For our dogs’ sake, it may be time to put the smartphone down

by barbara platts

A couple of weeks ago, I invested in a new iPhone. I’m now the proud owner of a white iPhone XR. It’s sleek, it’s beautiful and it’s big.

For several years, I owned an iPhone SE, which is particularly small. I liked the size and didn’t want to upgrade to the bigger screens. But I finally succumbed to the peer pressure, emptied my wallet, and got a smartphone with a large screen. And now, I’m hooked. There’s something about that big screen and the high resolution that makes it nearly impossible to ignore. I’m finding myself on there at random hours for no apparent reason. I’m entirely absorbed, and I’m not the only one. New data from USC Annenberg shows that, on average, Americans spend nearly 24 hours per week online. Sadly, for me, that number is probably much higher since I’m online all day for my job.

Screen time isn’t necessarily always a bad thing. We use screens for work, to learn, and to help us connect with loved ones (to name just a few benefits). But our use has gotten a bit excessive lately and, according to some new research, our four-legged friends could be badly affected by it.

A U.K. study came out earlier this fall that sparked conversation around how our pooches may get anxious and even depressed when we spend too much time on our smartphones. Turns out that the study was mainly about the positive effects pets have on people suffering from mental illness, but somehow the conversation shifted to how harmful our excessive screen time can be on dogs (and apparently some house cats). When we spend time on our screens instead of engaging with our pets, we’re essentially ignoring them, which can make them feel lonely and isolated.

Several animal professionals have come out saying that this is actually a real problem. Iain Booth, a veterinary surgeon and the founder of VetUK, a licensed supplier of pet medications, was quoted in saying how our “gadget dependence” is harming the relationships we have with our pets.

“To understand what’s going on we have to look at the basic principles of how a dog interacts physically and emotionally with a human,” Booth said. “A dog is a social creature, a pack animal. And to the dog you are the bona fide leader of the pack. … But if you’re perpetually attached to your phone, that vital bond breaks down.”

Booth also said that these hours we spend ignoring our pups adds up and can lead to behavioral issues.

In a way, all of this seems intensely obvious. But I must admit that it’s not something I really considered until I got my new fancy phone. My boyfriend and I are the proud parents of two mixed breeds — Cash and June. I write about them often, as I’m a very proud parent. Both June and Cash are pretty good at letting my boyfriend and I know when they want attention. Cash howls and whines when he feels ignored, and June tends to get really close to us and starts pawing at our arms and/or faces. But there are times, particularly late at night when my boyfriend and I are either glued to the television screen or busy browsing Instagram on our phones, that our pups start to look a bit defeated.

So, the question that remains is: What do we do about it? For me, I’ve decided to download an app that keeps track of what I do on my phone. I’m also trying to be more mindful in general about how much time I spend with my dogs when I get home, whether it’s playing with them, exercising together or just giving each one an indulgent belly rub. We will see if it really makes a difference with how much time I spend on my new shiny phone. But I’m certain my dogs will appreciate the extra attention.

Barbara Platts is going to get off of her computer screen now, but you can still reach her at or on Twitter @BarbaraPlatts.