Do English people walk a lot because they have dogs or do their walking habits simply encourage dog ownership?
The conundrum is now a subject of serious investigation and some of the answers are being provided by technology. According to data from Tractive, a firm that provides GPS tracking for pets, British dogs are some of the best-exercised in Europe. British dogs get 177 minutes of activity a day, compared with 160 minutes for German hounds and 170 minutes for the average French pooch.
This means they’re slimmer than their European counterparts. The average British labrador weighs in at 28kg, compared with 29kg and 31kg for its German and French cousins. And it’s not just their continental canines they’re outpacing. British dog-owners also outwalk American and Australian dog-owners.
As a result, according to The Economist, French dogs are now starting to pack on the pounds.
“Obesity among dogs is acknowledged as a problem,” says Fleur-Marie Missant of France’s Société Centrale Canine.
The German government is determined to get the country’s dogs - and dog-owners - off their sofas. Last month the agriculture minister announced plans to require dog-owners to walk their dogs twice a day.
The British devotion to dog-walking, however, may have more to do with the walking than the dogs. Britons are big walkers - they came fifth in the world in a recent study, the highest in Europe. Dogs provide walkers with company and purpose, so it may be that walking encourages dog-ownership, rather than vice versa.
But Julien Dugnoille, an anthropologist at Exeter University, suspects dog-walking has a deeper significance. Dogs, he suggests, are a useful aid to a socially awkward nation.
“British people…tend to see dog-walking as a rare opportunity to socialise with strangers, to have a chat and exchange a few jokes and comments about the weather without putting themselves in danger (ie, without being too committed in their interaction).”
A tradition among the British aristocracy of owning and training dogs also leads Dr Dugnoille to speculate that dog-walking retains some of its ancient kudos.
Others suggest that walking with one’s best friend “creates a time and space where dogs and humans meet as species and connect as individuals.”