If you want to know who loves you more, your dog or your spouse, lock them both in the boot of the car on a hot day. After three hours, open it up and just watch which one is more pleased to see you.
It’s an old gag, and a corny one at that. But for a great many couples – and I speak as a lifelong dog owner who would bottle the biscuity scent of puppy paws if I could – it’s not without an uncomfortable grain of truth at its centre. For the reality is, once the patter of those tiny paws comes along, there are three in the relationship. And as everyone knows, three can be a crowd.
The dog-owner dynamic has been thrown into sharp relief by an advert posted in the Unites States on Craigslist, the anarchic classifieds website, in which a man who was given an “it’s me or the dog” ultimatum by his girlfriend, offers her “free to any willing home”. His girlfriend, that is. In the ad, which carries a picture of Molly, his beloved beagle, he describes her thus: “Stays up all night yapping but sleeps while I work. Will NEVER greet you at the door after a long day or give you unconditional love when you’re down. Does not bite but she can be mean as hell!”
In the amusing, if insulting, diatribe, there’s one phrase that stands out: “unconditional love”. And for those of us who crave canine companionship above all (or most) other, it’s all about the unconditionality.
Unlike husbands, dogs aren’t moody and depressingly downbeat; they are joyful and possess such insane optimism that they genuinely believe if they hang around long enough under the table, you really will give them a big chunk of your sirloin.
Unlike wives, dogs love you as you are. They don’t want to change you or make you socialise on Saturday nights with dreary people you don’t like; they would far prefer to lounge on the sofa with you, blissfully silent apart from the occasional contented sigh.
Is it any wonder then that your partner’s vices only serve to highlight your dog’s virtues?
“My wife has a keyring that reads ‘The more people I meet, the more I love my dog’,” says Mark Evans, vet and presenter of the Channel 4 series Dogs: Their Secret Lives.
“If you look at the human-dog relationship, which has evolved over 20,000 years, it is unique and unbelievably strong. Dogs are so finetuned to us, they scan our faces to gauge our emotions and they bond with us wholeheartedly, completely without judgment.”
Evans, whose busy working life means he is “between dogs” at present, his last pet having died of old age, understands the emotional ties that bind man and dog.
“There’s a simplicity, a consistency to dogs. They don’t deceive, they remain loyal, they don’t criticise – all things that are hard to achieve in human interactions,” says Evans. “We know that having a dog makes us healthier and widens our social circle; it’s a win-win relationship.”
It certainly is: a St Andrews University study last year revealed that dog owners over the age of 65 have fitness levels a decade younger than their biological age.
As pet ownership promotes exercise, lower blood pressure and heart rate as well as reducing loneliness, it’s no wonder that couples these days wrangle so fiercely over canine custody in their divorce settlements.
For just that reason, the “pup-nup” – a pre-nuptial agreement on the dog’s future – is also gaining popularity in the US. Hollywood actress Melanie Griffith has made public her intention to fight husband Antonio Banderas for custody of their three dogs as they are divorcing after 18 years of marriage.
On this side of the Atlantic, Cheryl Fernandez-Versini won custody of dogs Buster and Coco after divorcing footballer Ashley Cole in 2010. The late George Best and his former wife Alex also tussled over custody of their two red setters when they divorced in April 2004, and former rugby player Will Carling and his first wife Julia fought over their black labrador.
It can become quite nasty, rather contradicting a survey published this week by insurer Direct Line, which found that dog owners are perceived as “friendlier” by 52 per cent of people.
A further 46 per cent of people find that walking one of the UK’s nine million dogs is one of the easiest ways to make friend, and more: televsion presenter Ben Fogle famously met his future wife Marina while he was out walking his dog.
• 'Mum, do dogs go to heaven?'
• It's never too soon to get a replacement dog
<br> I, too, can attest to the canine impact on human relationships. I got my first rescue dog, a black mongrel I named Betty, from the Edinburgh Dog and Cat Home, in my early 20s, shortly after my mother died. My father had died many years previously, and although I had four sisters, we were scattered, far apart, in five different countries, so I felt alone. Admittedly, I had a pair of gerbils, but our nurturing relationship primarily revolved around sunflower seeds.
I also had a boyfriend but we didn’t cohabit, so Betty and I became inseparable. Another plus was that when she jumped into bed, she really did only want a cuddle.
We went hillwalking and shopping, sallied forth on day trips and nights out. I once brought her to a haunted inn to see if she was psychic (she wasn’t), and a grooming parlour to see if she enjoyed it (she didn’t).
I would also regularly take her to the spit-and-sawdust journalists’ pub after work and someone would invariably buy her a pie.
A handsome stranger once followed me out of the bar and sang a folk song he had written about us, entitled “Woman with Dog”.
<br> Then, when I joined a local radio station to co-present the breakfast show (an ill-fated career move), my 5am start meant rising at 3am, just to walk Betty first. As this was clearly untenable for both of us, I moved in with my boyfriend and his two cats. Quite literally, it was all about Betty, but for dog’s sake don’t tell him I said so. We’re now married.
While wasn’t present at the wedding ceremony – we tied the knot in the Caribbean – there was a framed picture of her on the top table at our glitzy reception. A year later, Betty and I swam in the sea together at Camber Sands, after I discovered I was pregnant with my first child. It was one of the happiest moments of my life.
Loyal friend, constant companion, recidivist scavenger, she lived to a ripe old age until we had to put her to sleep, aged 16. We still have her ashes in a casket.
• Why I'm a dog poo tyrant
In her wake came Daisy, a highly strung Manchester Terrier we bought as a puppy, who was beautiful but bonkers and trembled like an Aspen leaf when a car backfired, a firework exploded, a packet of crisps was opened.
She died late last year, aged seven, of chronic kidney disease, which retrospectively explained much of her hysterical behaviour. Her ashes are also in a casket.
Having mourned her slow decline, we swiftly decided to succeed (not replace) her with not one but two Manchester Terrier puppies, a quirky, rare British breed that we had grown to love.
It made sense. Well, it did to us. Why have one dog when you can have two? So in January we opened our home and our hearts to littermates Otto and Mabel, and the family fun quotient has soared.
Yes, there is occasional wee on the floor and poop to be scooped up in the garden. The children’s precious possessions often get destroyed – begging the unsympathetic question that if they were so precious, why were they lying within puppy reach?
But the joy and the affection make it all worthwhile.
They adore each other. We adore them. They adore us.
Writing this, I asked my husband if he loved the dogs more than he loved me. He immediately replied that he didn’t, although when I see him murmuring sweet nothings into Mabel’s ears or nodding off with Otto draped over his chest, I’m not so sure.
Dogs, I genuinely believe, bring out the best in us. You can call it puppy .
This Article is Fully Taken Frome - telegraph
This Article is Fully Taken Frome - telegraph