Pandemic puppy boom brings surge in calls about aggressive dogs
The pandemic puppy boom has led to more than just an increase in Fidos and Fluffys across Ottawa. It's also led to a surge in the number of calls about aggressive dogs and dog bites.
According to numbers released by the City of Ottawa, the total number of bylaw calls per year for aggressive behaviour jumped by more than 16 per cent from 2019 to 2022.
Some of those calls can be serious. Last month, bylaw officers charged the owner of two dogs after one allegedly severely injured a 12-year-old boy, while the other dog allegedly killed a neighbour's dog in December.
The city said these four years of calls relate to everything from scratches and bruises, to lunging and bites. Calls may be for altercations between dogs or toward people.
The city said some of the calls could be duplicates, and not all are substantiated.
"It's concerning that we're seeing a bit of a trend where, you know, we've seen a significant increase in dog attacks and dog bites in our community," said Roger Chapman, the city's director of bylaw and regulatory services.
Chapman said it only takes one bite for a dog to be labelled as vicious. Under the city's animal care and control bylaw, if a dog is labelled as vicious the owner must take a series of steps, including muzzling the dog and keeping it in a fenced backyard.
He attributes the trend to people not having as much access to training and socialization for their pets during the pandemic.
"The sheer number of dogs that are out there in the community now has created some challenges," he said.
Dog trainers are seeing the puppy boom first-hand when it comes to their clients — and wait-lists.
"I was probably booking out about five, six weeks before the pandemic hit, for people to come and see me. After we got going again, I was booking out like 12 weeks," said Nancy-Lynn Stoller, who has been working with dogs for more than 20 years and owns Awesome K9 dog training in Ottawa.
Not only is Stoller seeing an increase in the number of dogs, but also the number exhibiting aggressive behaviour. She attributes the behaviour to a variety of factors, from people not having enough time to train their dogs to not spending enough time with their dogs, often relying on dog walkers and daycares.
"The biggest thing from the pandemic was a lack of socialization," she said.
Because everything was shut down, she said many of those pandemic puppies didn't go anywhere.
"They didn't get the exposure, people didn't take them places or they'd be stressed [so] they'd have separation anxiety and you could never leave the house because they're so used to having someone glued, you know, to their side all the time," she said.
When it comes to training a dog to help them become less aggressive or reactive to other dogs, she said confidence is key.
"If you're not confident, they sense it right away," she said.
Stoller said dogs should be able to look to their owners for direction.
"A dog that is an aggressive dog or a dog that is very strong willed, I have to be stronger willed than the dog is, to say 'You're not in charge of this, I am.'"