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Poll sniffs out rise in dog ownership during pandemic

More than one in 10 Canadian dog owners have had their pet for less than a year.
Corgi2-Irina-Meshcheryakova-iStock-Getty Images Plus
Cute Welsh Corgi dog sitting on the steps in the town. a dog in the city. Dog in urban landscape

Throughout the COVID-19 pandemic, Canadians have encountered different fitness challenges, prompting decisions that may have been unthinkable in 2019.

In June 2020, we found out that 29% of Canadians had given up completely on exercising, following the suspension of activities for recreational leagues, yoga studios and gyms.

While some of these fitness activities are back in one form or another – depending on where Canadians live – the key message from most health authorities continues to revolve around being outside and avoiding unnecessary contact with others. British Columbians became particularly fond of walking as a fitness strategy. Still, some may have lacked a reason to venture outside of the family home more often.

This month, Research Co. and Glacier Media studied the perceptions of pet owners across Canada. For starters, a third of Canadians (33%) report having a dog in their home, a proportion that climbs to 40% in Alberta.

One of the issues that we were curious about was the incidence of “pandemic pets.” In our survey, more than one in 10 Canadian dog owners (11%) have had their pet for less than a year, including 16% of those in Saskatchewan and Manitoba and 15% of those aged 18 to 34.

Conversely, almost half of Canadian dog owners (47%) have had a dog in the home for five years or more, including 60% of those aged 55 and over and 69% of Atlantic Canadians.

There are some significant differences across the country when it comes to how dogs were selected as pets for a home. More than two in five Canadian dog owners (43%) purchased their pet directly from a breeder, while more than one in four (27%) rescued the animal from a shelter. Smaller proportions of Canadian dog owners bought their pet at a store (13%) or received it as a gift (10%).

The idea of offering a dog a new opportunity to thrive with a different family is more prevalent among women (30%), Canadians aged 55 and over (33%), residents of Saskatchewan and Manitoba (35%) and Ontarians (33%).

One of the biggest geographic differences observed on the survey is related to pet stores. Three in 10 dog owners in Quebec (30%) bought their pet at a store, while the proportion is in single digits in other provinces where more stringent regulations for these sales have been around for years.

There is even a political component for the way in which dogs become part of families. Canadian dog owners who voted for the Conservative Party in the 2019 federal election are significantly more likely to have purchased their pet directly from a breeder (56%) than those who voted for the Liberal Party (40%) or the New Democratic Party (NDP) (37%). Conversely, federal NDP voters are more accepting of rescued pets (42%) than their Liberal and Conservative counterparts (26% each).

Practically all Canadian dog owners are satisfied with their experience (78% “very satisfied” and 19% “moderately satisfied”). Also, four in five (80%) say they have already spayed or neutered their pet, with Ontario leading the way with the highest rating in the entire country (89%). Even more Canadian dog owners (85%) are convinced that their pet has a soul.

When we asked Canadian dog owners about their motivation for getting a pet, the main reason cited is companionship (71%), followed by abiding to the wishes of a family member (42%), fun and entertainment (37%), recreation, such as exercising and walking more (28%) and protection (14%).

Women (31%) and British Columbians (42%) are significantly more likely to look at their dog as a chance to go outside more often – precisely the type of exercise that the pandemic has compelled. Protection is particularly important for Albertans (23%, by far the highest percentage in the country).

Amateur dog owners can access a vast online library of instructional videos and series about how to train a dog. Across the country, the proportion of Canadian dog owners who believe in physical discipline is small. While 18% of Canadian dog owners think it is acceptable to spank, beat or hit the animal, more than three in four (76%) disagree with this course of action. There is a significant gender gap here, with 27% of male dog owners seeing no problem with physical discipline, compared to just 10% of women.

For the most part, Canadian dog owners are on the same page on issues such as satisfaction, companionship and the proper way to discipline an animal. The main differences appear to be related to how these pets were originally selected to become part of our daily lives.

Mario Canseco is president of Research Co.

Results are based on an online survey conducted from February 18 to February 20, 2021, among 1,000 adults in Canada. The data has been statistically weighted according to Canadian census figures for age, gender and region in Canada. The margin of error, which measures sample variability, is plus or minus 3.1 percentage points, 19 times out of 20.