Which country has most pet dogs in relation to its population? You probably guessed Britain if you're British and the US if you're American, but the answer is France. France must be the best country in the world to be a dog. With possible exception of hunt dogs who often lead pretty grim lives, dogs here are petted and spoiled without shame. Pet dogs enjoy a freedom and acceptance that withered away a generation ago in what the French refer to as the Anglo-Saxon world.
It is still regarded as normal and safe for dogs to run around in villages here. Many have their own medicine cabinets, kept well-stocked by their owners. They go on holiday with the family. No quarantine here. Within France you can take dogs anywhere. It is normal to see them in shops, cafés, parks, even cinemas. No one will turn a hair at the sight of a man, even a hulking scarred thug, carrying his coiffeured toy poodle into a rough city bar. I have never come across a restaurant that refused to allow dogs in. In fact dogs are generally welcomed enthusiastically, especially in the smarter restaurants. I'm convinced that there is a strong positive correlation between price and dog-friendliness - exactly the opposite of what you might expect in Britain. Before taking your order the waiter will generally ask whether your dog would like a bowl of water.
A couple of years ago it was acceptable to take dogs into supermarkets, but signs have been appearing recently indicating that dogs are no longer allowed. The Anglo-Saxon obsession with hygiene has started to encroach. The standard sign in western countries to indicate that dogs are not welcome is a silhouette of a dog with a red diagonal bar through it. In most countries the dog is of indeterminate breed, but in France the silhouette is easily recognisable - it is a poodle, or as it is known here a caniche. Although poodles are favourites in France, the standard poodle or caniche royale is almost unknown. People often stop us in the street to ask about our oversized brown poodle. Perhaps they are thrown by the fact that she is not clipped in a fancy style and her tail is not docked. Ninety-nine times out of a hundred the conversation goes like this:
"That dog looks like a caniche, but it's much too big to be a caniche."
"It's a caniche royale."
"What is it crossed with?"
"Nothing it's a pure-bred caniche."
"Have you been giving it steroids?"