As we are all still dealing with the global pandemic, the anticipated rise in dogs ‘not being socialized’, and subsequent behavioural issues and dogs being relinquished to shelters has risen. But can we attribute this to the pandemic or are we using this as a convenient excuse to justify our own shortcomings. I can’t recall us ever not being allowed out of the house to exercise and walk the dog during all of the lockdown periods. So, why do I hear so often that dogs are not socialized due to lockdown? You don’t have to go to groups or busy areas to socialize your dog, there are plenty of opportunities to socialize your dog whilst adhering to any government restrictions.
If your dog misses out on the critical socialization period, you can’t just ‘get it back’ at a later date. Missing out on key socialization may impact on your dogs behaviour and welfare, for their lifetime. Dog guardians are then faced with the prospect of commiting time and finances to treat their dogs behaviours, some of which may have to be managed for the lifetime of the dog. Many families cannot or will not do this and sadly the dogs are relinquished or even euthanized due to being incorrectly labeled as ‘aggressive’ or having undesirable behaviours.
As a behaviourist I can’t help but wonder if as an industry we did enough to support vulnerable families with dogs during the pandemic. The pandemic has created a generation of dogs that may have poor socialization skills and this may have a much wider and longer term impact on future dog generations, including health, increased euthanization rates and poor breeding programs. In some cases these dogs many of whom have long term behavioural issues that require lifelong management have been bred for profit, during lockdown. So, the impact of poor socialization during Covid may take several generations and a greater focus on moral and ethical breeding before we begin to see cases reduce.
Covid 19 has undoubtedly led to an increase in relinquishments and poor socialization related behaviours however, we have also contributed to this rise. Unethical impulse buying of puppies to keep the family company during lockdown, and their subsequent relinquishment because the family are back in work, or they didn’t realize the care needed for a puppy. Constant bombardment and scaremongering from the media and social networks during the pandemic led many dog guardians to stay indoors and be frightened of taking their dogs outside, missing out on that critical socializing time period. As much as my article has highlighted our own shortcomings, I do believe we can learn from these experiences and be better prepared to care for the long term welfare of our dogs in the event of future protracted lockdown periods.