As pet parents ourselves, we know that lockdown has been tough on our furry best mates.
And with a surge in puppy sales, many pet owners are facing a number of unique challenges as we all think about entering a post-pandemic world.
Here at Itch, we always like to do things a little differently.
That’s why when our research uncovered that over half (53%) of dog owners worry their pets will struggle when introduced to a new or different environment, we had to put our thinking cats (sorry, caps) on….
A new interactive experience for dogs
We are developing a prototype of a new interactive simulator, designed to introduce pups bought or adopted in lockdown to the unfamiliar smells of the real world – all from the comfort of their own home.
“The Smellulator” consists of four compartments designed to look and smell like post-lockdown locations that pet parents are likely to visit with their furry friends, and has tunnels connecting the key areas.
Your dog will be able to interact with all elements of the simulator to enable them to become comfortable with unfamiliar smells, before experiencing them IRL.
What will it smell like?
The four chosen scents – inside a pub, a seaside staycation, the office and public transport – were chosen after our research revealed a third (33%) can’t wait to take their pets on a dog friendly staycation, a quarter (25%) are itching to get inside the pub, two in five (40%) want to take their dog into the office and 15% will be taking their dog on public transport.
Our product development team has created the scent profiles of each ‘location’, which will be woven into the fabric of each chamber.
The four scent profiles combine different notes of each location, intended to give a realistic experience for pets. They include:
- Inside a pub: Essences of beer mingled with slightly stale peanuts
- Staycation: Fragrances of a typical seaside staycation, where drops of salty sea air and fish and chips are finished off with a fresh dollop of seagull poo
- Public transport: This compartment contains that all too familiar scent of sweat, morning newspapers and a half-eaten sandwich on a stuffy train or bus
- The office: This section features base notes of freshly brewed coffee and the comforting smell of the photocopier mixed with last night’s leftovers heated up in the microwave
Why are smells important to dogs?
When it comes to introducing dogs to new locations, over a third (35%) of dog owners believe scents are really important to their pets.
Nearly a quarter (24%) think their dogs are a lot more comfortable around smells they are familiar with, and when on a 20-minute walk, over three in five (61%) dog owners say their dog will stop and sniff at least seven times (urine, poo, another dog’s rear end….. pets aren’t fussy).
Oli Juste, leading dog trainer and behaviourist, known for Channel 4’s Puppy School, and a member of Itch’s advisory panel, says that smells and scents play a much more important part in our dogs’ lives then they do in ours:
“Smell is without a doubt their most used sense and that’s because they are so beautifully equipped for it. This amazing “power” may seem effortless but in fact, it means the dog’s brain is bombarded with new information all the time.
“Whilst humans can close their eyes or escape to somewhere quiet and calm when we are overwhelmed, it may be harder for dogs. The dog’s nose is always “on” and they are at the mercy of their environment, who they meet and where they are.
“This also means that when dogs experience new situations, it’s mostly about smells. A great way to help them get ready and deal with these new experiences is through scent exchange. Dogs can get to know someone before they even meet in person or discover a place even before visiting it.”
Oli suggests the following to introduce your dog to new environments via scent exchange:
“You can gather or collect someone’s scent on a piece of cloth, a blanket or a toy, and introduce this toy to the dog ahead of the initial meeting. This will leave the dog extra time to process the scent, get used to it in a reassuring and safe environment and associate it to something pleasurable first, at home.
For example, if you need to introduce a new-born baby to a dog, starting with a blanket smelling of the baby a few days ahead of the first meeting is a great technique, same with cats, etc. And of course, the same can apply with places and environments too.
Coming out of lockdown, we want to introduce our puppies to as many new situations as possible, and also remind our older dogs of these past places they have forgotten about. By doing this gradually through scent exchange you can be sure to not overwhelm your dog, but instead progressively and positively let the dog discover new situations whilst in the comfort of their safe place, and making the experience rewarding for them.”
What other challenges are pet parents facing post lockdown?
We surveyed UK dog owners to understand the challenges their pooches may face entering a post-pandemic world.
Over a quarter (27%) of dog owners admit they are concerned about their four-legged friends being socially anxious as normal life resumes.
Over a quarter are also worried about their pets not getting on with other dogs (26%) and their dogs behaving badly in public (25%). And as peak flea season approaches, 16% are apprehensive about fleas and other parasites hopping on for a ride when they are out and about.
What can you do when it comes to parasites?
As we look forward to warmer evenings, countryside walks, and al-fresco dining; it’s important not to forget that summer time also provides the perfect setting for a parasite party.
Our in-house vet, Zoe Costigan, gave this advice:
“It’s natural for pet owners to feel excited about life returning to ‘normal’ as lockdown restrictions ease. However, owners also need to be aware of the risks their dogs may face when they are in new or different situations.
“The research shows over one in seven (16%) pet parents are concerned about their furry friends picking up fleas or parasites when they are out and about. As we head into peak flea season, and with dogs more likely to be socialising and coming into contact with other dogs, the risks relating to fleas and other parasites will increase.
It is a lot easier to protect your pet against an infestation than to treat one. Therefore owners should consider keeping their pets up to date with a monthly parasite protection routine, such as Itch’s hassle-free subscription. That means they can enjoy all the things we’ve been missing out on over the past year, carefree!”
Sign-up to Itch and get your first month of Itch Flea for free.