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Dog Walking before and during the COVID-19 Pandemic Lockdown: Experiences of UK Dog Owners

Abstract: Background: This study investigated the impacts of the first COVID-19 UK lockdown on dog walking and ownership. Methods: An online survey was circulated via social media (May–June 2020). Completed responses (n = 584) were analysed using within- and between-group comparisons, and multivariable linear and logistic regression models were created. Open-ended data were coded into key themes. Results: During lockdown, dogs were walked less frequently, yet for a similar duration per week and closer to home. Dogs whose owners lived alone, or whose owners or household members had heightened vulnerability to COVID-19 were walked less than before, as were high-energy dogs. A minority of owners continued dog walking despite exhibiting symptoms or needing to self-isolate, justifying lack of help, dog behavioural problems, living in less populated areas, and the importance of outdoor exercise for their mental health. Dog ownership had multiple benefits (companionship, purpose and motivation; break from bad; positive to focus on) as well as challenges (changes in dog behaviour, balancing dog needs with public health guidance, accessing pet food/supplies and services, and sharing crowded outdoor spaces with others). Most did not have an emergency care plan for their pet before the pandemic and only a handful developed one. Conclusions: Findings can be used to inform public health and dog welfare strategies for future lockdown situations or other disasters and emergencies likely to impact on daily routines.
Keywords: COVID-19 / pandemic / dog walking / dog ownership / lockdown / public health

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