Brits are outpacing continental canine owners. And the fact that the English are among the world’s biggest walkers is having a knock-on effect in the world of dog ownership. Plenty of paws for thought.
Do English people walk a lot because they have dogs or do their walking habits simply encourage dog ownership?
The conundrum is now a subject of serious investigation and some of the answers are being provided by technology.
According to data from Tractive, a firm that provides GPS tracking for pets, British dogs are some of the best-exercised in Europe.
British dogs get 177 minutes of activity a day, compared with 160 minutes for German hounds and 170 minutes for the average French pooch.
This means they’re slimmer than their European counterparts. The average British labrador weighs in at 28kg, compared with 29kg and 31kg for its German and French cousins.
And it’s not just their continental canines they’re outpacing. British dog-owners also outwalk American and Australian dog-owners.
As a result, according to The Economist, French dogs are now starting to pack on the pounds.
“Obesity among dogs is acknowledged as a problem,” says Fleur-Marie Missant of France’s Société Centrale Canine.
Some of the problems, according to at least one academic, could also be cultural.
James Serpell, professor of animal ethics and welfare at the University of Pennsylvania, suspects that excessive pampering, as well as under-walking, may contribute to the problem.
“The French are super-indulgent with their dogs,” he said. “They tolerate them in restaurants. I’ve been nudged by strange dogs under the table in France.”
The German government is determined to get the country’s dogs—and dog-owners—off their sofas. Last month the agriculture minister announced plans to require dog-owners to walk their dogs twice a day.
The British devotion to dog-walking, however, may have more to do with the walking than the dogs. Britons are big walkers—they came fifth in the world in a study in 2017, the highest in Europe. Dogs provide walkers with company and purpose, so it may be that walking encourages dog-ownership, rather than vice versa.
But Julien Dugnoille, an anthropologist at Exeter University, suspects dog-walking has a deeper significance. Dogs, he suggests, are a useful aid to a socially awkward nation.
“British people…tend to see dog-walking as a rare opportunity to socialise with strangers, to have a chat and exchange a few jokes and comments about the weather without putting themselves in danger (ie, without being too committed in their interaction).”
A tradition among the British aristocracy of owning and training dogs also leads Dr Dugnoille to speculate that dog-walking retains some of its ancient kudos.
When people in the park say “Max is very well-behaved,” says Dr Dugnoille, “that is a way to demonstrate mastery in the art of taming, an elevation above those dog owners who are ‘not in control of their own dog’, which is the ultimate faux-pas in public spaces.”
But it’s not just about showing off, in his view. A Belgian who has lived in both Britain and France, he reckons the British are closer to their dogs than the French. Walking with one’s best friend “creates a time and space where dogs and humans meet as species and connect as individuals”.