DOGS are like other people’s children. They involve the same social awkwardness, with pet owners looking just as hurt as parents if you dare say anything about bad behaviour.
We have a small campsite and this summer it’s been possible to count on one hand the number of visitors who haven’t needed telling to keep their dog on a lead.
An irrelevant aside or somehow symbolic, but the brambles that flank the driveway up to the campsite have been stripped, with the visitors looking bewildered as their red-headed host points out they had been planted by The Husband who is expecting a crumble for tea.
Features on ‘foraging’ have a lot to answer for but that would be digressing. Just like everybody nowadays seems to have at least three children, the days of the only dog seem to be long gone.
Is it not time to re-introduce a dog licence? Up until 1987 it was the law that to own a dog the payment of a licence fee was required. It’s still the case in Northern Ireland.
Is it progress that nowadays, over a quarter of a century on from the lifting of licencing, that almost anyone can legally buy and own a dog?
The RSPCA has lobbied for the re-introduction of a mandatory dog licence. The charity believes that such a scheme would make it easier to reunite lost dogs with their owners, help to identify puppy farming and encourage people to take a more responsible approach to lifelong dog ownership.
Perhaps it’s naive to think it possible but, in my mind, the reintroduction of dog licences could also help finance the now seemingly extinct role of the dog warden.
Our local authority no longer has one; which sends out the wrong message when it comes to straying or dangerous dogs. If you ring the council to report a roaming dog there’s a fair chance you’ll never get the call back the recorded message promises.
Proper old-fashioned dog wardens were well-respected law enforcers. They knew what they were on about and had the discretion and experience to know when a situation required a friendly chat and bit of advice, or the full force of legislation.
If by some miracle it happened, a reintroduction of licences would no doubt be too late to stop the modern – and dangerous – trend of humanising dogs.
So many are treated like spoilt children instead of them knowing their place in the family pecking order; but having to fork out a decent amount of cash for a licence might make households stop and think before buying another dog.
If our dog isn’t on a lead, he’s on a long chain attached to a kennel. No, he’s not a Rottweiler or a German Shepherd but a short-legged little Jack Russell.
However small, the bottom line is he could cause a lot of mischief if he went walkabout on his own.
He’s ruined, sitting on the sofa as if he owns it and getting his tea before us because he’s good at looking hungry.
His predecessor, a great big deerhound, was only allowed in the kitchen and would be turning in his grave (The Husband’s back has never recovered from digging such a big hole into stony ground) if he saw this scrap of a thing ruling the roost.
Dogs do get under your skin and it would be wrong to pretend to be completely hard-hearted about them.
However, a good many are out of control and are let loose into the countryside with no respect for wildlife, farm animals or just the simple country code of keeping a dog on a lead.
It’s hardly an audited survey, but along the footpaths near our home, for every 10 dogs you see seven aren’t on leads. Many are in their own pack of two, three or four dogs running half a field in front of their owner.
Is this behaviour arrogance or ignorance on behalf of the owners?
It’s hard to weigh up. Thinking their dog is superbly trained would be arrogance and then ignorance if they are oblivious of the havoc that can be wreaked to nesting birds or livestock.
The agricultural bible The Farmers Guardian has done tremendous work highlighting the dangers of dogs roaming free with its ‘Take the Lead’ campaign.
It’s given out free signs for farmers to put on gateways and helped to arm countrypeople with facts and information to spread the word, as well as speaking up on the dangers of livestock worrying in the national press and television.
Between 3,000 and 4,000 sheep are killed or injured from dog attacks each year, with an average 11 sheep killed or injured per attack.
The National Farmers’ Union carried out a survey of 1,002 pet owners in the UK in 2018. A staggering 60 per cent admitted letting their dogs off the leash.
What about a new movement to let dogs off the lead into people’s private gardens? It might make them think –especially if we help ourselves to some berries …
Sarah Todd is a former editor of Yorkshire Life magazine. She is a farmer’s daughter, mother and journalist specialising in country life.