Barking Blondes: Dogs and books
Steyning Bookshop is dog friendly. Woof! Woof! Nestled right in the heart of the South Downs, it is a Tardis of a building, with a teenage fiction section stretching way back into an English country garden. It’s also the home of the proprietor, Sara Bowers and her family.
Whilst many urban bookshops panic at the thought of inviting dogs to attend an author’s signing for a canine-related book, Sara positively encouraged it. Mind you, if our book had been about sheep, we felt, they also would have been enthusiastically herded through the front door.
For any avid readers out there, can you imagine a better way of spending a sunny Saturday afternoon? In an independent bookshop’s country garden, being read to, surrounded by attentive dogs and their owners and shaded by apple trees. During the signing there was home-made cake and tea served in bone china.
This was only our second public reading and our two dogs. Molly and Matilda were thankfully as chilled as the audience. They, like us looked out at the front row and spotted an alert Jack Russell sitting on a knee alongside a languishing Pyrenean mountain dog with his chin resting on a sandal.
Scientists have proved that the presence of a dog in an environment relaxes people. Just looking at a dog makes people smile and stroking a mutt reduces blood pressure, helping to the brain focus through the release of happy hormones such as endorphins and calming hormones like dopamine. That’s why in the workplace having a dog in the office increases productivity, reduces stress, gets staff talking to each other and puts the workplace in a better mood – dogs set tails and tongues wagging.
Another project that highlights how dogs help in a literary sense is Bark & Read, a new initiative promoted by the Kennel Club. As well as having pets for therapy which encourages schools to let calm, well behaved dogs, sit with children who are learning to read. With a dog by their side, kids are less self-conscious about reading out loud, and enjoy the positive response from the dog that doesn’t judge or tell them off for making any mistakes. This gives the child more confidence and results show that dogs help speed up the learning process for children in the classroom.
Maybe this was why our reading was so successful? Molly calmly sitting on our knee calmed any jitters we may have had – although Molly falling asleep after the first paragraph was a little disturbing – we tried not to take it personally. Maybe she had set a precedent to the other dogs who all seemed transfixed by the proceedings.
Certainly welcoming dogs into commercial spaces is a canny move. The Hound Pound is a strong currency with 27 per cent of households owning a dog. We know dog owners are more likely to spend when their dog is not ostracized but invited to share the retail therapy experience.
We had to sympathise with Andrew Neil this week. Like us with our Late Night radio show, his dog made a regular appearance in the studio. Apparently now due to Health and Safety the golden retriever Molly has been banned. Tricky this one. Legally dogs are not permitted where food is being prepared. The odd studio vending machine surely doesn’t count.
Could it be, that these animals are simply upstaging us? Was Molly’s golden smile more interesting than Andrew’s script? We recalled the time a cab driver stopped us in Euston Road, lent out of the window and said: “Me and her indoors used to tune in to your show just to hear your Bulldog snoring in the background.”
Well, I suppose every listener counts.
‘Barking Blondes’ by Anna Webb & Jo Good, published by Hamlyn, £12.99
The Barking Hour, every Thursday, BBC London 94.9FM
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