WHETHER for Christmas or lockdown, the message a dog is for life comes from a dog behaviourist who also helps out at a rescue centre.

Jo de Groot, from Cowling, helps ‘problem dogs’ resolve their fears either in a kennel environment or as foster dogs in her own home. She gained a formal behavioural qualification in 2013 and after passing with a distinction set up her own behavioural practice – Anydog Canine Behaviour Solutions – in 2015.

She explained: “I lived in the south east at that time, but eventually the call of home brought me back to Yorkshire and Cowling where I have lived since 2016. I have five dogs of my own which all came to me due to behavioural issues. They are a mixed bunch – greyhound, GSD x husky, collie, Miorotic Shepherd and a short, long-bodied guy of ‘who knows’ descent.

“I volunteer with Keighley-based Aireworth Dogs in Need. Welfare and rescue has always been important to me and I am one of their behaviourists in a professional capacity. I also hold qualifications in canine first aid, puppy care and UK dog law.”

Jo said Covid has created many new words in our vocabulary, but for her the ones she dreads to hear is ‘lockdown dog’.

She added: “Lockdown meant that many people were working from home or furloughed, and for the first time many families were able to own a dog. People went out in their thousands to find one. Puppy sales and prices skyrocketed. Pedigree pups previously selling for £800 were now changing hands for more than double that. Rescues were inundated with people looking for a dog. Any dog would do.

“Don’t get me wrong I totally understand the thought process behind this. Lots of us would have loved to own a dog in the past, but work commitments prevented us. Covid caused fear and depression for many. A dog seemed like a good solution – companionship, long walks in the spring sunshine, kids entertained.”

So what went wrong? Jo added: “Life returned to some kind of normality, and what seemed like a good idea at the time, has now sadly become some people’s worst nightmare. The dog which was a happy family member is now confronted with lengthy periods home alone and likely less exercise. This also in the case of lockdown puppies coincided with their teenage phase, which, in itself can cause behavioural challenges.

“So, enter the room ‘separation anxiety’. We’ve all heard of it and probably lots of people have some understanding of the term. Dogs thrive on routine, the dog that had human company 24/7 and probably lots of volunteer walkers is now thrown into a totally different situation. Dogs will create coping strategies for their new, stressful circumstances, most common are barking, destructive behaviour, soiling and loss of appetite. It’s not difficult to see why, but with understanding, and training they can be helped to overcome this, however there is no quick fix, it will take patience and time to help a dog adjust. The RSPCA estimate 85 per cent of lockdown dogs suffer from separation anxiety.

“People are now confronted with what in their eyes is a ‘problem dog’. If you decide you really cannot meet the needs of your dog rescue is generally the safest option, but they are overwhelmed with a tsunami of owner surrender requests. Vets are being asked to euthanise healthy dogs weekly because the owner can no longer cope and having spoken to one recently, she said she is questioning her career, this is not what she trained for. Make no mistake the mental impact on a vet asked to regularly destroy young healthy dogs is devastating.”

Caroline Porter, chairman of Aireworth Dogs in Need, said they too had seen the results of ‘lockdown dogs’ and had to close their doors to new admissions because they didn’t have anywhere for the pets to go. After the number of dogs entering the rescue slowed down during 2020 and into 2021 which people were able to care for them; later in 2021 the inevitable happened.

She said: “The backlash of those people who rushed out to get a dog as a response to their new situation no longer have the time or commitment to offer that dog. As soon as lockdown ended in April 2021 we began to see our intake requests spiral. We began to notice trends. We were asked to take much younger dogs than normal. Traditionally we’d rarely been asked to take puppies but began to see multiple requests for dogs six months to two years old, the majority with ‘behavioural’ or health issues.

“We noticed that many of those dogs were purchased very young, taken from their mothers too early by breeders more focused on cash than welfare. The very same people who had been begging us for a dog in spring 2020 were now begging us to take their dogs. The children who had been lonely were now back at school.

“So the dogs came flooding in, with a huge pressure on the charity to fund the vet or behavioural treatment needed to prepare the dog for safe rehoming. Our vet and behaviouralist costs for the past year have been £67,000, a significant hike on previous years.”

Jo concluded: “So what can we do? Firstly, dog owners seek professional help for your dog, we don’t judge we respect you for doing the right thing. Volunteering for your local rescue is something that we can all do in some way. Fostering, home checking, fundraising, admin support, cross posting. All of these may result in a dog finding a forever home and in turn freeing up a space for another dog in need of rescue.

“One day the term ‘lockdown dog’ will be redundant but until that time we need to help find a solution for these dogs, they didn’t ask for this and are victims of Covid just as much as humans.”