Recent studies from the UK have confirmed my long-held beliefs that both Janice and Leroy hate my trusty iPhone. Now, my regular readers know that I am familiar with behaviors that demonstrate when a dog is a bit needier than is healthy. I wrote about ways you can help your puppos to be less needy and even how to recognize behaviors that show your dog has fallen into such a pattern.
Yet, there is a huge difference between the needy dog and a dog that is bummed out over your love of your smartphone.
Recognizing the Signs
The needy dog is not always easy to identify and will usually display a pattern of behavior that could be constant, or just as easily, periodic. So, how can you tell if your dog is needy? They are going to show signs that they dislike being away from you for even a few minutes at a time.
- Do you trip over your dog too often?
- Do they cry or whine if they cannot get to you (i.e. they become upset whenever you are in the bathroom…with the door closed, of course)?
- Does the dog seem to be a bit too excited by your return home?
- Does the dog seem to use “attention seeking behaviors”? As one expert said, “almost all dogs in the world display some type of attention-seeking behavior patterns…so they aren’t always thought of as problem behaviors.” Yet, jumping on people, barking a lot, and a constant demand for play time ARE problematic, attention-seeking or needy behaviors.
If you said yes to one or more of those questions, it’s likely you have a needy dog. Does it mean that your dog cannot also hate your smartphone? No, and it may even be more likely that your dog is going to become needier as your attention on your smartphone increases. Keep in mind, though, that even the most well-behaved and well-trained puppos can become upset if you have a smartphone…or, more accurately, a smartphone fixation.
The Rise of the Smartphone
I have been saying that Janice and Leroy hate my smartphone, but that is not as accurate as it could be. What the two of them seem to hate is the amount of time I might spend using it. I’m the first to admit that I hesitated to get a more advanced phone out of the fear that it would come to monopolize my time and attention. To this day, I only use it for music, emails, podcasts and a few apps like Uber and to order takeout…and as a phone, of course! I don’t play games or do a lot of internet surfing on it…but millions of other dog owners do, and it is taking a noticeable toll on their pups.
News from Across the Pond
In mid-September 2018, news stories began to appear in different UK-based publications. The Daily Mail, for example had this headline: “Your smartphone obsession may be making your dog sad: Expert warns pets are struggling to compete with devices for their owner’s attention”. Upon reading it, I turned to Leroy (who likes to keep my feet warm as I work) and asked, “Did you write this?”
While I initially chuckled at my own joke, the article sobered me up right away. After all, it outlined lots of evidence and research that proved that our rapid re-focus of attention and interest in mobile devices has already shown signs of weakening bonds between humans and their dogs (as well as their cat companions).
One of the experts in the story said that “dogs are likely to feel sad or act out as a result” of our fixation on our phones. In fact, the article opened up with a solid truth that could not be ignored, “Human relationships aren’t the only ones that suffer when you spend too much time on your phone…Dogs especially may feel sad when their owners focus most of their attention toward a screen, and may even develop behavioral issues as a result, veterinarians warn.”
My interest in the latest news stories and Instagram images is making Janice and Leroy sad? I won’t lie, I felt like tossing the phone in the nearest trash can after reading it but decided it would be a costly over-reaction. Instead, I hunkered down to understand more about what might be going on AND helping myself and my readers to do something about it!
So, just what is it about our smartphone fixation that is making dogs really, REALLY hate the devices? Here are three of the biggest issues
It Is Reducing Your Physical Health
Dogs count on us for a lot of things, and one of them is the time we spend in physical play and activity with them. And though you might have the dog at the end of a leash or take it out to the fenced-in yard, if you are doing so with only half of your attention or focus (allowing the other half to be on the phone), neither of you is getting the benefits you should.
According to an article in The Seattle Times, “every hour spent on a device is likely to be an indoor, sedentary one. Screens are stealing time that [we] should be spending on physical activity and sports, reading, or creating and engaging directly with others…all of which are critical to healthy physical and social development.”
While that is discussing human health and social development, it applies just the same to you and your dog. Before your fixation with a smartphone, the idea of “going for a walk” meant the two of you out and about together, both experiencing the different sights and sounds. You probably took a toy to play with or headed somewhere the dog could romp and play with your attentive gaze and even your physical interaction.
After the phone? You hold the end of the leash in one hand and use the phone with the other. You don’t notice that a squirrel or another dog is nearby, and you definitely don’t run around like a kid, playing with your puppo.
