How Will COVID Shape Dog Ownership Long Term?

Picture of a woman and her dog

As we pass the one-year mark of the global pandemic known as COVID-19; unfortunately, things seem no closer to resolution. With many families in forced lockdown, working from home and their children homeschooling, people are feeling isolated and alone. Since man is a social creature, thriving on interaction with others, many people are considering adding a pet to their family to provide the companionship they crave. At first glance, this seems like an ideal solution. After all, with all of the family at home to care for a new pet, there is no doubt that Fido and Fifi will get all of the love and attention he or she can handle. But upon a deeper examination, there are some flaws in this logic. With greater demand than ever for puppies, rescues, and adult dogs, breeders and shelters lack enough companion animals to provide the supply, creating another problem: overbreeding and importing from other countries without appropriate temperament testing and health checks put into place. What legacy will the coronavirus leave on our world? How will COVID shape dog ownership long term? 

Are There Benefits to Purchasing a Dog During COVID-19?

For many families, the decision to purchase a dog was in place long before COVID-19 affected their world. These people carefully thought through which type of dog would be the best fit for their lifestyle then committed to researching breeders until they found one who seemed to offer what they were looking for and joined their waiting list. With this much forethought going into the purchase of a puppy, most families in this situation are well-prepared to welcome a new canine bundle of joy when the time comes.

However, COVID-19 has created an environment in which many people feel lost and deeply lonely. Without the ability to engage in their regular social activities, many are looking to fill that void and arrive at the conclusion that a pet is the perfect solution. While some of these families are prepared to give a puppy or an adult dog a permanent loving home, others may end up regretting this decision. Still, there are definitely some positives to be gained from families who feel prepared to give a dog a forever home during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Here are some of the advantages COVID-19 offers families looking to commit to a new family pet:

  • More time to spend with a dog

With many communities now in a mandated state of self-isolation, more people are at home than ever before. For many families, this means lots of time on their hands; time they need to do something with. During a normal time of year, most families maintain a hectic schedule of kids’ activities, work, school, maintenance appointments, and much, much more, leaving them with only a limited amount of time to devote to a dog; let alone a puppy. In this respect, COVID-19 offers them a great benefit: the luxury of time to lavish exclusively on a new family pet. 

  • Better opportunities for training

Though physically attending a class for puppy socialization, basic manners, or puppy obedience is not an option in many areas of the country, the time has never been better for teaching pups, both old and young, some new “tricks.” Many professional trainers are offering online classes for dogs of all ages. With a simple click of a button and a quick tap to pay the fee, dogs and their owners can join a Zoom class to teaching everything from basic life skills to agility foundations and much more.

To help encourage dog owners looking to compete with their dogs, the American Kennel Club also launched several opportunities for people to complete titles in such disciplines as Rally and the Do More With Your Dog trick dog program. These online classes give owners the chance to do something fun with their pooch, providing a much needed social outlet during isolation times.

Always wanted to teach a dog to come when called? COVID-19’s imposed restrictions mean there is no time like the present for an owner and a dog to bond over training sessions. COVID has enabled families to finally accomplish things they have long wanted to do with their pets but always lacked the time and/or resources to make a priority. 

  • Release from stress

Research shows that the simple act of petting a dog is a great stress relief. In addition to this, pet ownership increases physical activity which provides additional health benefits to owners through lowered blood pressure and decreased feelings of anxiety.

  • More hands at home to help with the work

With both parents and children home during the pandemic, there has never been a better time for all hands to be on deck to care for a new pet. Purchasing a dog during COVID-19 allows for children to learn the responsibility of caring for an animal, providing more time for them to invest in activities such as feeding, basic grooming, and training. This shared pet ownership also increases family bonds as each member of the family is involved in a common activity. 

Picture of a woman walking dog during covid

What is the Down Side of Adopting or Purchasing a Dog During COVID-19?

No family goes into the purchase of a pet with the intention of later rehoming it. However, with emotions running high and very few opportunities for a release from stress, many people are making impulse decisions without truly considering the impact they will later have on their lives when life returns to its normal course.

There is no question that there are many disadvantages that may rear their ugly heads for families who opt to bring a new dog into their home during the uncertainty of COVID-19. Among things that deserve fair consideration are:

  • Longer waiting times for a puppy, rescue, or adult dog

With a pandemic that has now affected the entire world for over a year, breeders receive far more puppy inquiries than ever before. For breeders with highly popular breeds such as Golden Retrievers, Boxers, and even Labradoodles, this can mean waiting lists stretching as long as five years from the date a family first inquires about a puppy.

Likewise, shelters and rescues are experiencing a phenomenon they have never seen before: more people wanting pets than they can provide. The few pets waiting in shelters or rescues for homes are often animals that require special care that many families cannot provide. This increased demand puts pressures on both breeders and rescues to come up with dogs from somewhere, anywhere; a problem that is not good for anyone involved, but especially not for the dogs.

