Firstly, let me say that sharing your life with a dog is the best thing in the world. They give so much and ask for so little in return, so why is it that so many lockdown dogs are being rehomed, resold or handed in to rescue centres?
We are a nation of dog lovers. In fact, we’re known all around the world for our love of our canine companions, so it’s no surprise that when lockdown came last March, many seized the opportunity to open their homes to a four-legged friend for the first time.
Working from home became the norm and the knee-jerk reaction to this was adding a dog to the family. But many new owners were ill-prepared for the job of raising a puppy or taking on a rescue dog, and animal behaviourists are now reporting a surge in requests for help with separation anxiety and fear-aggression.
Puppies born into a socially restricted environment might lack social and coping skills - not just with other dogs, but with other species including us humans - as well as lacking the skills to cope in their surroundings. In other words, they might have trouble emotionally with the world. The term ‘socially restricted’ is where dogs don’t have the kind of mindful exposure to life they would have under normal circumstances. These can be simple things we took for granted pre Covid-19, such as visitors to the home, regular routines, car or other transport journeys, trips to the vets, puppy classes etc. During the most restricted part of lockdown back in March this would have been especially tricky for both breeders and owners.
People think that the puppy stage is the hardest part of owning a dog, but it’s when they become teenagers and their hormones start to kick in that the hard work really starts. It can be a challenging time, even for seasoned dog owners, and rescue centres are now being inundated with dogs with an average age of just 10 months. The Dog’s Trust has recorded more than 2,000 calls to rehome dogs in the last three months alone. In the time that the dogs have gone from puppies to teenagers we have been in and out of lockdown, back to work and back home again, so is it any wonder that these dogs are scared, confused and have behavioural issues?
A dog’s needs are very basic. They require food, exercise, training and love - a whole lot of love. Give them access to all of these things and they’ll give you their hearts unconditionally. It’s really that simple. Yes, it can be hard work and frustrating at times, as well as a 10 to 15-year commitment to your time and your bank balance, but the pay-off is so worth the effort.
They give you comfort when you’re feeling low. They make you laugh every day – and who doesn’t need a little bit more laughter in their life. They give you a reason to jump out of bed each day and can help you live a healthier, happier lifestyle.
When it comes to exercise, it’s not only the physical that you need to consider, but also the mental. Ask any working dog owner and they will tell you that their dogs can run and run all day with endless energy, but it’s the time spent on mental training that really tires them out. Just half an hour concentrating the brain is the equivalent of a mammoth walk, and what’s more it’s a real bonding exercise too.
But you don’t have to have a working dog in order to brain train. It’s a fun exercise you can do with any dog once they’ve mastered their basic puppy commands, and it will mentally stimulate them and build their cognitive performance.
Dogs are a lifeline to many people who live alone, and this has become especially apparent during the pandemic. I truly believe that you’re never lonely when you have a dog at your feet, and our canine companions are the perfect antidote to the emotional and mental issues we have all experienced in the last year.
At the end of the day, most dog owners will agree that what they really want to achieve is a loving bond with their dogs that, once realised, is unbreakable. And when you get it, boy does it feel good!
The Professor Akira Method is a set of 86 flashcards that form the basis of bespoke brain training for dogs. Available on line at www.professorakira.com and retail at £20 per set.
If you’re struggling with your dog seek appropriate help from certified dog trainers that can be found at www.thekennelclub.org.uk