The COVID-19 pandemic brought about many changes in our lives, and one of the more unexpected consequences is the behaviour of “pandemic puppies.” A study conducted by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) has shed light on the behavioural challenges faced by these puppies and the importance of proper training and socialisation from a young age. The study, funded by Battersea, an animal rescue charity, has highlighted the need for responsible pet ownership to prevent and address behaviour issues in our furry companions.
According to the RVC study, an alarming 82% of “pandemic puppy” owners have reported resorting to aversive or punishment-based training methods in an attempt to improve their dogs’ behaviour. Aversive techniques, such as shouting at a dog or jerking its lead, were found to be prevalent among these owners, despite their ineffectiveness and potential for causing further behaviour problems.
The survey, which involved over 1,000 UK dog owners, revealed that almost all (97%) of the respondents observed at least one problem behaviour in their young dogs. These problem behaviours ranged from issues with control and attention-seeking to aggression and fear/avoidance behaviours, such as anxiety or fear around other dogs, people, and loud noises.
By the time the puppies reached 21 months old, their owners reported an average of five problem behaviours. A significant 20% of owners reported that their pets had accumulated eight or more problematic behaviours. The most common problem behaviours reported were control issues (84%), attention-seeking (77%), fear/avoidance behaviours (41%), and aggressive behaviours (25%).
The study also delved into the training methods employed by these owners. While 96% of respondents stated that they praised their pets verbally, a concerning 80% admitted to using one or more aversive training methods or aids. Additionally, 39% confessed to using two or more aversive techniques. Aversive training methods can have detrimental effects on a dog’s behaviour and overall well-being.
Dr. Rowena Packer, a lecturer at RVC who led the study, emphasised that these problem behaviours often indicate that a dog is struggling to cope or has not been taught an appropriate response in a given situation. Punishment-based training techniques, she warned, can lead to increased anxiety, fear, and the development of more problem behaviours, including aggression.
Robert Bays, Battersea’s Senior Animal Behaviour Manager, noted that the charity has witnessed a “significant increase” in the number of dogs coming to its centres with behavioural issues, many of which can be linked to the pandemic and the training challenges it presented. Aversive training methods, he cautioned, can further exacerbate behavioural problems in adulthood and damage the bond between pet and owner.
Proper training and socialisation are critical components of responsible pet ownership, and the findings from the RVC study underscore their significance. Ensuring that puppies are exposed to various people, animals, and environments at an early age can help prevent the development of behaviour problems. Positive reinforcement-based training methods, which focus on rewarding desired behaviours rather than punishing unwanted ones, are highly effective and promote a healthy owner-pet relationship.
Nearly 40% of the owners surveyed in the study were first-time pet owners, and 33% found training their pets to be more challenging than expected. Fifteen percent even discovered that their dog’s behaviour was worse than they had anticipated. This highlights the need for accessible resources and support for new pet owners, especially during extraordinary times like a pandemic.
In conclusion, the “pandemic puppy” phenomenon has highlighted the importance of early training, socialisation, and responsible pet ownership. It is essential for all pet owners to educate themselves on positive training techniques and seek professional guidance when needed. By investing time and effort into training and socialisation, we can help our furry companions grow into well-adjusted, happy, and obedient members of our families, pandemic or not.