We are way past peak puppy – it’s time to end the great British dog obsession


When people ask me if I’m a dog lover I always say, “I’m a dog owner – it’s not the same thing.” It’s not that I don’t like my dog; I just don’t wish to be mistaken for some kind of enthusiast. I don’t want to see a photo of your dog. I’m not that interested in talking about dogs. And what I mean by that is: I don’t want to have a conversation about your dog.

I especially don’t want to talk about your dog as if it is a person – a person who offers you support in difficult times, or whose outlook on life serves as a shining example, or who possesses an uncanny emotional intuition. Like I said, I have a dog, so I know they’re actually pretty stupid. Mine is, anyway.

From the start of the pandemic to the first lifting of restrictions, more than 3 million new pets were acquired in the UK – many of them dogs. During that period the average price of a puppy doubled to a staggering £1,900, peak puppy if you will, which is an awful lot for an animal that hasn’t been trained to do laundry. Employees are increasingly able to demand “pawternity leave” from work to help their new pets settle in. As offices reopen, a flurry of new innovations have arrived to ease the loneliness of the at-home dog – or, more likely, the conscience of the at-work owner.

Watch that plate of cookies! A Dog’s sense of smell is 10,000 – 100,000 times more acute as that of humans.

Can I give you a call bark? DogPhone lets pets ring their owners

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Earlier this month we saw the launch of Dog TV – a sort of canine educational network designed to keep your dog stimulated – or relaxed, or whatever – while you’re out all day. In my experience TV means absolutely nothing to a dog – even a cat will pay more attention to a screen – but according to its developers TV for dogs is doing its work even when your dog appears to be ignoring it.

Now comes the advent of the DogPhone – a device that allows your pooch to ring you at will, as if this was always a need waiting to be filled. I can’t really imagine what it would be like to have your phone go off in a meeting and then say: “Sorry, I need to take this; it’s from my dog.”

Goldfish have a reputation as short-lived creatures, but given proper care, they can live as long as 30 years in captivity. The oldest captive goldfish ever recorded was won at a fair in 1956 and died in 1999 at age 43.

In order to provide a pet-friendly interface, the DogPhone is built into a soft ball that places a call when moved. Testing appears to show that even after several lessons, dogs mostly tend to ring their owners inadvertently, sometimes by sitting on the ball: a canine butt-dial. The researchers who developed the DogPhone claimed it was about “giving dogs a choice”, but most of ownership involves restricting a dog’s options: stay off the sofa, don’t eat shoes, even when I’m not here. We might differ about where those boundaries are set, but my first rule would be: don’t call me at work.

INTERESTING FACT ABOUT YOUR PET: Having a dog in the house means more bacteria enters the home and gets inside the occupants (one study found “dog-related biodiversity” is especially high on pillowcases.) In turn, people with dogs seem to get ill less frequently and less severely than people with no pets.

Predictably, as restrictions began to lift in July, the Dogs Trust reported a huge increase in traffic – up 180% from February – to the “giving up your dog” section of its website. People are reportedly handing in their animals as “fake strays” in order to spare themselves the embarrassment of being failed or fairweather dog owners. Maybe the work of caring for the dog was too much, or maybe the emotional hole it filled turned out to be temporary.

It’s easy to think of people who ran out and bought dogs in the first throes of isolation as selfish, but there are probably no non-selfish reasons for getting a dog that didn’t need rescuing in the first place. I have my own selfish reasons for being a dog owner – it eats almost anything I spill on the floor, and as long as it’s in the room I am technically not talking to myself. But in exchange for its smelly, good-natured company I require very little of it in terms of emotional support or affirmation. Nor, to be honest, would I expect much.

Train your pet to understand obedience. Dogs should at least understand basic direction like “sit” and “stay.” In an emergency situation these cues could save your pet’s life.

As I said, I’m a dog owner, not a dog lover. As much as it’s worth reminding people that a dog isn’t just for Covid, I can’t help hoping that the fading of the pandemic will bring a stop all to the madness. At the moment, I can’t see an end to either.