If only dogs could talk: Reading the minds of Britain’s 11 most popular breeds, from Labradors to Westies

Do dogs really take on the characteristics of their owners?

Back in 2011, our erstwhile deputy editor Rupert Uloth popped his tongue in his cheek and channelled his inner Doctor Dolittle to ‘speak’ to some of Britain’s favourite breeds. He transcribed their thoughts, and tried to pin down the average owner of each.

We’ll leave it up to you to decide if he’s canny on canines… or had just gone barking mad. 


Labrador

Yellow Labrador Puppy outside in Flowery Meadow

‘Yes, I know that I get praised for my ability to pick up out shooting, my loyalty and my ability with children, but if I’m being honest, I think my greatest skill is breaking wind in polite company while retaining an expression of benign insouciance. It may not sound much for a life’s work, but it takes years of practice.

‘We’re steady stock. We’ve made good cavalry officers, land agents and the better sort of antique dealer. I wouldn’t be seen dead in the City if I can help it, but I’ve had relations who have been stockbrokers. I’m quite good at sniffing out drugs at my children’s teenage parties, and, although I like to keep fit, I’ve noticed the older generation running to fat rather easily.

‘We’ve come a long way since we emigrated to this country from Newfoundland, broadening our horizons beyond the next frozen lake. We have been naturalised citizens since being recognised by the Kennel Club in 1916. I don’t mean to boast, but our soft, intelligent eyes, powerful jaws and wide noses have seen us rise to become the most popular breed in Britain.’

  • Listens to: Military bands
  • Drives: A Volvo
  • Eats: Steak-and-kidney pie
  • Reads: Kipling, military obituaries
  • Lives: Georgian Rectory, Woofingdonshire

Dalmatian

Dalmatian sitting with paw up

‘People are always asking me where I got this coat. It’s gorgeous, isn’t it? I keep an eye on my weight and have lots of mirrors round the place to remind myself how beautiful I am.

‘I do have difficulty recalling where I’ve put things. The other day, I couldn’t find the car, but it didn’t matter because I couldn’t remember where I was meant to be going anyway.

‘There’s nothing wrong with designer labels — I know this is the age of austerity, but they’re fine as long as they’re discreet.

‘I’ve got all the gizmos: flat-screen televisions in every room, wi-fi, Blu-ray and an automated heating system. I haven’t got a clue how any of them work, but I keep the local tradesmen in business.’

  • Listens to: Abba
  • Drives: A bright pink Suzuki Jeep
  • Eats: Trifle and bacon
  • Reads: Chick-lit on my iPad
  • Lives: Can’t remember

Jack Russell

Running Jack Russell Terrier

‘Busy, busy, busy, that’s me. Some people say I’ve got a Napoleon complex, but I feel as big as a doberman. The other day, I attacked a Westie on a lead. I mean, leads are so common, and it was looking irritatingly neat and fluffy.

‘That’s why I’ve got a bit of a chewed ear. But how can you rootle around in hedgerows and chase bunnies if you’re attached to a bit of string?

‘I get touchy if someone makes fun of my habit of hopping around on three legs, but a quick, snarly snap usually brings them into line. I can dig for Britain: bones, foxes and rats are good excuses, but sometimes I just dig.

‘I know I can go missing for a few hours, but I always come back. I love company too much and, although hunting and roaming are fun, I adore curling up on someone’s lap by the fire and dreaming of gaining on a tiring rabbit.’

  • Listens to: Snoop Dogg
  • Drives: A Mini (slightly chewed interior with scattered biscuits, Coke cans, copies of the Racing Post and half-consumed carcases)
  • Eats: Coq au vin (including the feathers)
  • Reads: Bravo Two Zero, Watership Down, Clarissa Dickson Wright’s books
  • Lives: Rural cottage

Shih-tzu

Shih Tzu lying down

‘Some people think my name is very funny and put emphasis on the first syllable in a rather ungallant way. Walking is highly overrated, if you ask me, and I’ve devised various disappearing techniques to use whenever outdoor activity looks likely. If I don’t want to do something, I won’t!

‘It’s difficult to be inconspicuous with my wheezing, snorting and snuffling — why were we given such small noses? But unless I’m hiding, I prefer to sleep by the Aga. My profuse beard and luxurious moustache create visibility problems. Only last week, I mistook a particularly hirsute cushion for a potential mate.

‘I pick at food, but I do like licking things. That’s why our car has the cleanest wheels in the county.’

  • Listens to: Chopin’s Nocturnes
  • Drives: Back-seat driver
  • Eats: Gulls’ eggs, blinis
  • Reads: Hello!, celebrity biographies and travel magazines
  • Lives: The Manor House, Pimmshire

Red setter

‘We take pride of place in the redheads’ section of anyone’s little black book. Our silky tresses are our unique selling point, so I make sure to maintain their glossy sheen.

‘I’m happy to bound romantically across the heather in a sort of slow-motion, promotional-video kind of way, but I don’t really like getting too dirty or spending too long outside.

