Global warming might be causing dogs to become depressed, say pet behaviourists

Leading pet behaviourists say the number of depressed and unsettled dogs they have seen in recent months is unprecedented

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The Independent Online

A boredom epidemic is sweeping through Britain’s dog population – and global warming could be to blame.

Across the country, there are reports of down-in-the-mouth mutts, and under-the-weather canines.

Leading pet behaviourists told The Independent that the number of depressed and unsettled dogs they have seen in recent months is unprecedented.

And they suggested that the spate of wet winters could be at the root of the problem, as owners cut down on the daily walks that are crucial to keeping dogs’ spirits up.

“I’ve been working with dogs for more than 20 years and I can’t remember a time when they’ve been this bored. I tend to see boredom in bursts but I’m seeing it chronically this winter,” said Carolyn Menteith, a dog behaviourist who was named Britain’s Instructor of the Year in 2015.

“They are just really, really, bored. People are quite happy to get their dogs out in frosty, hard weather but not when it’s muddy and horrible.”

“But we have over 200 breeds of dog in this country and an awful lot of them – especially family dogs like Labradors, retrievers and spaniels - were bred to do a job. So they are hardwired to work and need a lot of exercise.”

The lack of physical exercise – and mental stimulation that comes with it - is having noticeable consequences on the nation’s nine million dogs, she added.

Ms Menteith spends much of her time outside walking dogs and has noticed a significant change in the weather in the past five years or so – as cold, crisp winters gradually give way to “constant wet dreariness”.

She – like many scientists and meteorologists – puts this down to climate change and expects to see more bored dogs in the future as global warming unleashes increasingly frequent and intense bouts of winter rainfall.

December 2015 was the wettest month on record in the UK. Climate scientists predict that we can expect more and more mud-creating “extreme winter rainfall” in the coming decades as global warming changes weather patterns.

Sarah Fisher, an animal behaviour counsellor with around two decades experience, has also noticed a level of canine unrest that is unprecedented in her career. Ms Fisher works with horses as well as dogs and has noticed that the boredom is not confined to household pets.

“I’ve never seen our dogs or horses this bored before in 20 years. Horses that have lived happily outside before are saying ‘I actually can’t cope with this mud and wet anymore’,” she said.

“We’re turning them out of their stables and they’re saying ‘Get me back in straight away’.

“They can’t settle, they look bored, but actually it’s to do with physical stress and mental boredom, they can’t go off quietly and graze because they keep sliding around the field,” Ms Fisher added.

So what can dog owners do if they notice that their pets don’t seem to b e themselves?

Dogs need to engage with their environment, to get their heads down and sniff around so that they can use their brains as well as their bodies, experts advise.

So when you do take them out for a walk try to let them play off the leash,  Ms Fisher said.

And most importantly of all, pet owners should worry too much that if their dog is ripping up the house in a bidt to find excitement. 

A large portion of the UK’s dog population is behaving strangely at the moment and it’s not generally the pet’s fault. So rather than being angry with their dog or frustrated owners should try to stimulate them by playing games in the house, Ms Fisher advises.

Earlier this week, research for a new BBC documentary established that dogs love their humans more than cats do – at least in terms of how much of the “love hormone” oxycotin they produce when playing with their owners.

Mood boosters: How to cheer up your canine

Playing games 

You don’t want your dog to go bouncing round the house creating mayhem, but it’s a good idea to quietly play games with it in a safe location either inside – or, better still, in the garden. Toys such as dog balls and hide and treat skittles – small, hollow objects you can hide treats inside – are among the classics of canine stimulation.

Eating

Give your dog more, smaller meals and hide the food. The exercise and mental stimulation involved in finding it is good for the dog and stops them getting too fat. They feel a sense of achievement at finding and earning the meal, which makes them feel much better about themselves.

Stroking

Dogs can get frustrated and stressed when they get bored and stroking them can help to calm them. Slow, quiet stroking on the chest works a treat, releasing oxytocin. But patting and fluffing behind the ears can make things worse by over-exciting them.

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