialisation, we only have a small window to get it done. The socialisation period needs to be done & dusted by the 16 th week or about. These dogs will therefore need special attention.
“When re-integrating your dogs back into post-lockdown life, start teaching them fun exercises and games away from distractions first, and ensuring they are kept engaged and focused on you will help them to remain calm and polite towards other dogs, therefore safer too.”
Here’s a look at Oli’s top tips…
1. Give them real-life experiences asap: If your dog has lacked opportunities to experience “real life” outside, please do not wait – get them out now,but be gentle and sensitive to their emotions – take it slow.
2. Teach them away from distractions: Start teaching your dog fun exercises and games – at first, inside your home or in your garden (if you have one), and then gradually take them to busier spots whilst still training them.
3. Keep pets engaged and focused on you: It will not only help them remain calm and polite towards other dogs, it will help them cope meeting new friends and in unusual new situations.
4. Get a food dispensing toy: To encourage dogs to be alone, consider investing in a food dispensing toy, such as Kongs or Odins. These can be great at home if they are introduced and used appropriately. For example, make sure to introduce them as games you play together first, to not turn them into a sign that you are about to leave the house .
5. Introduce dogs to kids carefully: With a substantial proportion of the dogs in the study not having met children yet, this needs to be done carefully and sensitively as kids move fast and can react in ways that may either scare the puppies or excite them
6. Use a dog sound library: It may be a good idea to start using Dogs Trust’s Sound Library to get your puppy used to new sounds e.g. a new-born baby and children playing. Play the tracks at a very low volume to start with and of course, whilst playing a game with your dog to keep them cognitively engaged.
Andrew Pinnington, CEO at Itch, added: “The results of the research demonstrate how we need to be turning our attention to the ‘new normal’ for our pets, whenever that may be. Advice from the Itch expert panel provides the help we need to reintegrate our pups back into a post-pandemic society so they can have a rich and fulfilling life.
“Whilst the research has shown some of the challenges of owning a pet, especially during a more difficult time, Itch is here to help make being a pet owner that little bit easier. Itch’s personalised flea and worming treatments, as well as health supplements, are conveniently delivered (contact-free) through the letterbox via a monthly subscription service, meaning that’s one less thing to worry about.”
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