Now, that has an impact on the relationship, but think of the exercise you are missing. Those ten thousand steps per day for a healthy life? You won’t ever get them if you are busily staring at the phone. This can have long-term effects on your health. Since you are the center of the world to your dog, your declining health is going to be detrimental to them, and your immediate lack of physical energy or interest will create an emotional response in them, too.
It Is Causing You to Fail in Your Role as Pack Leader
Not only is your physical disconnect and declining physical health going to be a key reason that any smart pup comes to resent or even hate a smartphone, but your emotional and mental disconnect will, too. Why? Because you have consider your “role” in your dog’s life. As that article in The Daily Mail noted, “gadget dependence is jeopardizing the important relationships we have withour pets, particularly dogs…Much of this boils down to dogs’ role as pack animals…Without feedback from the human with whom they’ve bonded, the pets may become sad and emotionally distant”
Pointing to the “basic principles of how a dog interacts physically and emotionally with a human,” the article goes on to remind us that we are whom dogs look to for every “facet” of their lives. We feed, teach and nurture, and when we are more focused on our phones instead of our role as the “pack leader”, it destroys a key and crucial bond; leaving pups devastated and at a loss. They no longer get the constant stream of feedback, support and approval they need.
The article reminded readers about this, saying your dog “wants to please you – that’s simply how its evolutionarily hard-wired.” And, just think of this for a moment, whether you adopted a dog before or after you started to use your phone too much, you cannot alter that fundamental construction of a dog’s psyche.
Because of that, we hit the third reason dogs have every right to hate smartphones…
It Is Making Them Depressed
By this point, you might be thinking something similar to what one of my friends said when I spoke with them about this. “Oh, c’mon!” she shouted, “It’s not like I spend hours on the thing!” So, I challenged her to track her usage and see how she compared to the statistics gathered by the UK study.
The research, published at the end of 2017 had this to say about “average” smartphone usage:
- Adults spend roughly 9.5 hours PER DAY looking at screens (phones, tablets, TVs and computers)
- We reach for our phones 4,000 per year
- Most phones are unlocked 28 times per day (1/3 of these actions are compulsive rather than necessary)
- The apps we most often use are not essential, including Instagram, Facebook and WhatsApp
- Experts in addiction found that more than 40% of the daily and annual phone “checks” were compulsive
- Most people spend at least one full hour each day using their mobile device
What did my friend discover about her smartphone use? She agreed that she was spending more than one hour each day “looking” at it. She is like me and uses it for podcasts in the car and audiobooks while exercising on her bike. However, she hung her head in shame when she realized she “checked” the phone about 20 times each day, and felt she probably looked more than that but toned it down a bit because she was tracking her usage.
She also admitted that her cat became visibly irritated and would leave her side or climb down from her lap if she was using the device in bed or on the sofa. Yes, as the studies said, it can degrade human relationships with all pets – cats and dogs.
So, it is reasonable to say that our lack of focus on our dogs might be making them a bit upset. As that UK article said, we might believe we are dedicating quality time to a dog when we are out for a walk, “but the minute the phone comes out, the dynamic changes without you even realizing it.” And this is where behavioral problems and depression creep up.
A story on this issue from CBS said as much, noting “Dogs do read body language. They read our eye contact. They read our facial expressions, so if we are on our phone and acting disinterested, and they’re looking for attention it basically is annoying your dog.”
That annoyance can quickly turn to depression when the dog begins to realize it is no longer as significant to you as the pack leader. Without your guidance, attention and obvious signs of love and affection, the dog may do some of the following:
- Lose interest in food
- Sleep more
- Avoid you or even hide from you
- Excessively lick or chew their paws
- Creating mayhem when you are not around, i.e. shredding, chewing, destroying things in the home
As to that last warning sign – do you recall ever hearing someone say that neglected kids do anything for attention, and that even bad attention is better than none? The same goes for neglected puppos. Yet, shouting and punishing dogs acting out on your smartphone obsession will only further erode the relationship.
As another news article advised, “why not make a vow to be more present, to put down the cell phone, and to spend more time enjoying the world – and more importantly, the dog – that’s right in front of you.”
If you have trouble with it, you can follow the tips from that article in The Seattle Times:
- Recognize how much digital use is really needed and what has become a habit of “responding, posting and self-distraction”
- Start small and add a bit more time to each day without the phone
- Become conscious of what nurtures you…is it the latest Facebook update or that wonderful time spent canoodling with the dog?
Smartphones might have been designed to give us more time, but they seem to be taking it from us, too. Don’t let it harm your relationship with your dogs (and friends, family and the world around you), and use this moment as the time to unplug from the phone and reconnect with the world.