‘Lying by the fire and looking desirable is more my style and, frankly, something I’m really rather good at. I like haute couture, hand-blocked wallpaper and monogrammed toiletries.’

  • Listens to: Girls Aloud
  • Drives: A Volkswagen Beetle convertible
  • Eats: Caesar salad
  • Reads: Romantic fiction, Vogue
  • Lives: Barn conversion, Kent

Border terrier

Border Terrier dog lying in meadow

‘What I like best is a day on my own down in the woods. There, no one can complain about my bad breath and greasy hair. I know we go to pot a bit after a promising, gilded youth, but I can’t be doing with appearances and grooming when I’d rather be identifying wildflowers or bird calls.

‘I can make a fire without matches, weave a basket out of willow and tell how long since a badger passed. These nature rambles take me far and wide, and I never know where I’m going to end up.’

  • Listens to: Elgar
  • Drives: An ancient Subaru pick-up
  • Eats: Ploughman’s sandwich
  • Reads: The Dangerous Book for Boys and Collins Complete Guide to British Wildlife
  • Lives: Estate cottage

Lurcher

Lurcher dog looking through a cat flap

‘You have to admit I’m pretty sensational-looking. Languid, aquiline, but yes, prone to bad hair days. I love lying full stretch in front of an open fire, but show me a hare and I’ll show you March 1.

‘I’ve been going to Food Thieves Anonymous, but I’m not sure I’ll ever be totally cured. If someone leaves a joint of lamb on the table, it’s like dangling a cream pie in front of Billy Bunter or telling Raffles where you keep your diamond necklace.

‘I love a challenge. I don’t mind admitting that I’ve had quite a few girlfriends. I’m equally happy with dukes or poachers: they both have access to thousands of acres.’

  • Listens to: Eric Clapton
  • Drives: A vintage Aston Martin
  • Eats: Jugged hare
  • Reads: Anything by Dick Francis, Flashman, Top Gear: The Official Annual
  • Lives: Gypsy caravan in the Fens

Labradoodle

Labradoodle running towards the camera

‘I’ve been going to the shrink for a while now. I keep having these contradictory thoughts: one moment I want to pick up a pheasant, the next I want to be at the hairdresser’s.

‘I know people think I’m a bit arriviste, not quite the real McCoy, but I just need to work out who I am. We don’t have a family crest, but who needs social props when you can retrieve a duck from a fast-flowing river and still keep your perm?

‘I like my mod cons and, yes, we have a gym and sauna in a converted barn. We’re really into Green energy, and asked the whole village round for drinks when we moved in.’

  • Listens to: The Scissor Sisters
  • Drives: A Toyota Prius
  • Eats: Anything organic and free range
  • Reads: Property brochures, self-improvement books, Descartes
  • Lives: Quinlan Terry mansion

Spaniel

English Springer Spaniel

‘I only want to please everyone. I know that I’m a bit excitable and can’t stop wagging my tail, but there are worse faults in the world, aren’t there?

‘I never forget my name, mainly because someone is always yelling it, and not, I have to say, without some degree of impatience. But show me a thick bramble bush and I’ll show you a way through. The same goes for water. I love a good dip, but woe betide anyone standing too close when I emerge for a shake.

‘I have to keep on the move. I don’t know why A. A. Milne didn’t make Tigger a spaniel. Don’t leave me for too long, because I get bored very easily. Industrial action such as shredding interiors of cars or chewing through a pair of wellington boots goes down very badly, but it’s worth the beating to gain company.’

  • Listens to: Handel’s Arrival of the Queen of Sheba
  • Drives: A battered Land Rover Series 2
  • Eats: Pot Noodles
  • Reads: Three Men in a Boat, Wind in the Willows
  • Lives: Duck Pond House, The Shires

Westie

Westie in a wood

‘I know that officially I’m a terrier, but, actually, I hate getting dirty. I always like to be immaculately turned out, particularly when chairing the parish-council meeting or running a stall at the WI.

‘I don’t like to make a thing of it, but I do my bit for charity. You know, the Royal British Legion, Canine Partners, that sort of thing. I have problems with those yobbo Jack Russells off the local farm, but I just try and ignore them and not rise to the bait.’

  • Listens to: The Dashing White Sergeant and other Highland reels
  • Drives: A Honda Civic
  • Eats: Smoked chicken
  • Reads: Council minutes
  • Lives: Thatched country cottage with white sofas

Pug

 Pug puppy

‘Nothing I like more than a quick snifter at my club. Always good to catch up with everyone and tell them about the problems I’m having with my ‘masters’ — I mean, as if they’re in charge!

‘I’m not too keen on children and send the puglets away to school as soon as they’re weaned. I like to go round in pairs: old university chums, golf partners, people like that. Rather proud of my fine glossy coat, but my house staff go mad as I shed fur everywhere.’

  • Listens to: Frank Sinatra (favourite song—My Way)
  • Drives: A Bentley—or the chauffeur does
  • Eats: Wok-fried foie-gras
  • Reads: Leather-bound collected poems of Alfred, Lord Tennyson
  • Lives: Chelsea