Lockdown Tails: Canine psychologist says lockdown has left stray dogs craving a pat more than a treat

 In this series during the lockdown, we look at how the lockdown has affected the lives of stray animals not just in matters of food but also their mental health
Street Dogs. Credit: TNIE
Street Dogs. Credit: TNIE

There have been stories from around the world about how animals have begun to reclaim the spaces that once belonged to them. People are saying that they can hear the birds tweet, a civet was also caught crossing a road in Kerala. Animals seem quite content to not have people around them and are enjoying this lockdown, except for one species - the most domesticated of them all, also awarded with the tag 'human's best friend' - dogs. It seems like the lockdown has left stray dogs lonely, confused and some, even depressed.

Now, a lot of people have been concerned about the strays going hungry because hotels and restaurants have been shut down, the garbage bins are also empty. As people are not allowed to go outside, the dogs don't have those familiar faces to depend on either. But this problem was taken into consideration during the first few days of the lockdown and many volunteers and NGOs came forward to help out the dogs by providing them with food. But even though that's sorted to some extent, people and experts have noticed behavioural changes in the strays because they don't see humans around anymore. Because more than the food and the treats, the dogs miss the petting and the cuddling.

Sindhoor Pangal, a Canine Behaviour Consultant and the Principal of BHARCS, which is affiliated to the the International School of Canine Psychology, says, "We have to remember that dogs are not like other animals. Most other animals are happy that we are not around and they are thriving. Dogs do not feel happy when humans aren't around. For more than 25,000 years, they have survived with the help of humans and, given an option, they would want to be around us. Even the street dogs. So, us not being around is not good for them. They need us, not just for food but also for social contact and reassurance," she explains. 

Sindhoor Pangal

Pangal says that dogs are moving away from their territories when they are unable to find food but when they go to new places, they sometimes get into fights with the dogs on that street. "Since they have to scavenge for food in new areas, they also get quite stressed out. And because they miss human contact, they are stressed out again. When my husband went to feed the strays this morning, the dogs ignored the food and began to jump on him, asking him to pet them. They desperately want to be loved," she says.

Some may wonder if this could lead to dogs getting aggressive as well but Pangal says that they actually go into a shell and get anxious and feel depressed. "They feel a sense of sadness and loss. They are survivors though and can adapt to new things, make new friends and find new ways to get food but they do still miss those familiar faces," she adds. "Social contact with humans is what we call an 'inelastic' need. That means their survival depends on it. So, being there and giving them contact and affection is important," says the canine psychologist. 

Bismi, who has been feeding over 400 dogs during this period, has seen changes in the behaviour of dogs from day one and has been noting them all down. She also sees that what these dogs miss the most are humans, "They are always looking for them, they want to see if they can find a way to them. They keep seeming to ask for their people. Most humans we found In many spots were also quite accommodating thankfully, reducing the emotional stress on the dogs."

So, when this lockdown does end, would the dogs be overwhelmed by the streets being swarmed by people again? "Well, we can't be certain because this is such a unique situation, so we don't know what to expect. Some dogs might go back to their old spaces. But dogs can cope with new routines too. They find a way to co-exist with their human's new reality. They know that they have to change with us, that's why they are our best friends," Pangal explains.

Pangal says even if we don't have any food to give the strays, we can always bend down to pat them on the head. Because they crave a petting more than a biscuit. So, don't forget to stop on your next trip to the grocery store and say hi to the dogs on the streets, some might be new and you could help feel them more welcome in the neighbourhood.

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