“A Dog is for Life, Not Just for Christmas®”

To celebrate the 30th anniversary of the Dogs Trust slogan “A dog is for life not just for Christmas®” the charity has commissioned new research which looks at the success of the slogan and how our relationship with dogs has changed since 1978.
The slogan was the brainchild of Dogs Trust’s CEO Clarissa Baldwin and was developed to reduce the large numbers of dogs given as Christmas gifts each December, only to be abandoned later the next year. Not only is the slogan one of the most recognisable strap lines in the UK – but its message has been heeded. Research shows that today less than two per cent (1.8%) of dog owners received their dogs as a gift – almost 131,400 dogs – compared to 20 per cent in 1978 when the slogan first made the headlines.

Although the figure has dropped significantly – it means that almost 131,400 dogs are still given as gifts. Dogs Trust is using its anniversary to highlight the continued relevance of its slogan. With the recent opening of a ‘puppy superstore’ in Leeds, the charity is concerned that it will see an influx of unwanted dogs in 2009 from people who make an impulse purchase at the superstore in the run up to Christmas.

Susan Tonner, Rehoming Centre Manager for Dogs Trust West Calder says, “This Christmas will be a very special time for us as we celebrate the anniversary of our slogan. We know that dogs are still being bought as gifts and that’s why we don’t rehome dogs for two weeks during the festive period, to discourage people from buying dogs as presents – although we are open and you can reserve dogs. Our kennels are always full and sadly,, during the course of the New Year we have to turn away on average 5 dogs due to limited space.

Some of the reasons given to Dogs Trust staff as to why owners could no longer look after their dog include:

“My dog doesn’t match the sofa.”
“The dog looks evil and has different coloured eyes, just like David Bowie.”
“My black dog doesn’t match new white carpet, can we swap him for a white dog?”
“My current dog is too old, can we swap for a puppy or younger model?”
“My dog ate the Christmas turkey cooling on the worktop.”
“My pet guinea pig got worried with a dog in the house.”
“The dog opened all the presents on Christmas Eve.”
The owner accidently knelt in dog wee while cleaning it up.
The puppy was bought as a present for elderly couple with dementia.
The owner was paranoid about recent bad press on Staffordshire Bull Terriers, and the dog was given up through no fault of its own.

Copycat Slogans
Over the past 30 years the Dogs Trust slogan has given rise to many parodies and copycat slogans including:

  • “Fathers are for life, not just for conception” (Fathers 4 Justice, 2008)
  • “A Rabbit is for life, not just for Christmas” (Ann Summers, 2005)
  • “A brussel sprout is for life, not just for Christmas (The British Sprout Assoc, 2004)
  • “A dog is for life, not just for the White House” (BBC News, Nov 2008)
  • “Tax cuts are for life, not just for Christmas” (David Cameron, Nov 2008)

New research commissioned by Dogs Trust shows that our pooches have never had it so good and are far more indulged than their 1978 predecessors. A comparison table is included below, but key findings include:

  • 53% of dog owners felt that their dog understood them better than their partner
  • 23% of dogs sleep in their owners beds
  • Over a third of dog owners spend up to £500 a year on treats, presents and ‘designer’ clothes for their dog
  • An estimated 481,800 dogs in the UK are overweight
  • Walking a dog is one of the best ways of making friends and meeting a new partner. 50% of respondents have met a partner or initiated a friendship through dog walking or a dog-related activity.
  • We’re now giving popular children’s’ names to our dogs. Top names in 2008 include: Charlie, Jack, Mollie/Molly, Ruby and Max.
  • 18% of dogs now have their own passports
Dog trends 1978 vs dog trends 2008
Number of dogs in the UK
5.65 million (PFMA)
7.3 million (PFMA)
Percentage of dogs given as gifts
Number of Dogs Trust rehoming Centres
Number of Dogs Trust rehomed per year
Approximately 5,000
Over 16,000
Microchipping of dogs
0 dogs microchipped.
Microchipping was first introduced in late 1980s – ID tags and collars were main form of identification before then
36% of dogs are now microchipped
All dogs are microchipped before they leave Dogs Trust centres
Neutering was not high on the agenda – Green Shield stamps were cashed in and the money raised went towards spaying bitches rather than dogs – approx 2,000 bitches were spayed per year
All dogs and bitches are neutered before leaving our rehoming centres – 35.3% of dogs and bitches are currently spayed/neutered (DT online survey)
Weight issues
Overweight dogs were not an issue because dogs were fed on house scraps rather than dog food and there were no specialist pet foods
One in three dogs is overweight (PDSA) – but DT research suggests that just 6.6% of owners admit their dog is overweight
Many owners fed their dog chocolate as it was not common knowledge that chocolate is toxic for dogs
3.2% still feed their dogs chocolate
Minimum age you can own a dog
(Following introduction of the Animal Welfare Act)
Common dog names
Sammy, Shep, Lassie, Nel/Nellie, Lucky, Belle, Patch, Scooby, Goldie…
Max, Billie, Barney, Charlie, Jack, Molly, Ruby, Missy…
Top celebrity dogs
Shep and Goldie- Blue Peter
Scooby Doo
Mabel- Blue Peter
Schmeichel- Coronation Street
Tinkerbell- Paris Hilton
Buster- Paul O’Grady
Popular dog breeds
Rough/Border Collie
Spaniel (various)
Jack Russell
Terrier (various)
German Shepherd
Staffordshire Bull Terrier
Alaskan Malamute
Siberian Husky
Rhodesian Ridgeback
Plus a growing/small number of fashionable cross breeds such as Labradoodles, Cockapoos, Puggles…
Sleeping arrangements
Nearly all slept outside in the garden or in the kitchen
A third sleep on the sofa
23% of on their owner’s bed
Travelling dogs
The Pet Passport Scheme did not exist, dogs were required to spend six months in quarantine before release
17.6% now own a passport for their dogs (DT online survey)
46.9% holiday in self-catering cottages and caravan parks, 10% holiday in hotels

Research was undertaken by Smart Survey® in summer 2008 and covered a nationally representative sample of 4,946 dog-owning adults (aged 16 and over) across the UK.

Published by

Suse Coon

Suse Coon started life training to be an architect but ended up as a fashion buyer then civil servant. After some time out to bring up her family of three, she returned to what had been a hobby and entered the field of freelance journalism. After becoming regional correspondent, then editor of the orienteering magazine CompassSport, she formed Pages Editorial & Publishing Services. In this guise, West Lothian Life was launched, while Suse maintained a level of freelancing and wrote the award winning children's novel Richard's Castle. In 1999, Suse bought over CompassSport and found her time taken up pretty well exclusively with the two magazines. In 2004, West Lothian Life was expanded to form Lothian Life, however, the workload was too great. In 2006, CompassSport was sold and Suse concentrated on the web version of Lothian Life. Her hobbies include gardening, orienteering, sea kayaking and Tai Chi.

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *