Puppy yoga could put young dogs at risk, the RSPCA warns after an ITV News investigation into the popular activity.
It’s hard to imagine a more soothing start to the day than stretching back into ‘Downward Dog’ pose, as a German Shepherd puppy scampers around you. But sometimes life’s best things are best left uncombined, at least on a commercial scale.
The rising trend of yoga classes with a litter of puppies can be “incredibly distressing” for the dogs, according to the findings of a new investigation by ITV News in the UK.
There are dozens of companies offering the experience in Britain, where it often features on Hen party itineraries. ‘Puppy yoga’ typically takes the form of a regular yoga session with the dogs in the room, where customers get to pet the pooches at the end (regardless of how lively they’re feeling).
Stars of reality TV shows like Love Island, Made in Chelsea and The Only Way of Essex have also helped popularise the practice on their social media accounts - though there’s no suggestion they were aware of its darker side.
Puppy yoga is available across the continent too, with classes advertised in Paris, Berlin and Marbella, for example.
After months of undercover investigation at numerous puppy yoga studios in England, ITV reporters found an array of basic welfare requirements were being ignored. Experts at the Royal Society for the Protection of Cruelty Against Animals (RSPCA) and elsewhere said many breach basic welfare and safety standards.
5. Puppies were parted from their mothers too early
The first several weeks of a young pup’s life are crucial to their development. As they’re still feeding from their mothers until around eight weeks, most responsible breeders wouldn’t part with them before this age.
But the journalists heard how puppies as young as six and a half weeks old were being put out to play in yoga classes.
At one class in Nottingham, the breeder said that the puppies had just turned eight weeks old, before adding "they've done loads, they do like three [sessions] a day".
ITV calculated that’s at least nine lessons they took part in before they were eight weeks old. That’s up to four hours in these spaces with a fifteen-minute gap in between.
It leaves little time for the four feeds a day that puppies under eight weeks old need from their mothers.
4. Some puppies weren’t given enough water
Dogs don’t have full bladder capacity until they are around one year old. Up to eight weeks, a breeder should have started their toilet training - but it will be far from perfect.
While most customers won’t mind a little puddle of wee in the midst of such cuteness, the investigation found some companies restricting puppies’ access to water to try and keep the sessions dry.
During one hot day at a puppy yoga class in Essex, the reporters questioned whether the puppies had water. “Oh no no, [it] might make them pee more,” the yoga instructor running the class responded.
Esme Wheeler, science and policy officer for dog welfare and behaviour at the RSPCA explained that not providing water poses “a significant risk to dogs.”
“Dogs don't have the capacity to store water in the same way that we do […] so they need constant access, otherwise health and potentially fatality can occur quite quickly,” she told ITV.
3. Sleep deprivation at puppy yoga classes
Sleep also proved elusive for some of the packs of puppies in these classes.
Since attendees look forward to some puppy love - and pay above usual prices for these interactions - class organisers often woke the animals from their sleep to participate.
“Sleep deprivation is a form of torture, and there's no reason to assume that this won't be as damaging to these dogs,” said Wheeler.
“This looks like an environment which has the potential to be incredibly distressing for these animals,” she said of a scene in one class.
The Kennel Club, a UK organisation dedicated to dog welfare, agreed that puppies "shouldn't be moved and picked up at will and that this is really, really quite damaging for puppies, to actually deprive them from what is a completely natural behaviour".
2. Yoga classes may be too bright and noisy for puppies
The environments in the yoga studios that the undercover reporters attended “varied greatly”, they write.
At normal classes, yoga instructors tend to create a peaceful ambience - with dimmed lighting and relaxing sounds and scents helping their students unwind. But the “entertainment” factor behind some puppy classes went hand in hand with a more upbeat approach.
At one class filmed in Liverpool, tiny cockapoo puppies were sent to mix with participants while music played.
“On an environmental level it's incredibly loud, it's incredibly bright,” said Wheeler on seeing the footage.
“This is not a situation in which young animals are going to learn anything positive.”
1. Are yoga classes good for dogs?
More generally, the RSPCA is unconvinced that puppy yoga classes are a good setting for young dogs.
Dogs and yoga both have huge human fan bases. There’s obviously nothing wrong with doing yoga beside your own dog - like popular Youtube instructor Adriene and her beloved blue heeler Benji. ‘Doga’, as it’s known, is a different thing entirely.
But the repeated, busy, stressful environments of some puppy yoga classes could be harming their non-human participants, the investigation suggests.
Despite some companies claiming the classes help puppies with their “confidence”, the RSPCA see them as “the opposite to socialisation”.
“This is entertainment, in my view, which is operating under the guise of socialisation. But this is not to the benefit of the dogs,” added Wheeler.
Is puppy yoga legal?
ITV’s investigation has led some local councils to investigate the businesses in their area.
In England, anyone who commercially keeps or trains animals for exhibition must be licensed under the Animal Welfare Regulations 2018.
But, the news organisation says, the social media spread trend of puppy yoga is somewhat of a grey area, and it’s unclear if any laws are being broken.
Experts are divided on the best way to tackle the unethical side of the enterprise.
Dr Ros Clubb, performing animals expert at the RSPCA, said that the classes should be required to be licensed to ensure the animals are properly cared for.
Whereas Bill Lambert, Health, Welfare and Breeder Services Executive at the Kennel Club, is against regulation, as it might be seen to endorse the activity.