It's always wise to take the mongrel out of owning a family dog
The phrase "mad dogs and Englishmen" has entered the vernacular, but I'm beginning to wonder if Noel Coward ascribed mental health issues to the right mammals.
According to a new British survey, having a dog causes 2000 family arguments. Given the average canine lifespan, that's three arguments a week.
A home that has that many arguments over the dog, on top of sibling rivalry and the usual stoushes over kids, money and who controls the TV remote, would be more madhouse than Little House on the Prairie.
And how many dog-related areas of dispute are there anyway? You have to wonder what's happened to the renowned English attributes of common sense and compromise when families can fight like - well, like cat and dog - over the same few issues three times a week for almost 13 years.
As a member of a family who've had a dog for almost nine largely acrimony-free years, I herewith offer some advice on these recurring bones of contention for the benefit of those who are contemplating bringing man's best friend into their happy homes.
Don't get a dog unless everyone in the family is 100 per cent in favour of it and prepared to sign a legal document to that effect. A statement of the obvious perhaps, but English families bicker endlessly on the theme of whose idea it was to get the bloody thing in the first place.
Disregard any promises family members under the age of 20 make about walking the dog. Once the novelty has worn off, you'll be truly amazed at the range and imaginativeness of your children's reasons for being unable to accompany the dog to the end of the drive, let alone around the block.
Disregard any promises family members under the age of 20 - and your wife - make about cleaning up the dog's droppings. They won't attempt to justify their backsliding; they'll just say it's disgusting and in breach of the Geneva Conventions on Human Rights.
English families argue over what to do with the dog when they go on holiday. It's quite simple: if it's practical and permissible, take the dog with you; if not, put it in a kennel. If you can't bear to do that, don't go on holiday. If you resent having to spend the holiday season at home and take it out on the dog, you should ask yourself: who's the dumb animal here?
Should you feed the dog from the table? Not unless you live in a castle with flagstones and a vast open fireplace and your dog is an Irish wolfhound. Tossing a stag's thigh bone to your slavering hound in a baronial banquet hall has a certain style, but otherwise feeding a dog from the table lacks class and instils bad habits.
This one's very important: be lucky in your choice of dog. As always in life, there are ways to improve the odds. Motoring writer Jeremy Clarkson reckons there's one answer to everything you could possibly want in a motor vehicle and that is: Range Rover. I'd suggest that the answer to everything you could - or should - want in a dog is: Labrador.
Not everyone would agree. But if you're thinking of getting a pit bull, for instance, you should ask yourself: why a pit bull? And while you're working your way through that, it mightn't be a bad idea to put yourself through psychotherapy or perhaps an anger management course.
Getting a dog from a reputable breeder is another way of shifting the odds in your favour. Some friends bought a fox terrier off the shelf, as it were. (I happen to think that yappy, snappy little dogs are only good for catching rats, but each to his own.) The foxy took an instant and violent dislike to the vacuum cleaner, to the extent that it would lay siege to the cupboard where the hoover was stowed when not in use. Foxy's next trick was to go absolutely mental - hence the term "barking mad" - whenever anyone took the lid off the sugar bowl. Figure that one out. They now have a pair of relatively sane spoodles.
Money. Another biggie. Commenting on the study, an insurance company spokeswoman said it demonstrated owning a dog isn't dissimilar to having a baby. I doubt many mothers would agree with that proposition, but it's certainly the case that, like children, dogs don't pay for themselves.But if you love your dog, money won't rear its ugly head because you won't begrudge a cent of what you spend on its food or licence or flea and worm treatment, or on visits to the vet when it eats something repulsive and throws up on your best rug.