Dogs are lovely. Everyone loves dogs. It’s why over lockdown, puppy sales rose exponentially. According to the Pet Food Manufacturers’ Association, 3.2 million households in the UK acquired a pet during the pandemic, with dogs by far the most favoured choice. It’s why some of the most popular breeds — cockapoos, cavapoos, Frenchies, doodles — now seem to cost the equivalent of a small flat in Chelsea. Some UK supermarkets have even warned of “unprecedented” shortages of dog food, which is surprising, since most of the dogs I know are too pampered to exist on Butcher’s Complete, and tend to eat free-range chicken or burger leftovers from their humans’ most recent Deliveroo.
Even before lockdown, London’s canine population enjoyed an exalted position in the family, one that their Seventies or even Eighties ancestors would barely recognise. How my husband laughs at the idea that dogs die instantly if they so much as sniff a piece of chocolate. That expression “you’re in the doghouse?” It means nothing in 2021. The idea that your beloved dog would spend as much as a moment in an outside kennel when she could be languishing on a sofa by a radiator is as dated as a BlackBerry. So disdainful of the garden is my own dog that if it’s raining, she hesitates even to take a dump outside. Perhaps we ought to build her her own toilet.
With dogs such beloved and valued members of the family, it’s hardly surprising that for some owners, the idea of holidaying without them simply can’t be countenanced. Which is possibly just as well, for if there’s one thing you rapidly come to terms with as a dog owner, it’s that however much enthusiasm your dogless friends, family and neighbours express for looking after doggo if ever you go away, as soon as you raise the possibility of booking a holiday, they become mysteriously busy. Fact: the only person who will ever step up to look after your dog is another dog owner. Not that I blame the dogless for their trepidation. The last time I dog-sat a friend’s pooch, it pooped in my daughter’s bed.
It’s not the dogs that are the problem, it’s the owners who don’t know how to make them behave properly
With this summer looking increasingly likely to be the year of the staycation, there’s never been a better opportunity to swerve the issue of dogsitters entirely, and join the millions of happy fools who love holidaying with their dogs. An entire industry has sprung up around catering to the lucrative “dogcation” market, including Pet’s Pyjamas (www petspyjamas.com), which offers a selection of “Barking Britain” packages tailored to you and your four-legged friend. The most luxurious, at The Treehouses at Chewton Glen in Hampshire, claims to be “the poshest wooden kennel” your dog will ever sleep in: which it ought to be, at £1,350 per night. The package includes your own VIP pet concierge, 24/7 vet advice, spa access (for you and your dog) and lots of home-made treats. A spokesman says that demand for dog-friendly holidays has increased by 388 per cent since the same time last year, with customers eschewing the usual travel hotspots of Devon and Cornwall in favour of less crowded locations such as North Yorkshire and Dorset.
I’d love to say I’m one of these happy fools, but it would be a lie. My dog, Stevie, is almost four now, and still as daft and capricious as when she was a tiny puppy.
“Goldendoodle?” other dog owners will ask, as she leaps up at them with unbridled enthusiasm and muddy paws. “They never grow up.” If you are a newbie dog owner in the market for taking your dog on holiday this summer, here are some tips from someone with a crazy doodle, who has learnt what not to do the hard way.
Don’t go anywhere too fancy. For our first dogcation with Stevie, we went to the Cotswolds: not too far away = less chance of her vomiting in the car. We bowled up at The Lygon Arms, a beautiful 17th century coaching inn with a majestic, posh and very quiet restaurant. Not for long. Dog-friendly hotels are great, until your dog takes a dislike to the other dog nestled quietly at its owners’ feet, and decides to howl the room down, which has very high ceilings and lots of reverb. The meal crescendoed with Stevie trying to nick a whole roast chicken off our table, practically up-ending it in the process.
Don’t go anywhere with a carpet. Stevie was one and fully house-trained when we rented a cosy cottage in the Lakes; newly refurbished, as the owners proudly pointed out before we arrived. Sure enough, it was pristine: you could smell the fresh paint. Although not for long, because our dog decided it would be a great idea to christen the carpet. To this day, I don’t know why she did such an out of character thing. Maybe she was marking her territory. Or maybe she was distressed at being in a strange new environment. Mortified, we spent the rest of the evening on our hands and knees, cleaning it up.
I recently interviewed the owner of a famous chain of boutique hotels, and asked why they had a “no dogs allowed” policy. “It’s not the dogs that are the problem,” she told me. “It’s the owners who don’t know how to make them behave properly.” Guilty as charged.
Don’t take your dog abroad without meticulous planning. Post-Brexit, all Pet Passports are invalid: you’ll now need an Animal Health Certificate, issued within 10 days of the date you plan to travel. Your dog also needs to be microchipped and vaccinated for rabies. There may also be additional requirements depending on your destination. None of which should put you off going. My friend Jane, who took her five-year-old Cockapoo, Tilly, to Italy, sagely notes: “My dog is a lot easier to travel with than my kids, because she doesn’t ask ‘are we there yet’ every five minutes.”
Don’t make the mistake of thinking that instead of a holiday, it would be less hassle to take your dog to your parents’ house. They love their grandkids, right? So they’re sure to love your dog. Not if they’re my mother, who hates Stevie’s name so much that she insists on calling her “Steva”. Though not as much as she hates the fact that Steva treads mud into the carpet, whines because she isn’t allowed into the living room and keeps trying to escape through a hole in the fence. No wonder.
Dogs make great holiday companions. Do they make easy ones? Not always. But what they lack in decorum, they make up for in enthusiasm. Unlike humans, they are easily pleased. Whatever ingredients you demand from your break, the dog in your life only has one requirement: you. And maybe a few long walks.
5 dog-friendly staycays
Kimpton Fitzroy London
The just-launched Pet-Kations includes an overnight stay and a carefully curated ap-PET-isers menu designed by a certified animal nutritionist. All animals are welcome.
Lygon Arms, Broadway
Special dog-themed packages at this Cotswolds hotel include a Le Chameau tweed dog bed and ceramic bowl to take home, tasty treats by Michel Roux and a dog-grooming experience with wash, cut, nail clipping, facial, a bow or bandana and a choice of perfume (we recommend Jean Paw Gaultier).
The Egerton House Hotel, Knightsbridge
Posh pooches will love this hotel’s Doggy Afternoon Tea, complete with meatloaf, homemade dog biscuits and “dogtinis”. The Pet Concierge can sort out grooming, daily walks and special treats.
National Trust, UK
The National Trust has upped its number of dog-friendly cottages to 257 and all stays come with complimentary dog food. For pooches who demand privacy.
Four Seasons, Hampshire
A dog bed, dog dishes, tasty food, spring water and 500 acres of pristine Hampshire countryside await four-legged visitors at the Four Seasons.