  • Overbreeding and importation of unsuitable dogs on the rise

With ever increasing pressure on breeders, shelters, and rescues to meet the public demand for puppies and adult dogs, it is inevitable that people will make choices to try to help solve this ongoing problem. Unfortunately, the perceived immediate “solutions” continue to propagate, leading to an even bigger long-term issue.

The solution to the inability of a breeder to supply a demand is simply to breed more. While many reputable breeders refuse to change what plans they have in place, insisting on maintaining what is best for their dogs and themselves, some will be swayed by the appeal of a far greater income and will begin to breed much more frequently at the expense of the dogs in their care and possibly the puppies they produce. Breeding more often can mean not giving sufficient rest time to female dogs between litters, and in some cases, breeding dogs that have not been health tested or that are far too young to physically and emotionally manage a litter well. When this happens, everyone suffers.

Since there are always countries in the world with overpopulation problems, the answer for shelters and rescues can be as simple as importing dogs. However, with resources extremely limited in many third world countries, many dogs come into the United States that have not been properly screened for contagious diseases and that may have unstable temperaments. While these dogs may fill a void short term in the lives of people wanting a pet, they come with great risks. Many may become ill or transmit disease to other pets within their community. Some will express poor temperaments which can include both dog and human aggression, leading to tragedy and heartbreak all around when very well-meaning management attempts fail. 

  • Lack of choice leading to poor suitability in puppy/dog choice

Because we live in a society that wants to be gratified immediately for their every desire, many people are unwilling to wait for the things that they want most. This often means that people become desperate enough to take any puppy or any dog, regardless of whether the dog in question is a good fit for their family. Since every dog is a unique creature and every dog breed displays its own set of characteristics, not every dog is suited to every family. This can mean that families who are urgently seeking a dog may end up purchasing the first one that becomes available, only to later discover that that dog is a very poor fit for their lifestyle and must be rehomed. This situation benefits no one, least of all the dog or puppy in question. 

  • Poor opportunities for puppy socialization

For families fortunate enough to purchase a puppy or adult dog with an excellent temperament, it is still important for them to continue the solid foundation begun by the breeder through regular and appropriate socialization. Unfortunately, the COVID-19 restrictions in most states have made it impossible for families to provide the enrichment that puppies need to learn to function well in their new world. As a result, puppies that left their breeder as well-adjusted, happy pups begin to express undesirable behaviors such as fear, shyness, aggression, separation anxiety, and more. These behavioral traits are very difficult to overcome without the opportunity to take the puppy into normal societal situations for proper and safe exposure to new stimuli. Once these behaviors are established in a dog, they can be challenging, if not impossible, to correct. 

  • Impulse purchases leading to higher surrender rates at shelters

For people that make a snap decision to add a dog or puppy to their home, buyer’s remorse may soon follow. Though not always the case, it is a heartbreaking situation for a family to come to terms with the fact that they made a poor decision, and now, must remedy it by returning the dog to his breeder or surrendering it to a shelter.

With overbreeding and importing from other countries increasing the number of available dogs in an area, more and more people will gain access to purchasing a pup or adult dog. Sadly, in time; when the realities of the responsibilities of that impulse purchase become clear, many people will be faced with the reality that they cannot care for the dog and will make the sad and difficult decision to surrender it. As more and more people commit to this, shelters will become overcrowded with pandemic puppies and adult dogs, and the reverse situation will come into effect: far more puppies and dogs up for adoption with only a very limited number of families to place them with. Though many states have adopted no-kill policies at their shelters, this situation may cause them to question that practice if they become so overcrowded that they cannot take in new surrenders and have difficulty placing the dogs already in their care. 

  • Return to work making caring for a puppy’s needs untenable

For some families, adding a pet to their home does not become a case of buyer’s remorse. They love their dog and want to keep him as a part of their family. However, COVID-19 isolation has lulled many people into a situation that does not reflect their normal lives at all. The time they have to devote to a pet while on lockdown suddenly evaporates when Mom and Dad must return to work and the kids to school. This loss of time cannot be bought back. Their puppy becomes confused and may act out at this abrupt change to its daily routine, and in time, it becomes clear that the situation is untenable, and the puppy must be placed.

  • Limited veterinary care available

COVID-19 has caused most veterinary clinics to offer only very limited services. These services are often restricted to emergency care only. This means that routine health issues such as vaccinations, spays, neuters, and wellness checks are no longer an option in most areas of the country. Since most families are not prepared to deal with heat cycles, this can possibly lead to oops breedings, contributing even more puppies into the pandemic cycle.

How will Covid shape dog ownership long term? At this point in time, it is difficult to say. For many families, this is the ideal time to consider bringing a pet into their home. Others may make an emotional decision that they will later come to regret. Only time will tell how the effects of the choices being made today will impact the future of dogs in the United States. One thing is for sure, we all have the best intentions, and we pray the outcome will be for the best for every dog involved.

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