New Forest Dog On The Forest Off The Lead

Dog dangers as lockdown eases


Fears that dogs and their owners face problems at the end of lockdown have been raised by the New Forest Dog Owners Group. Owners and their pets will have to adapt to new conditions and may be ill-prepared for the change after COVID restrictions are lifted. Dog ownership has grown considerably in the last year and many are new to the responsibilities of having a pet.


“We understand why dog ownership has grown as people have sought both companionship and something to occupy their time,” says Heather Gould, Chair of NFDOG. “Dogs bring a lot of pleasure, but ownership also has responsibilities and consequences and these can easily be overlooked in the excitement of a new pet.”


The increased demand for dogs has been shown by steep rises in the cost of puppies. These may have come from breeders who do not adopt the highest standards of care and welfare, or understand the basics of dog breeding and developing young puppies. Dog thefts have also increased as the price has risen, bringing greater rewards to criminals.


Meanwhile, new owners have not anticipated the demands a new dog or puppy imposes. The RSPCA says it has recently had numbers of puppies handed in by owners who don't feel they can look after them. Animal shelters are seeing older puppies with behavioural issues being handed in by frustrated owners, and pet sales websites are filling up with listings for puppies being resold.


According to a Kennel Club survey, as many as a fifth of puppy buyers do no research beforehand - and more than a third of puppy buyers take just 20 minutes or less to decide where to get their dog from. Of those puppies bought in 20 minutes or less, almost 15% will experience "illness, ongoing veterinary treatment or death in the first six months - three times higher than the rate for puppies chosen with more time". There are many different, high standards that make a breeder "responsible" - but at the core of these is that responsible breeders work to preserve and improve their specific dog breed, not to make a huge profit.


Another problem has been training puppies and young dogs. In the rush to produce cash, some breeders have short cut the socialisation period dogs need with their litter at the start of life, as well as providing the basics of training. New owners have told New Forest trainers that they can’t find classes due to COVID.


 “There are many options available and even in lockdown it’s possible to access good training resources, with the majority of local training clubs formatting online puppy courses and running classes by Zoom,” says Kate Anderson, a Committee Member of the New Forest Dog Owners Group, who is also a professional trainer. “But without training and thinking about socialisation these dogs and owners are struggling now. Even worse, they will suddenly find themselves out and about in a totally different world to that of lockdown. Basic skills such as recall are key to responsible dog ownership and I worry that many young dogs haven’t been able to be trained properly around distractions”.


Another issue is that once lockdown ends, many owners may return to work, leaving behind dogs which have become used to having the family at home.


“All the extra attention dogs have received from having their owners and families around can lead to problems of separation anxiety for our dogs,” says Kate Anderson. “Owners can take action now to help avoid future problems. If an owner is concerned that their dog may suffer with separation related anxiety, please contact a trainer or behaviourist now. Make a plan of action to lessen the worry for when the dog is left alone. Whilst government guidelines do not currently allow in person training, most trainers are still consulting via Zoom or similar.


Resources which may help include


For further information please ring David Bennett, NFDOG’s communications member, on 01590 623077.