Dog in woman's arms

Photo by freestocks on Unsplash

PULLMAN, Wash. - The internet tends to question (playfully) whether we deserve dogs (dogs, bruh), but a Washington State University study found human and dogs in fact deserve each other during the COVID-19 pandemic.

WSU says the pandemic is strengthening the bond between humans and dogs like never before, surveying thousands of people during a study conducted by a WSU human-animal interaction expert.

WSU College of Education professor Phyllis Erdman collaborated with a team from three other universities to conduct a large survey of dog owners, delving into how social isolation and other stressors associated with COVID-19 are influencing bonding between people and pets.

The majority of the 4,105 dog owners surveyed stated their pets are playing a critical role in helping reduce feelings of depression, anxiety and loneliness. The research was conducted between March 30-May 1, with most of the participants females living in cities with some type of stay-home orders in place and only essential services open.

“There was just an overall theme of hope,” Erdman said. “It wasn’t ‘Oh no, now I’m with this animal 24/7 and I have to take care of it!’ Rather, most people viewed their relationship with their pets as a reason to get up in the morning and as an opportunity for companionship during a lonely time.”

Many of those surveyed reported pets helping them maintain a regular schedule, coping with uncertainty, being compassionate towards themselves and finding purpose in their lives. Most respondents said they had less social support from people due to COVID-19 restrictions, leading to the strengthened bond with their pet as a result.

The survey found several key metrics and trends, including:

  • Over 70% reported spending more overall time with their dog
  • 42.5% said they were walking their dogs more frequently
  • Nearly 70% said having their pet around decreased feelings of loneliness and isolation
  • Over 50% reported their dogs helped ease depression and anxiety and provided purpose/meaning to their lives during self-isolation

“It seemed to us that it was a win-win for the people and for the dogs,” said Lori Kogan, a professor of clinical sciences at Colorado State University. “The dogs are getting all these great additional walks and play time and the humans are getting a key source of social support.”

Concerns raised during the survey included availability of food, medication or veterinary care rather than affordability. Over half of the respondents hadn't identified a family member or friend to take care of the dog in the event the owner became ill.

Researchers emphasized that it is important to make an effort to maintain this improved bond as COVID-19 restrictions start to ease. 

“We are spending more time with our dogs during COVID-19 than we were before and this makes a big impression on our pets,” Erdman said. “We want to encourage people to value these important relationships and to continue spending time with their dogs as life returns to normal.”