How do dogs help us during this time? And how has COVID-19 impacted the relationship we have with our dogs? Researchers from four different US universities (Colorado State University, Washington State University, University of San Francisco and Palo Alto University) set out to answer these questions through an online anonymous survey for those with dogs. One of the first things we wanted to explore was how COVID-19 and related schedule/lifestyle changes have impacted the amount of time people are spending with their dogs.
The results, published in June 2020, suggest there are a lot of very happy dogs – 72% of people report spending more time overall with their dog, with 64% reporting more play time and 42% more walk time. Most participants report that this increased time has strengthened the bond they feel with their dog. Sentiments like “He is getting me through this” were common responses. Given the fact that 29% of respondents reported feeling they have minimal social support now (compared to only 8% who felt that way before COVID-19), this bond is more important than ever.
So, perhaps due to a lack of other social connections, it would appear that one effect of COVID-19 is a growing reliance on our relationships with our dogs. It is perhaps not surprising then that dogs appear to help people cope with the myriad of negative emotions that can accompany the changes created by COVID-19. We found that over 50% of people report feeling that their dogs help reduce their feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation and loneliness. As one owner explained, “I’m not lonely because he’s here.” Additionally, 54% of owners reported that their dogs help provide them with a purpose.
Over 50% of people said their dogs helped reduce feelings of anxiety, depression, isolation and loneliness.
It is clear from these early findings that dogs play a critical role for many people during these stressful times. As one respondent noted, “I can’t imagine going through this without them.” It is not surprising therefore, that many owners are concerned about being able to provide for their dog in the future. This concern includes the ability to afford and access veterinary care and dog food/supplies, as well as being able to care for their dog if they themselves contractCOVID-19. To this end, 60% of respondents reported that they have identified someone to care for their dog if they become ill. Yet that leaves 40% who have not designated a caretaker for their dog. There are so many things that are outside of our control these days, but having a plan for our dog if we become ill and need to be hospitalised is something we can do; and, being prepared can help reduce feelings of panic. One tangible way to take control and prepare for the future is to ensure our dogs are cared for in the case of an emergency.
In summary, as we lean into this new future, those of us with dogs can take comfort in knowing that they are here with us on the journey (with more walks along the way). To learn more, you can access the full report at FidoFortCollins.org.