Does this sound familiar? You finally make it out to that new restaurant for date night, or you arrange to meet up with a friend you haven’t seen for ages, and instead of spending the evening chatting and communicating with eye contact, one or both of you is distracted by your phone.
You may see it happening and politely ask the other person to switch off their screen and give you their full attention. Your pet may want you to do that too; the difference is they’re unable to tell you how much your screen addiction upsets them.
In fact, the time you dedicate to looking at your phone or other mobile device might be upsetting your pet more than you think, particularly if you have a dog. As animal lovers, we all know how much dogs respond to praise, affirmation and positive eye contact and, if you’re distracted by your screen, you’re not giving your dog that vital interaction he craves.
Worse still, you may be so engrossed in social media, messaging conversations or You Tube videos that you don’t even notice your pet desperately seeking to engage with you.
It’s a phenomenon that has already been a topic of much media attention when it comes to parents setting a bad example for their children. Some experts have even suggested that child development may be delayed if parents fail to engage effectively through eye contact, conversation and dedicated time together because they’re too busy looking at their screens.
And now, pet experts are warning that the same symptoms of neglect may be affecting our fur babies, with dogs becoming distressed, unhappy and showing signs of behavioural issues because their owner is distracted by the screen of their mobile device rather than showing them affection and rewarding their loyalty with regular eye contact.
In evolutionary terms, dogs are essentially pack animals who look for constant approval and assurance from the pack leader, which, in a domestic setting, is the human that provides food, shelter and interaction. If that interaction is reduced or withheld, regardless of whether you’re still providing complete nutrition, a comfortable home and regular exercise to keep your dog healthy, your pet’s mental health and sense of wellbeing could suffer.
Indeed, some experts have even suggested that the growth in mobile phone usage and our constant use of social media is a major cause of the spike in badly behaved dogs over the past few years. Put simply, dogs are seeking attention by misbehaving or withdrawing because they feel insecure.
So how do we put this right? First of all, it’s important to remember that even the most mobile-addicted dog owner is doing a lot right if you are providing tasty, nutritious food, a comfortable home and regular exercise. No-one is suggesting we throw away our mobile phones but it’s important to think about when you use your phone and how much time you really need to spend looking at it. Try switching it to silent when you’re spending time with your dog and be mindful of your dog’s presence in the room or outdoors so you can look up from your screen to give them some positive eye contact and body language. Ideally, try to limit your use of mobile devices to times when your pet is asleep or busy playing.
In the modern world, humans adapt quickly to changes in environment and new technology, but the furry members of our families are slower to adjust so it’s important to take a step back and consider the world from a dog’s eye view from time to time.