Howard Saunders   Feb 14, 2024   culture, Food, gourmet, pizza, Retail, Uncategorized   0 Comment

Most trends born in California become diluted by the time they arrive on our damp and cynical shores: yoga, veganism, vegetable smoothies, poke, Botox and fillers, tooth whitening therapy, therapy, the whole athleisure-wear thing, boho-chic, hyper-gluteal augmentation, even the opioid crisis…all fade a little on their long journey across the Atlantic in order, perhaps, to acclimatise to life beneath our sullen skies. But there’s one trend that has surely been amplified en route from La La Land: canophilia, aka our obsession with dogs.

Unlike the Americans, we Brits have loved our pet dogs for over six millennia as dog culture really kicked off in 4000BC, just at the end of the stone age. So essentially, our relationship with our favourite pet rolled along perfectly happily for six thousand years…until something shifted post Covid. A cultural blip in the matrix perhaps, but today it’s impossible to go to a shop, a bar or a restaurant without a dog sniffing at your ankles.

Restaurants desperate for trade have caved. Perhaps in the name of inclusivity they hang ‘dog friendly’ signs in the window above a shiny bowl as if allowing dogs is the magic bullet they need to get back to profit. A couple of years ago I guess it looked kinda cute, but frankly it’s hard to walk down a local high street now without accidentally booting a tin bowl along the kerb. These are the places I vow never to visit, and I’m sure I can’t be alone.

Q. How does your dog smell? A. Terrible.

The age old joke wasn’t wrong. Owners who exclaim ‘My dog does not smell!’ have been inoculated with doggy stench daily over many years having never left Rover’s side. They even allow him to sleep on their bed for god’s sake. Polite customers, meanwhile, pretend it’s absolutely normal for a bear of a beast to be slumped beneath the next table even when the whiff of wet fur wafts across their creme brûlée. And if you feel an exploratory tongue douse the back of your hand at the bar you can be damn sure that it’s recently been intimate with a dog’s rear end, if not another’s then its own. Peculiarly, for a nation addicted to hand sanitiser we remain stumm. Non dog owners are mute onlookers as they watch their favourite places become, literally, dogged by mollycoddled mutts.

Cultures twist and turn but ultimately they settle by consensus. That’s why we don’t see ‘no bicycles’ signs outside bars and pubs. Culture has deemed it inappropriate to lean your muddy mountain bike alongside your table, so there’s no need to ban it. But since the ‘blip’ we must now endure legions of snapping, snarling, sneezing, yapping, gnashing, drooling, farting hounds in every establishment. And bikes don’t do any of that. Meanwhile, in crazy California where all this began, dogs are banned from restaurants and even stores that sell packaged food.

Hyper-anthropomorphism is hard to say, but nonetheless very real. Today’s dog lovers talk to their pets in cartoon baby voices, celebrate their birthdays (the day they arrived) buy them Puppucinos from Starbucks, doggy ice creams at the seaside, create Instagram pages for them, tie bibs around their necks at mealtimes and push them in doggy strollers when the poor darlings can’t keep up with the pace around Waitrose. They take up seats in restaurants, bars, buses and trains as if we must all accept that the ironically named ‘Charlie’ with the flappy tongue is simply one of us. It’s gone too far.

Clearly these beloved animals are the children we never had. It’s a dog’s job to be the child that never grows up and tells you to f*** off, basically. But they’re also living, breathing status symbols. In the countryside it’s not unusual for a family to rock up at the pub, fully Huntered and Barboured, accompanied by a brace of pony sized brutes as if to flaunt the fact that they can afford to buy steak every day of the week. They may as well drive their Range Rover into the bar. It would be less of a nuisance.

Back in the pre-gastro days it was heartwarming to see a local farmer nestled by the fire, his loyal Collie alert to any unusual comings or goings. But recently dog culture has morphed into an obsessive cult; a perverse display of narcissism that says ‘sod you, these are my true friends’. On a serious note, I believe it plays perfectly into the current phase of self loathing mankind is going through. We may love our kith and kin, but we despise humanity for everything that’s gone wrong on planet Earth. After all, no dog ever started a war.

We all know that teenage stabbings have become so commonplace the press is no longer interested. But leave a pooch in a car without the window ajar for more than fifteen minutes and you’ll be on the front of the Daily Mail beneath the word ‘MONSTER’ the next morning. Seriously, our priorities are way out of kilter.

I may not be a dog lover, but I’m no hater. I can more than appreciate the majesty of an Irish Setter bounding along a deserted beach in pursuit of a far flung stick of driftwood. I can even see it in slow motion as it shakes itself dry, water droplets glistening in the late afternoon sunshine. I simply ask that you don’t bring it sweating and panting into the pub to do that. That’s my point. Dog lovers, please spare a thought for those of us who don’t love your dog, but can definitely smell it. And restaurateurs, please be brave enough to say that your dog days are over.

Bone appetit!

Join me on X  @retailfuturist  for cherry picked proof that we’re all going crazy.

ps. Big thanks to Bing/Dall-E for all the imagery

About Howard Saunders

The Retail Futurist, otherwise known as Howard Saunders, is a writer and speaker whose job it is to see beyond retail’s currently choppy waters. Howard spent the first twenty five years of his career at some of London’s most renowned retail design agencies, including Fitch & Company, where he created concepts, strategies and identities for dozens of British high street brands. In 2003 he founded trend-hunting agency, Echochamber, inspiring his clients with new and innovative store designs from across the globe. Howard relocated to New York in 2012 where the energetic regeneration of Brooklyn inspired his book, Brooklynization, published in 2017. His newfound role as champion for retail’s future in our town and city centres gave rise to the title The Retail Futurist. Howard has been interviewed on numerous television and radio programs and podcasts for BBC Radio 4, BBC Scotland, the British Retail Consortium, Sky News Australia and TVNZ, New Zealand. His talks are hi-energy, jargon-free journeys that explore the exciting, if not terrifying, retail landscape that lies ahead. When not in retail mode, Howard has recorded, literally, thousands of digital music masterpieces, most of which remain, thankfully, unheard.

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