Over the course of the pandemic there has been a rise of puppy purchases in the U.K. as many households felt like it was the perfect time to acquire a puppy to be their lockdown companion.  

Dogs are often shown in research as having a positive impact on people’s mental health and wellbeing and some dogs even work in therapeutic fields, for example Pets as Therapy Dogs. A study by Washington State University in 2019, showed that just 10 minutes of petting a dog or cat could have a significant impact on stress reduction, principally by reducing the hormone cortisol. Research has also shown that 84% of patients with PTSD (post-traumatic stress disorder), when paired with a service dog, have reported a significant reduction in their symptoms, with 40% being able to reduce their medications (statistics Hopkins medicine).  

Due to the many challenges of the pandemic, with its associated lockdowns and restrictions, many have experienced increasing amounts of isolation, anxiety and stress. The idea of purchasing a pet to help and remedy the feelings has seemed like a sensible strategy for some. Many households saw these months at home as an opportunity to get a dog, perhaps due to the increasing time spent at home making it purportedly easier to care and look after their new canine friend. After the first year of the pandemic, 3.2 million pets were bought (source Pet Food Manufactures’ Association) with a large proportion of these being dogs.  

However, many new owners had not fully considered how their dog would settle into their post-lockdown life.  This has led to a significant number of dogs being put out for adoption. Between 27th and 28th of December 2020, 144 calls were made by owners to the Dog’s Trust about the possibility of giving up dogs, with 19 of these being puppies under the age of 9 months, (source Heart). One very real challenge is that many people do not always consider the cost of a new puppy, with insurance, vet bills, and food this ends up being very expensive. 15% of owners are worried about whether they can afford to keep their dog (statistics the Kennel Club). 

Another challenge that is often overlooked when taking care of a lockdown puppy is that socialising dogs and puppies is much more difficult due to the many restrictions. Socialising is a big part of a dog's life for them to get along well with other dogs. Lockdown has also restricted puppy training classes. With many members of the household being at home during the pandemic, dogs and puppies have become used to people being at home all the time. When restrictions were lifted and allowing people to go back to school and work, it no doubt came to quite a shock to dogs as they were not used to being left alone for long periods of time. 

The pandemic also brought a heavy increase of young dog purchases on the puppy market. Nearly 1 in 4 pandemic puppy owners believe they have unintentionally bought their puppy from a puppy farm (statistic- the Kennel Club). Puppy farms breed dogs in inhumane conditions. When buying a puppy online it can be quite difficult to check if the puppy is being kept in good conditions. This is why it is often a good idea to visit the puppy before buying them to make sure the environment they were brought up in is safe. However due to the pandemic it has been increasingly more difficult to visit homes and kennels, making the process of buying a puppy even more stressful than it ordinarily would be.  

All of these factors, partly due to the pandemic, have restricted the potential possible positive puppy impacts on mental health to be fulfilled. Owners and potential owners really need to fully consider the pros and cons of dog ownership before taking the very serious step of acquiring a dog if the positives are to lead to well documented mental health benefits of owning a four-legged friend.