If you find yourself constantly craning your neck over a phone or tablet screen, you’re probably already well aware of the health problems that can come with that nasty habit. In addition to taking up time and concentration, everything from increased stress to eye problems and joint pain has been associated with excessive cell phone use—however, for some, the consequences are hardly a deterrent.
But, if you knew that your phone use was making your dog unhappy, could that move you to put down the device? Experts are now warning dog owners that excessive phone use doesn’t just have the potential to affect you negatively—it can also be harmful to your pets.
The problem stems from a dog’s need to receive feedback from his human owner, or, more accurately, the problem stems from a dog’s inability to receive feedback from his owner. Because dogs are pack animals, they are social by nature. This means that your dog is often looking to you for feedback or interest in whatever he may be doing. If he doesn’t receive that attention, it can cause him to think that you are purposefully ignoring him. In turn, your dog may become increasingly insecure, and he may even act out as a result of the unintentional message you are sending.
“I'd urge people to put their phones away when they're with their dogs,” says registered veterinary nurse Amber Pickworth. “You might think you're spending quality time with your animal when you take it for a walk, but the minute the phone comes out, the dynamic changes without you even realizing it,” she explains. “If you're walking down the street and your dog sees a cat it will look to you for guidance as if to say, ‘Can I . . .?’
“And because you haven't given a response, as you're engrossed in your phone, the dog simply goes ahead and does what it wants.
“It needs reassurance from you to say either, ‘Yes, it’s okay,’ or, ‘No, stay here.’ If you don't provide that input you're making it anxious and also asking for behavior issues in the long term.”
As a dog owner, it’s important to understand the responsibility that comes with canine care. These days, it can seem virtually impossible to get along without a smart device of some kind, but when you give those devices priority over your pet, it can lead to anxiety, insecurity, and behavioral issues.
“We're a nation obsessed by our mobile phones,” said veterinary surgeon and VetUK founder Iain Booth in an interview with Metro UK. “But this gadget dependence is jeopardizing the important relationships we have with our pets, particularly dogs and to a lesser extent house cats.”
Sometimes we need to remember that our dogs don’t just depend on us for food and shelter, they also need love, compassion, and attention. So the next time you’re out taking your dog for a walk and feel the urge to open an app and stare at that screen, just keep walking and focus on enjoying the company of your favorite canine: in the end, you’ll both be glad you did.