With over eight million pet dogs in the United Kingdom, and an average of two “owners” per dog, the dog owning population is a sizeable lobby group. So it is perhaps surprising that while the UK sees itself as an “animal friendly” country, there are still many no-go areas as far as dogs are concerned. Many shops and other establishments have “no dogs allowed” signs at the door, many work places refuse to allow employees to bring their pets with them to work, and even public areas are sometimes out-of-bounds to pets. And compared to other countries like France (where it\'s common to see dogs in their owners\' laps in restaurants, even eating from their plates), British people typically have a viewpoint that dogs have their place, which does not mean full integration with human society.
There are many good reasons why the UK’s old-fashioned anti-dog attitude needs to be replaced by a more dog-friendly stance.
Many shops and other establishments have “no dogs allowed” signs at the door
online pet-friendly directories, the “pet pound” is a market that’s growing. If a locality is trying to increase tourist numbers, focussing on pets is a novel and interesting angle that’s likely to attract new customers..
The presence of dogs has been shown to help people cope better in stressful situations, lowering blood pressure and promoting a sense of well being. This effect seems to be universal, whether in college environments, workplaces or retail outlets. Of course, the context is important: some people are frightened of dogs, and this needs to be respected (e.g. with designated “no dog” areas). But overall, the wider acceptance of dogs around us is likely to lead to a reduction in stress in the human population.
Stroking dogs can reduce stress even more
Stroking a dog has been shown to boost the production of serotonin and dopamine, the so-called “happy hormones” which in turn lead to lower blood pressure, improved mood and lower stress levels. If closer contact with dogs is enabled in the environment around us, there’s likely to be more dog stroking, leading to lower levels of human stress.
Prince Harry and a canine friend - Stroking a dog has been shown to boost the production of serotonin and dopamine, the so-called “happy hormones”
Desk workers have been shown to be more productive and creative if they take regular short breaks and enjoy spells of fresh air outdoors during the day. The presence of dogs encourages sedentary workers to take breaks of this type, boosting their work performance for the rest of the day. If this effect is seen in an enclosed workplace, it seems likely that there could be an equally enthusing impact on society in general, from people in their own homes, to libraries to shops and other places.
Employers who allow dogs at work report positive effects on their workforce, with 90% reporting a positive change in the working environment, 50% noticing a decrease in absenteeism, 56% noting an improvement in work relations and 67% stating that having a dog at work has let to better morale at work. Why shouldn’t these positive impacts be spread through society, encouraging everyone to be more positive, rather than just confining the benefits to work places?
There’s no legal reason for dogs to be banned from restaurants
There is a widespread false belief in the UK that dogs are not allowed in premises where food is served, such as restaurants and cafes. In fact, it is only food preparation areas that are out of bounds, not areas where food is served and sold. The only legal obligation for business owners is to make sure there is no risk of contamination and that all food preparation areas are up to specified hygiene standards. So there’s no legal reason why dogs should not sit in people’s laps in restaurants, just as in other countries.
Specially trained dogs can create even more positive impacts in society
From assistance dogs helping children with autism to Animal Assisted Interventions for specific medical problems (e.g. dogs trained to help people rehabilitate after serious spinal injuries), there’s a long list of specific ways that dogs can be trained to carry out tasks to help humans. The more that dogs are accepted into our society generally, the greater acceptance there will be of the therapeutic use of these remarkable animals, to everyone’s benefit.
Wider society, not just workplaces, can benefit from dogs
The concept of the “dog friendly workplace” has become well established, with an annual “Bring Your Dog to Work Day” that’s becoming increasingly popular. A broader perspective is now being encouraged by the Kennel Club, with their dog friendly campaign featuring a “most pet friendly town” award. The idea is that the whole local area can benefit from increased dog friendliness. One small town, Melton Mowbray, is being supported by local business Mars Petcare to create a useful model for the ways that a locality can benefit from being more dog friendly, with the following examples of community-based initiatives.
The PAW-Some Scheme – To highlight which local businesses are pet-friendly - or “PAW-Some”, businesses which agree to support the campaign receive an official PAW-print sticker and are added to a guide that help pet owners find pet-friendly businesses in the town.
Pets as Therapy – The town is focussing on bringing the benefits of pets to local residential care and nursing homes by taking Pets as Therapy volunteers and their pets to the residents.
Pet Ambassador Programme – To reach the next generation of pet owners, a pet ambassador programme is being run in every primary school in Melton Mowbray. Children will explore four learning zones including ‘Pets as Superheroes’ and ‘Poo Corner’, and learn all about how to keep their pets happy and healthy.
Pet-linked activities. A local park - Melton Country Park - is creating new activity trails for both pets and owners to enjoy, encouraging everyone to get outside, increasing their physical activity.
The Melton Mowbray Pet School – A local centre is being established, offering local pet owners expert advice on how to keep their pets happy and healthy through evening seminars.
This summer, the Kennel Club “Be Dog Friendly” awards will be looking for nominations for a wide range of categories, including pubs, campsites, high streets and towns. Do you love dogs? Would you like your village or town to be recognised for being dog friendly? Then follow the lead of Melton Mowbray: if enough towns do this, everyone - dogs and people - will benefit.
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