Warning That Coronavirus Restrictions Can Prompt Aggressive Behaviour In Dogs

  • 14/04/2020

A dog is a man’s best friend – unless they spend too much time cooped up together.

Families have been warned that Covid-19 restrictions are affecting canines too, with confusing circumstances that can prompt aggressive territorial behaviour, particularly around children.

Cork County chief veterinary officer Edmond O’Sullivan said pet owners should be aware that dogs are undergoing a significant and sudden adjustment.

“With the current restrictions in place, dogs are experiencing increased interaction with adults, teens and young children at home,” he said in a statement on Tuesday.

“This, combined with a curtailment on their normal exercise routine, can lead to confused behavioural cues and signals for the dog and can be dangerous in terms of canine innate dominance and territorial aggressive behaviour. Children in particular can provoke unpredictable reactions in dogs.”

Mr O’Sullivan recommended dog owners should be mindful of the disturbance to their pet’s daily routine and to be aware of any changes in their behaviour. It was also a good time to check up on their general health, he said.

Cork County Council’s director of services Louis Duffy stressed that if anyone had concerns about a dog’s behaviour they should talk to a vet.

The council also said that “much like hugging or hand shaking”, people should avoid petting other people’s animals.

Many dog bites in  are thought to go unreported but there has been an increase in serious incidents in recent years. According to research published in 2015 hospital cases rose by 50 per cent between 1998 and 2013 – the number per 100,000 of population jumping from 4.65 to 5.64.

However, canine experts have said the potential for aggressive behaviour is generally a pre-existing issue and not one that results specifically from a change in environment.

Liane Seiler, a Cork-based veterinary surgeon specialising in canine behaviour, said dogs respond to human body language which has increased due to the amount of time people are spending at home. This raises the potential for confusion and incidents that might escalate to aggression when a dog’s initial reaction goes unnoticed.But she stressed that behaviour in dogs with a tendency toward aggression is not unpredictable.

“Aggression is a symptom of a problem but it’s not the problem itself,” she says.

Patrick Holmes, a vet and head of the Veterinary Officers Association (VOA), took a similar view, saying: “If you have a dog that has a temper problem this would have manifested itself long before this lockdown.”

In fact, Ms Seiler argued that ongoing social restrictions may have an upside for dogs – extra walks.

“My experience is people are actually walking their dogs more often at the moment and you can actually have the opposite effect . . . the dog that may have been frustrated before because they didn’t get the exercise may be calmer.”

Separation anxiety and resulting destructive behaviour are likely to be bigger problems for dogs once life returns to normal, she said.

The Irish Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ISPCA) also believes dogs adapting to having their owners at home is a positive thing.

“Owners do need to be aware of how their children interact with their canine companions and should teach their children how to be safe around any dog,” said chief executive Dr Andrew Kelly.

“But the ‘dominance theory’ was debunked by dog behaviourists years ago...dogs do not have an innate dominance – they are not wolves living in homes, they are domesticated dogs.”

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