Pet cameras and activity trackers are flying off the shelves. Demand for anti-chew sprays, automatic feeders and water fountains for pets has rocketed, and dog walkers and sitters are being inundated with inquiries.
As lockdown restrictions ease, dog owners are snapping up products and services that will enable them to monitor and care for their pets while they are out at work.
The recent boom in pet ownership means many “pandemic puppies” – pets who were acquired to provide companionship or family entertainment during lockdown – have rarely experienced being home alone, while older dogs have also become accustomed to having their owners around all the time.
“A lot of these dogs are going to have separation anxiety when their owners go back to work,” said Debs Webster, owner of Woof Squad, a dog-walking service in Cheshire that specialises in small to medium dogs. As well as spending six hours a day walking dogs herself, Webster says she has had to hire two new walkers to meet demand from new clients. “I’m going to take on another person next month. I think by the time everyone goes back to work, my client base will probably have doubled.”
At Deansford Kennels, just outside Kidderminster, Robin Depper is also experiencing an unprecedented increase in demand for his services. Bookings for kennel boardings have increased tenfold since March, he says, but following the pandemic he is now more focused on providing “doggie daycare”. “We have been inundated with inquiries for daycare services since people have started going back to work. I’ve never seen anything like it in the 37 years I’ve run these kennels.”
At his paddocks in the countryside, dogs spend the day playing together and going for walks, so they “never feel lonely” without their owners. This kind of daycare is especially popular with new dog owners, he said, who want to be sure their dogs feel safe and “entertained” as they return to working outside the home.
Other owners are turning to subscription services that provide music and TV programmes designed to help dogs overcome anxiety, loneliness and boredom while they are home alone. Spotify and Amazon Prime have started offering playlists and TV shows made specifically for pets, while the streaming service RelaxMyDog has seen an 18% rise in subscribers over the past six weeks. Nicknamed “Petflix”’ by users, RelaxMyDog takes dogs stuck in front of the TV on “virtual walks”, with the camera often positioned at the height of the dog and a soundtrack that is meant to help them “chill”.
“Demand is certainly increasing as people prepare to go back to the office – especially among owners of ‘pandemic puppies’ who did not prepare well enough for the reality of pet ownership,” said founder Amman Ahmed.
Business is also booming at PetTech.co.uk. “Over the past few weeks, we’ve seen a 50% increase in demand for smart pet feeders, which are automatic feeders of dry food that people can control from an app,” said owner Michael Wainwright.
Other popular products include water fountains, which provide the pet with a constant flow of fresh water, and pet cameras with motion sensors, night vision and two-way audio. “If your dog or cat’s being naughty, you can tell them to stop doing what they’re doing,” he said. Some cameras also enable owners to remotely dispense a treat if the dog obeys their voice commands.
At the chain Pets at Home, there has been a “massive growth” in the number of dog owners buying pheromone calming solutions for their anxious pooches, says director Claire Gavin. “They mimic the mother dog’s pheromones and have a calming influence when the dog is left.”
Fitness trackers, which enable owners to check just how much exercise the dog walker has given their dog, are also proving popular, along with long-lasting natural chews that safely occupy a dog who is left alone in the house, and anti-chew sprays that deter bored dogs from gnawing the furniture.
But Gavin is concerned by the growth she is seeing in sales of puzzle toys, which dogs love because they dispense treats when the dog solves the puzzle. “Some of them have little bits and pieces that could prove a choking hazard.”
Jenna Kiddie, head of canine behaviour at Dogs Trust, was in favour of cameras that allow owners to monitor their dogs for signs of separation anxiety. “An owner able to see this can take action to help their dog. However, owners should be mindful that automatic treat dispensers and owner intercom technology could cause inadvertent reinforcement of undesirable behaviours.”