Dog trainer Olivia Leathley has struggled to keep up with demand for her services over the past six months.
“I was working seven days a week at one point which was not conducive to my mental health,” says Ms Leathley, who is based in Greater Manchester.
“I’m now starting to spread out my bookings more and make sure I take two days off a week.”
Ms Leathley says there are two main reasons why she has been so busy. First, the large number of people who got a puppy or other new dog during the lockdowns.
And second, the inability of these four-legged friends — and some long-established family pooches — to cope when their owners had to start returning to the office again for the first time since March 2020.
“So many dogs have gotten used to having their owners home all the time that they can’t handle it when they go back to work,” she says. “It’s separation anxiety.
“A good 50% of the dogs I work with are new puppies people have purchased during the pandemic, but the other half are long-established members of people’s families.”
Ms Leathley, who trades as Biker Girl Dog Trainer, was previously a dog walker but switched to training in mid-2020 after earning a qualification and seeing an increase in demand.
“I had so many clients coming to see me with dogs with behavioral issues that it was not possible to continue walking with my clients,” she adds. “But the demand for dog walkers has also increased because people have to go back to work, so I’m outsourcing that work to three other women.”
The number of adopted dogs has increased dramatically during the closures. UK a report estimates that 3.5 million dogs were purchased during the pandemic, bringing the number in the country from nine million in 2019/20 to 12.5 million in 2020/21. This growth follows after the figure remained stable at nine million for three years before the pandemic.
It is also a similar image in the United States, where nine million dogs were adopted by families during Covid-19, bringing the total to 108 million.
People working from home during the pandemic, professional dog walkers, sitters and trainers initially saw none of these new dogs, or most of their regular customers.
“When Covid hit in March 2020, the business just died,” says Richard Hollings, owner of dog walking and boarding business We Will Walk U.
“A number of other dog walkers I know lost their jobs because people didn’t need their help, but we managed to retain a few key clients.”
Mr Hollings, who is based in the Berkshire town of Maidenhead, says things have since turned around since the start of last year.
“We suddenly saw a huge influx of new customers, and especially a large number of first-time dog owners. People had to go back to work for the first time after having a dog or trying to book holidays for the first time since 2019.
“And business hasn’t slowed down since then. We’ve had a monstrous amount of work over the past 15 months, and we’re now fully booked through September. So phenomenally busy.”
In Oakland, Calif., dog walker Merika Reagan says her customers started coming back during the shutdowns.
“Some people came back because they realized that even though they were working from home, they couldn’t give the dog their full attention,” says the owner of City Hikes Dog Walking and Pet Sitting.
“Their dogs were like ‘why don’t they play or hang out with me? “. If the owner is on Zoom, the dog might scratch or bark at the door, and so they came back for that reason.”
She adds that more and more dog owners are getting in touch with them as they start working in the office again and others book vacations again.
Still, it will take some time for City Hikes to return to pre-Covid levels. “Before the pandemic it was me and eight employees, and now it’s me and three.”
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Aaron Easterly is the Managing Director of Rover, a website and app that connects dog owners with walkers and sitters. It operates in 10 countries and claims to have around two million customers.
He says customer numbers returned to pre-Covid levels in May 2021. However, he adds that uncertainty over whether flexible working is here to stay makes it difficult to make future growth projections.
“Of course, we don’t know how hybrid office policies are going to play out and what else the pandemic has in store for us, and so we don’t know exactly what the acceleration in demand will look like,” says Easterly. .
Dr Sam Gaines, canine welfare expert at the UK charity Royal Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals, says that generally speaking dogs need daily exercise to stay happy and healthy. health.
“And like many other organizations, we don’t recommend leaving dogs alone for more than four hours at a time, and for some dogs even that will be too long,” she says. “Using a reputable dog walker or sitter is a great way to provide dogs with the companionship they need, and opportunities to exercise, play and go to the bathroom. “
Back in Greater Manchester, Olivia Leathley also sheds light on another little-talked-about issue affecting locked pets.
She says she now sees dogs that can’t be left alone for a while after getting used to being around their owners 24/7.
“Even though people used to be able to leave their dog for a few hours, now he can’t last 30 seconds on his own!”