Why dogs are the new babies: Has our dog-loving obsession gone too far?

Dressing ‘little Betty’ in pyjamas, pooch playdates… Has our dog-loving obsession gone too far? Michael Hogan reveals just how canine crazy we’ve become.

Dogs are the new babies
Getty Images/Tim Platt Photography

We call ourselves ‘proud parents’ and refer to them as our ‘babies’. We agonise over their names, splash our cash on the latest kit and spoil them rotten. We dress them in jumpers that match our own and make them pose for social media pics. We build our lives around them. Of course you know I’m not talking about our children – I’m talking about dogs. As a nation, we Brits have always been dog-mad, but in recent times this has spiralled into full-on obsession. I’m as guilty as anyone. We adopted a rescue puppy from the Dogs Trust charity a year ago: a staffie cross called Betty. Within hours of her turning our household upside down, we couldn’t imagine life without her.

I tell myself we’re sensible owners who treat Betty like the dog she is. She sleeps in a basket, not our bed. She fetches sticks and splashes in puddles. She rarely gets picked up, let alone put in a handbag. She isn’t allowed scraps from our table, no matter how much she pleads. Yet, deep down, I know I’ve become a dog bore. I post more photos of Betty than is necessary. I talk about her – not to mention to her – more than is probably healthy.

And I’m not the only one. Today’s dogs can lead almost an identical life to their owner – drinking, dining, even going to the office with them. Dogfriendly.co.uk lists thousands of pup-welcoming pubs, many laying on special menus, treats and bowls of water. Ditto dog friendly cafés, which serve the likes of ‘pupcakes’. Both dog and owner can then work it all off with dog yoga (aka ‘doga’). Dog-friendly holidays are doing brisk business, thanks to websites such as PetsPyjamas.com. If you’re more of a festival type, try Dogstival in the New Forest. And for fashionistas there was last month’s London Dog Week.

The ‘hound pound’ is worth a fortune. Data research firm Mintel estimates that Britons spent £1.7 billion on pets in 2018 and predicts a 25 per cent increase over the next four years. Much of this spending will go on doggy daycare services. Career advisers take note: the future is canine. It’s cash-rich, time-poor millennials aged 19 to 38 who are the most likely to lavish money on their pets, fuelling sales of everything from nonalcoholic ‘pawsecco’ wine to pooch PJs.

Why is this generation so canine-crazed? Well, I was only half joking when I said that dogs are the new babies. As we not only have fewer children but leave parenting until later in life, there’s more time for four-legged additions to the family. Some couples view having a dog as a test run for parenthood.

Dogs are the new babies
Getty Images/Tim Platt Photography

Dog names have also become as competitive as children’s. The current trend is for ones befitting a Downton Abbey servant, such as Mabel, Ethel, Alf or Stanley. Our Betty often plays in the park with Reggie, the staffordshire bull terrier owned by Primal Scream’s Bobby Gillespie. As they gambol around together, I invariably point out that ‘Reg and Bet’ sound like an old couple off EastEnders.

Similarly, it has become a ritual to visit friends with new puppies, bearing gifts and cooing adoringly. Once they get older, there are ‘doggy playdates’. All this humanisation of hounds has led to the rise of such icky terms as ‘fur baby’ and women describing themselves as ‘mummy’ to a dog. However, using such lingo isn’t as tragic as it sounds if you’re looking for love on dating apps. One survey found that 69 per cent of women and 38 per cent of men got more matches by adding a dog pic. An affinity for dogs tends to suggest you’re nurturing. And dog ownership makes men more attractive, hence the ‘Hot Dudes with Dogs’ Instagram account.

Indeed, mutt-mania is furthered by those juggernauts of the 21st century: social media and celebrity culture. Ariana Grande, Tom Hardy and Kylie Jenner’s dogs have attracted almost as many column inches as their owners. Oscar-winner Olivia Colman goes everywhere with her border terrier Alfred, Lord Waggyson. When famous couples break up, the latest battleground is over who gets the dog. TV presenter Ant McPartlin is in a custody dispute with ex-wife Lisa Armstrong over their labrador Hurley. Similarly, married YouTube superstars Tanya Burr and Jim Chapman are co-parenting their sausage dog Martha since splitting up.

Almost half of new pups now get their own Instagram profile. The most popular attract millions of followers and lucrative sponsorship deals. Who needs Kardashians when you could have dachshunds?

Insta-hot breeds include bulldogs, pugs and chihuahuas. Other It-breeds? Labradoodles, french bulldogs, whippets, schnauzers and cockapoos. Talking of which, the next mixed breeds predicted to be big are (deep breath) puggles, pomchis, yorkiepoos, sprockers and goldendoodles. I’ll let you work out what they’re a cross between.

Dogs are the perfect antidote to loneliness, providing love and physical contact, while walking them promotes social connection – spontaneous small talk is all part of being out and about with a dog. The rise in working from home is another reason for the increase in dog ownership. In turn, this has led to many offices, including Amazon and Google, becoming pet-friendly.

Dogs are also now more central to our homes. Curled up on Loaf sofas or sprawled on designer rugs, they are part of the décor – hence the rise in high-end accessories from the likes of Mungo & Maud and Fetch & Follow. Many companies will paint their dog furnishings to match your Farrow & Ball walls or supply custom-made kitchen units with built-in dog beds.

There has also been a surge in owners commissioning portraits of their dogs. Remember Matt Goss in the must-see documentary Bros: After The Screaming Stops? ‘This is one of the loves of my life: Alfie my bulldog,’ he said proudly. ‘I had him painted holding a pint of beer.’ Matt was on to something – just as craft beer has taken over our pubs, there is now a wide selection of dog-friendly ales on offer. Betty’s favourite tipple, incidentally, goes by the tasteful name of Bottom Sniffer. Cheers! And, ahem, bottoms up.