The Impact of Covid-19 on Dog Welfare

Project lead: Prof Rob Christley and Dr Jane Murray

Here at Dogs Trust we strive to help dogs and owners live their best lives together, but who would have thought that 2020 would bring such dramatic changes to our lives, and those of our beloved dogs?

The worldwide spread of COVID-19 changed life as we knew it almost overnight, without any time to prepare. At Dogs Trust we care for thousands of dogs each year, so we know just how concerned owners are about the way their dogs are responding to changes in routines, such as families being at home throughout the day and people wearing masks. To help everyone adapt to new ways of living in the best way possible, we wanted to find out exactly how COVID-19 is affecting dogs’ behaviour, and how owners are managing through the crisis – so, in true Dogs Trust style, we asked you!

Over 6,000 of you responded to our call for help, and became the voice for your dogs, sharing your experiences, concerns and feelings during the most restrictive phase of lockdown. Thank you, we’re incredibly grateful because we’ve studied everything you generously told us and have made some fascinating discoveries!

You shared and we listened… here’s just a little of what we found out!

  • The majority of owners (80%) reported changes that their dog’s routine had changed (57% a little, 23% a lot), with only 1 in 5 owners (20%) stating their dog’s routine had not altered compared with before lockdown. Reported changes included fewer walks and being kept on lead more. Perhaps as a result of this, we also found that more owners introduced home-based activities such as searching for hidden food or toys. Some owners also reported more difficulty when out and about with their dogs especially when other dogs and people were nearby.
  • Just over a quarter of owners reported their dog showed at least one new problem behaviour during lockdown, with Google searches for ‘dog bark’ increasing by around 48% and ‘dog bite’ by around 40%, suggesting people were seeking help for these worrying behaviours. We also found that growling, snapping or nipping children when approached and handled by them increased by 57% during lockdown. These are a dog’s way of communicating that they uncomfortable with whatever’s happening at that moment, suggesting dogs found parts of the lockdown period particularly difficult.
  • During lockdown, there was an 82% increase in reports of dogs whining or barking when an adult household member was busy and a 20% increase in reports of dogs frequently seeking attention from owners. This could be due to owners and families being available at home during the day, however it has left owners worrying about how their dogs might cope once they are able to return to work.
  • There was a 41% increase in reports of dogs being clingy or following people around the house during lockdown, which ties in with concern over dogs coping should they need to be left alone in future. However, a small number of owners (less than 3%) reported that their dog hid away or moved away when approached. Although this was seen in a relatively small number of dogs, it links to the suggestion that some dogs might have found the increased presence of their household challenging during the day.

If you’re as fascinated as we are and you’d like to know more we’d love you to read our full report, which you can easily download here:

Covid Report 2020 PDF 1.74 MB

Other publications:

Impact of the First COVID-19 Lockdown on Management of Pet Dogs in the UK

“More Attention than Usual”: A Thematic Analysis of Dog Ownership Experiences in the UK during the First COVID-19 Lockdown

What are the team at Dogs Trust doing with everything we’ve learned?

We’ve been working hard to provide owners with helpful advice on managing situations dogs might find difficult, such as:

- managing routine

- coping alone

- coping with the whole family being around throughout the day and managing group activities safely

- having a place to rest in undisturbed and get that vital sleep

- being able to relax as visitors are welcome again

- introducing facemasks in an enjoyable way

- a variety of indoor activities that provide a dog with fun enrichment, especially when outdoor exercise is restricted

You can find all this information, and more, here

We’ll also be doing some more research into how dogs and owners responded as lockdown restrictions began to lift and further changes to living arrangements took place, which we will be sharing in due course. So, watch this space!

We’re sure your dogs would like to thank our team of researchers for their hard work, they’ve certainly earned a well-deserved treat, or two!:

Prof Rob Christley, Dr Naomi Harvey, Dr Jane Murray,

Katharine Anderson, Dr Emma Buckland, Dr Rachel Casey, Kassandra Giragosian, Dr Lauren Harris, Dr Katrina Holland, Dr Kirsten McMillan, Dr Rebecca Mead, Dr Sara Owczarczak-Garstecka, Dr Melissa Upjohn