If you enjoy going EVERYWHERE with your dog then you will love hearing what Chris has to say about dog friendly Britain.
The wildlife expert has presented hundreds if not thousands of animal TV shows in his career and presents Springwatch, Autumnwatch and Winterwatch.
This summer he’s hosting Dogstival which is a two day event in the New Forest, close to Chris’s home, celebrating all things dog.
Chris, 57, spoke to us about why he became involved, his love of poodles and his hope that Britain will become more dog friendly.
Can you tell me a little about your involvement with Dogstival?
Yes, I’m involved because I have a great passion for two things that Dogstival is going to celebrate.
That is dogs and the human relationship that we have with these animals and also the New Forest which is where I’ve lived for the last 16 years but I’ve known all of my life.
The New Forest is an extraordinary place. It’s a great natural resource in terms of its habitats and its wild life. It’s a great leisure resource, people come here, dog walking, horse riding and camping.
But it’s something we want to make sure survives into the future and we have to look at the positive and negative effect of visitors to ensure that happens.
And the event is also aiming to encourage people to enjoy the New Forest with their dogs?
Yes, certainly the most rewarding part of my day is taking Scratchy out for his morning walk. We go through a patch of the New Forest that I know and I love, and I enjoy being with him there.
I share my life with Scratchy as completely as I can. He sleeps in my bed, eats from my plate, rides in my car, he comes to work with me whenever that’s appropriate.
He’s the epicentre of my world and this is not unusual, dogs play an incredibly important role in many peoples lives.
What can people expect at Dogstival?
A very broad celebration of dogs and our relationship with them. There’s lots of things on offer for many people.
Pre-dog people, people who have never had a dog but are thinking about it.
People who have perhaps lost a dog and thinking about getting another one but their life situation might have changed and of course people like myself who are obsessed with the relationship that they have with their dog.
There’s always more to learn and an event like this is a great way of bringing community together to learn more about everything, behaviour, nutrition, health, welfare.
And also to think about how we maintain a healthy relationship with the environment of the New Forest that we love and enjoy so much.
There will be lots of locally sourced food, not just human but dog as well, locally sourced dog food. So very much you’re getting involved in the New Forest community.
You’re in the Dogstival lounge giving a talk too?
I’m always very keen to talk about the mental health benefits of having a dog. I’ve been working with some charities that supply dogs to autistic young people and I see the enormous benefits that they bring to both the child and to the family.
I also have been working with some people at Lincoln University who are looking at the impact that it has on the dog and how easy it is for a dog to move into a relationship with an autistic youngster and their family.
I’m keen to talk about responsible dog ownership, focusing perhaps specifically on the impact that dogs can have on wildlife and farm stock, when we know that there’s an issue with both of those.
In a world where there are more people and more dogs and less space, we have to think about changing our behaviour.
So it’s getting people to understand why they need to do that, what the impacts are and asking them to think about how they live with their dog in the modern world.
Do you think we are as a nation becoming more dog friendly?
Yes, but it’s not moving as fast as I would like. But then I’m bound to say that aren’t I? I spent quite a bit of time living in France with my two dogs and life as a dog owner there is so much easier.
You walk into a post office with your dogs, no one tells you to get out. You walk into the local grocery store, it’s fine.
I think a lot of people in France are certainly a lot more tolerant of the fact that people have dogs as companion animals and they’re as valuable to them as their children.
If someone asked me to tie my dog outside the post office I’d just say to them, ‘But I wouldn’t tie my child outside the post office and if I did I’d be on the front page of the paper. Why do you expect me to do that with my dog?’ And then I’d leave.
There are a lot more dog friendly restaurants, cafes and places to go. I still think that the dog walking community is one that’s not being fully catered for, even when it comes to walking.
We’re not quite there yet. I’ve tried to use dog friendly hotels for instance, when you turn up they’re not as dog friendly as they claim to be.
I think there is still progress to be made. We’ve been to a couple of restaurants locally recently and they’re both dog friendly. So that’s a good sign.
Can you tell me about the dogs that you’ve had in your life?
