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Shutterstock/Emma Jocelyn

Dog behaviourist 'Puppy yoga is a bad idea, nothing about it is ever good for the dogs'

Suzi Walsh says using puppies in yoga classes raises concerns about consent, exploitation and animal welfare.

PUPPY YOGA CLASSES are increasingly popular around the world, enticing people with the allure of puppies as a unique attraction. Although new to Ireland, the experience around these classes and the welfare of puppies has not been ideal in other jurisdictions. 

You can see why people might think it a good idea to go along, what’s not to love about a nice yoga class, complete with the cutest, softest and playful puppies? No harm, right?

Well, maybe we should all stop here and ask ourselves: Are the puppies there because it’s good for them? What are they getting from it? Do they have a choice? What about their welfare? Am I satisfied they’ve made their way here today because this is ultimately for their good, or is this just for my entertainment?

Let’s look at what exactly puppy yoga is and why it should be avoided…

Latest craze

Puppy yoga is worryingly emerging as a new fitness trend where members of the public engage in yoga while interacting with puppies. Much of the time, in various locations around the world, organisers can be found claiming there are benefits to both the participants and the puppies. Some providers of this global craze contend that interaction with animals reduces stress and anxiety while helping with well-being (presumably for the yoga participants). 

While this holds true in theory, the reality is that all of this relies on the animals themselves being relaxed, calm and content. Additionally, the idea that there are benefits for the puppies here, that it allows them to strengthen their confidence and learn to behave out in the world really doesn’t stack up. My view is that socialising puppies in this manner is likely to have the opposite effect.

cuterelaxingpuppyyogasession Puppy yoga. Shutterstock / Emma Jocelyn Shutterstock / Emma Jocelyn / Emma Jocelyn

Using puppies in yoga classes raises concerns about consent, exploitation and animal welfare. Exposing young, often untrained puppies to unfamiliar environments and handling by numerous strangers can be stressful and potentially harmful to their physical and emotional health. Puppy yoga has been criticised as a ploy designed to entice the public into booking expensive spots in what is essentially a standard yoga class.

What exactly is happening to the puppies in these classes?

An investigation carried out by ITV recently uncovered some disturbing truths about puppy yoga classes in the UK. The growing trend comes on the back of the rise of social media, where posts to Instagram and TikTok help raise the profile of many influencers. 

When the investigative reporter questioned if the puppies had access to water during classes, the response was that it would only cause the pups to urinate more. Dogs should never have restricted access to water, they have the inability to sweat or store water in the way that humans do and therefore they can overheat fast leading to potentially fatal consequences. During this investigation, it was discovered that some pups were as young as six and a half weeks old, barely weaned and unvaccinated. It found that some users would pay up to £40 British pounds for a session. 

In a commercial environment, dog yoga classes should adhere to the same standards as other enterprises involving animals. They should require a welfare officer or veterinary specialist to be on-site at all times. This is a standard practice in the TV & film industry, and yoga classes should be no different. The welfare of the pups should be a priority but that cannot be the case if the participants’ needs are prioritised over that of the puppies. In my opinion, such investigations demonstrate that yoga class is not an appropriate setting for young puppies. 

Is puppy socialisation not a good thing?

In my long experience as a dog behaviourist and trainer, socialisation is about introducing a young animal to something in a way which is gradual and calm, they must have the freedom to choose to move away.

At such a young age, it is crucial for their confidence development to experience the world at their own pace without being overwhelmed. Negative experiences during the first four months can impact their behavioural development. Introducing new experiences — such as meeting people, encountering other dogs, and exposure to various noises and objects — should be gradual, controlled and occur when the puppy is relaxed.

While we often discuss the lack of socialisation for dogs, but I have learned in my many years of this work that overexposure or flooding a puppy with stimuli can have equally severe consequences for their well-being.

These may include:

1. Fearfulness: A poorly socialised puppy may become fearful of new people, animals, environments and experiences. This can result in chronic anxiety and stress. For example, some have criticised the practice of repeatedly handling a pup over the course of a yoga class, and having the puppy passed from one person to the next. This is likely to create an aversion to people as well as an avoidance of handling. There’s a significant distinction between a puppy genuinely enjoying being handled and one that is merely tolerating it.

2. Aggression: Fear and insecurity can manifest as aggression towards people, or unfamiliar situations.

3. Poor Coping Skills: Without proper and gentle socialisation, a puppy may struggle to cope with changes or unexpected events, leading to overreaction or avoidance behaviours.

Other criticisms include concerns that a yoga class is long for a puppy. They have short attention spans and need lots of rest. Puppies need plenty of food and lots of undisturbed sleep. This is very difficult to achieve if they are participating in several classes in addition to being transported to and from a venue.

So where do the pups come from for this yoga? Certainly, the UK investigation found that the craze can be ‘a sort of marketing tool for puppy sales’ and lead to ‘irresponsible puppy sales’. The obvious fear is that unscrupulous breeders will step in. Responsible and compassionate breeders should never subject their young puppies to these environments if they aim for them to grow into confident and content adult dogs. I should make it clear, however, that puppy yoga is new to Ireland and there is no evidence of the involvement of any puppy farm animals. 

Regrettably, there are always irresponsible breeders who prioritise profit over the welfare of dogs, leading to numerous victims of illegal puppy farming each year. Last year, there was a record number of surrender requests, highlighting the urgency to stop supporting the unnecessary breeding of dogs. Puppy yoga only makes the breeding of pups that bit more attractive to those looking to make a quick buck.

Why do we need puppy yoga?

The answer is, “we don’t.” Instead, I would encourage anyone seeking positive interactions with puppies and dogs to volunteer with their local rescue centre, where teams work tirelessly to help animals in Ireland.

There, you can walk a dog, transport a puppy, or simply lend a hand, knowing you’re aiding dogs rather than supporting puppy farmers and backyard breeders.

While puppy yoga may appear harmless and enjoyable on the surface, a closer examination, particularly of experiences abroad, reveals numerous ethical, environmental and societal concerns. Yoga is a massively beneficial class to take in its own right, and there are some terrific studios offering amazing classes all around Ireland. I encourage you to do it for yourself without the need for an additional gimmick.

Suzi Walsh is an expert dog behaviourist and dog trainer. She has an honours degree in Zoology and a Masters in Applied Animal Welfare and Behaviour from the Royal Dick School of Veterinary. She has worked as a behaviourist on both TV, radio and has also worked training dogs in the film industry.

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