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Most UK Dogs Suffering Dog Day Blues…

74% OF UK DOGS* EXHIBIT SYMPTOMS OF POOR MENTAL HEALTH

New research has revealed that a shocking 74% of the nation’s hounds, approximately 8.8 million* exhibit behaviours indicative of anxiety or depression, with many showing symptoms as often as weekly.

The most common signs of poor mental health for pups include loss of appetite (36%), destructiveness (32%) and low activity levels (31%). What’s more, dogs who have a loss of interest in things they used to enjoy (30%), who are hyper-active (29%) and incessantly bark (29%) could be bored or frustrated – which are other key contributors to overall canine mental health.

The findings from Guide Dogs come as only 36% of dog owners are able to spot the signs of poor canine mental health and over 24% admitting they didn’t even realise that a dog could suffer with poor mental health.

But many dog owners are proactive, with 38% saying they look for ways to raise their dog’s mood. The most common ways people do so are going on a long walk (58%), pet them (58%) and followed by giving a dog its favourite treat (51%).

But what is missing from many dog’s routines is mental stimulation. A third (34%) didn’t know that not giving your dog’s brain a workout could cause behavioural issues and a similar amount (30%) that it could cause mental health.

Some key activities that they didn’t realise could help were giving them a lickimat (80%), grooming (76%), food puzzle games (56%) and using interactive toys (54%).

On average, dog owners spend between 46 – 60 minutes per day looking to keep their dog stimulated. Guide Dogs advise that age and energy level decide the amount of stimulation a dog needs, but all owners should do enrichment activities little and often and think about quality not quantity. Variety is key; doing something a bit different each day or mixing things up throughout the week is much more interesting for a dog.

The charity advises that owners need to be mindful that, like humans, dogs can suffer from poor mental health and changes in mood – and physical exercise isn’t the only way to keep a dog happy day to day. As a result, it is encouraging dog owners across the UK to incorporate a variety of canine enrichment to help improved a dogs’ mental health and wellbeing.

Chief Scientific Officer at Guide Dogs, Dr Helen Whiteside comments: “It’s an outdated viewpoint to think that dogs just need a walk or two a day to be content. Without different forms of mental stimulation, dogs can begin to show signs behavioural issues, such as anxiety and frustration, which can have a huge impact on their mental wellbeing.

“Dogs can thrive when given new tasks and opportunities to engage. Integrating a mix of canine enrichment activities into your dog’s day-to-day life is the best way to help stimulate their senses, encourage them practice natural behaviours, and improve their wellbeing. As well as being a lot of fun for you and your dog.

“Not all dogs are able to take on the exciting challenges of being a guide dog, but they can all benefit from other forms of canine enrichment.”

To help dog owners keep pets in tail-wagging spirits, Dr Helen Whiteside, Chief Scientific Officer shares her top mutt-mood-boosting tips:

  1. Food-based problem-solving puzzles: These are a great way to slow down food consumption but also a great opportunity to test your dog’s mind, before it is rewarded. Why not play pick a cup with you dog? Simply hide a treat under a cup, encouragingly moving it around each time, releasing the treat when the dog is correct. Dogs can get frustrated if you give them something too difficult to begin with, so start simple – once your dog has mastered the basic you can slowly build up to more complex puzzles.
  2. Lickimats: For some dogs, licking can be a very soothing activity so lickimats are a creative way to help enrich your dog’s eating habits. They have dozens of shapes and grooves built into the mat that extends a dog’s snack time, offering them the feeling of having to hunt and problem solve for their food.
  3. Foraging for toys and treats: This is the best way to satisfy your dog’s natural urge to hunt, problem-solve and play.You don’t even need to spend lots of money on toys – instead make them from household items yourself, for instance why not arrange used toilet rolls in a box with a treat at the bottom of each to be found.
  4. Sniffari’ walks: Try steady walks that go at the dog’s pace, allowing them to stop and sniff wherever they like, take in the environment and who might have been around. Some people compare this to a dog checking their social media!
  5. Interactive toys: Although not a substitute for walks, interactive toys give less active dogs a reason to move – and most importantly encourage owner & dog to play together. Why not try playing fetch or using rope tuggy toys and ‘flirt poles’ perfect for throwing, tugging and waggling for your dog.
  6. Sensory activities:  Set up fun activities that simulate your dog’s senses, such as teaching them to find smelly items or treats or turning on a bubble machine in the garden. You can get bacon-scented bubble solution especially for dogs!
  7. Physical activities: Exercise is essential for dogs to keep them in shape but is also very important for their mental health. If you want to challenge your dog’s physical fitness and its mind – an agility course might suit some breeds, once fully grown! You can actually create your own agility course using tree stumps, low walls or other obstacles you come across.

It is important for dogs to have lots of variation to keep their minds active, however dog owners should be aware than when increasing mental stimulation, their dogs will also need some good quality sleep and downtime too.