I had Max the poodle, he was the first one from 1980 through to 1995 and then after a break I had another dog called Fish.
Then I had Itchy and Scratchy, sadly we lost Itchy a couple years ago, but so I’ve still got Scratch now.
They’ve all been black miniature poodles and I wouldn’t stray from the breed. Life’s short and I’ve found a breed that I relate to. So I’m a committed poodle owner. You couldn’t prize me away from my poodle I’m afraid.
What is it that you like about the poodle?
They’re challenging, characterful, slightly anarchic, full of beans, very devoted, clever, you can teach them things quickly.
I should say that they don’t shed any hairs, you don’t have to hoover around after them. You’d never find a single dog hair in the house, not one.
But you do have to get them clipped obviously. I have the miniature size and that’s for convenience really, I can just lift them in and out of the car and they’re easy to manage.
Your dog Scratchy is nearly 16. Can you tell me about what it’s like caring for a senior dog?
The care you give a dog changes throughout their life, by way of exercise and nutrition, but there’s other things you notice too.
The first time this winter he was out in the snow and we caught him shivering, he did have his coat on, but he’d spent too long out in the snow and then I picked him up, wrapped him in my coat and took him back. I wouldn’t take him out in the wind and the rain without a coat now.
With his walks, I’m very keen to keep him mobile and his joints are in really good condition. He’s got no signs of arthritis.
He’s always had quite long walks, so, for example, yesterday morning we did nearly four kilometres and he has two of those a day, and normally he’d get longer.
For a 15 and three quarter year old dog that’s pretty good going. He’s out and sniffing, he’s enjoying the world.
With his food, he’s eating less. I’ve switched his food some time ago to a raw food diet and this is working well.
My point of view is that, with older dogs, it’s about quality of life. I love him so much that I felt that if his life were compromised by his own standards than that would mean it would be his time to call it a day.
But at the moment he’s responding to the treatment and he’s trotting around and jumping about when he’s awake.
And he recently had surgery for cataracts?
Yes, I can’t tell you it was one of the most fantastic things. Poodles are prone to them, and for a long time I kept taking him to the vet and said, ‘Well look, if he was a human he’d still be driving.’
And then we took him back again and the vet said, ‘Okay, well now he wouldn’t be allowed to operate heavy machinery, they’re not bad. Stop fretting.’
And then over Christmas they did get progressively worse a lot more quickly. So eventually the vet said, ‘OK, he’s now at a point where his vision is compromised.’
So we decided to go ahead with the operation and it’s gone perfectly. It’s exactly the same as a human operation in terms of what they do. It’s transformed him.
He goes out in the woods and he’s looking at this that and the other, it’s fantastic. Again being able to give him that extra quality of life at the end of his life is something that I’m really pleased about.
You describe him as the epicentre of your life, what does having him mean to you?
I think it’s purpose, it’s a sort of security. You know, I need something stable in my otherwise rumbustious life.
He’s incredibly important. I miss him when I’m not with him. I fret about, well I didn’t used to fret as much as I do now, I fret about him when I’m not with him.
Fortunately my partner Charlotte is an animal person extraordinaire so I can leave him with her and know that he’s in perfectly safe hands.
But that doesn’t mean I don’t miss him when I get into bed and he’s not there and I don’t just listen to him at night.
They give us so much don’t they?
Yes, for me it’s humility and perspective. There’s nothing more important, and sometimes, we forget that, and we get home, and people feel the same way about the relationship they have with their children and their family and their partners and all those sorts of things where there’s enormous amounts of investment, time, effort, energy, passion, love, commitment.
But when you give it to a dog, and it gives it back to you in 100%, undiluted, full on, 24 hours a day, 365 days a year, and it’s guaranteed then that’s something of immeasurable value.
Sometimes life starts to run away and then you take your dog for a walk and you realise where it’s really at.
* Dogstival takes place on May 18th and 19th at Pylewell Park in the New Forest. Find out more at www.dogstival.co.uk/
** We have a pair of adult tickets to give away for one day. To be in with a chance, leave a comment in the comments section below on why you’d like to go.