The behavioral challenges faced by pandemic puppies in the UK are highlighted in a recent survey, indicating persistent issues such as jumping at strangers, leash pulling, and wandering off. The research conducted by the Royal Veterinary College (RVC) raises concerns about owners struggling with their dogs’ behavior as they reach 21 months of age, particularly those who acquired puppies during the peak of the COVID-19 pandemic.
Key findings from the survey include the revelation that one-fifth of owners reported their dogs exhibiting eight or more problematic behaviors, including leash pulling, clinginess, and aggression. Additionally, 33% of owners found dog training more challenging than expected, a trend observed more frequently among first-time owners.
Dr. Rowena Packer, a lecturer in companion animal behavior and welfare science at the RVC and lead author of the study, emphasized the importance of thorough research and awareness of the responsibility involved in dog training. Many new owners, she noted, may have high expectations but struggle when confronted with the reality of training difficulties.
Another issue identified by Packer is the tendency to anthropomorphize dogs, attributing human thoughts and feelings to them and labeling certain behaviors as “naughty.” She stressed that dogs require teaching and socialization for activities like walking on a leash and interacting with other dogs and people.
Despite difficulties, only some struggling owners are experienced. Phil Wright, who previously owned several Labradors, faced separation anxiety and leash-related issues in his pandemic-acquired black Labradors, Scout, and Harper. Wright attributed these problems to increased time spent together during lockdown, affecting the dogs’ behavior.
The RVC survey, involving over 1,000 UK dog owners, indicated that 97% reported at least one problem behavior in their dogs, with an average of five problems reported per owner. Common issues included leash pulling, jumping up, and poor recall. Control problems were the most prevalent type, reported by 84% of participants, while 25% reported aggressive behaviors in their dogs.
The survey is part of an ongoing RVC project following a group of dogs purchased as puppies in 2020 during the pandemic. While it couldn’t directly compare the prevalence of problems among pandemic puppies with those acquired before or after the pandemic, comparisons with other datasets suggested a general increase in issues among the pandemic puppy cohort.
Concerningly, the survey found that 82% of owners used punishment-based methods, such as choke chains and shouting, alongside positive reinforcement. Such methods, potentially exacerbating behavioral problems, were more common in owners who hadn’t attended online puppy classes during the pandemic.
The RVC advises owners facing behavioral challenges to consult veterinarians, as these issues can impact a dog’s health. They also encourage seeking assistance from professionals registered with the Animal Behavior Training Council, emphasizing the importance of positive reinforcement in training.