How is lockdown affecting Dogs? University of Lincoln

Dog at a window

Scientists appeal to dog owners: How is life in lockdown affecting man’s best friend?

There are global concerns about the impact of the unprecedented COVID-19 pandemic and resulting lockdown on human mental health, and leading animal behaviour scientists are now asking for your help in exploring how the current situation is also affecting some of our closest companions. Experts from the University of Lincoln, UK, and the Human Rescue Alliance USA want to know how stay-at-home orders are affecting pet dogs around the world.

Led by Professor Daniel Mills, Professor of Veterinary Behavioural Medicine in Lincoln’s School of Life Sciences, the research will shed light on how this stressful time might be impacting the welfare of pet dogs, and what longer term effects it could have when they suddenly find themselves home alone again when owners go back to work.

A recent study by Professor Mills and his team has already revealed that separation anxiety in dogs should be seen as a symptom of underlying frustrations rather than a diagnosis in itself, and understanding these root causes is key to effective treatment. Their work identified four main forms of distress for dogs when separated from their owners – these include a focus on getting away from something in the house, wanting to get to something outside, reacting to external noises or events, and a form of boredom.

It came with a warning to pet owners not to over-indulge their animals during self-isolation.

Professor Mills said: “The COVID-19 pandemic has caused major changes to people’s lives across the globe. While we obviously hope we will not experience anything similar again, this does give us a unique opportunity to examine the effects of major changes to routine on our canine companions.

“There is certainly some limited data and anecdotal evidence from clinicians that if people are off work for a prolonged period – for example, if they break their leg and have to stay at home – their dogs can get a false sense of security and may then be at greater risk of suffering from separation anxiety when they later return to work.

“We now have the chance to understand, on a much greater scale, how this change in routine is really affecting our pet dogs, and we are appealing for your help. We would love to hear about your own experiences and invite you to take part in our new scientific survey.”

The researchers are inviting all dog owners, aged 18 years and over, affected by this situation to participate in their global study by filling in monthly. People can take part by visiting the online survey.

The survey involves some simple questions about the lives of owners and their dogs during this time, and then some follow-up questions once a month for up to six months. Each of the surveys will help the University of Lincoln and Human Rescue Alliance to understand how dogs are currently coping, and will continue to cope after the pandemic.

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