Richmond Park this morning offered many examples of a discouraging sight which is fast becoming familiar in the parks round here: of dog-walkers absorbed in conversations on their mobile phones, while their dogs trail meekly behind them.
Are we really still a nation of dog-lovers? One of the cheering sights of the park used to be dog-owners interacting with their dogs, throwing balls for them, kicking up leaves for them to chase and bark at. People with dogs were, we noticed, more likely to say hallo and even enter into conversation with us as we stood beside one another at the lake or wherever, watching the antics of the dogs. Having a dog with them seemed to give people an extra social confidence.
Now they seem wrapped up in conversations with people who aren’t there. Not only do they not speak to passers-by; they don’t speak to their dogs either. ‘Well, what do you think I should do?’ one young woman was saying into her phone as she passed us. ‘I’ve tried dropping hints but it isn’t working. He doesn’t seem to hear anything I say any more….’ Her golden retriever trotted along at her side, his head turned to look hopefully up at her.