It’s Sunday afternoon, the sun is shining, music is playing, cocktails are flowing and the smell of street food is in the air. Crowds gathered at the Loseley Park Estate in Surrey.
It may be one of many summer music festivals returning to the UK this year after the pandemic, but there is one big difference. There are thousands of dogs in addition to the human visitors.
This is one of a growing number of dog festivals taking place across the country. According to the PDSA, by 2021, 26 percent of British adults owned a dog – about 9.6 million dogs. The spike in dog numbers during the Covid lockdowns has been well documented, and with these owners returning to the world, many are turning the Reading festival into Barking and Glastonbury for the weekend for a dog-friendly social event.
One such venue is DogFest, which started in 2014 and is currently expecting 150,000 visitors for seven UK shows this summer.
From country shows with “best dressed dog” awards to more competitive prestige multi-breed events, dog shows aren’t entirely new. But today’s dog festivals are a little different.
Take the anniversary-focused New Forest “Dogstival,” which promises the gargantuan “Barkingham Palace,” “Jubilee Tea Pawty,” and “Stand-up Canine Comedy,” as well as honest and dog-friendly lodging. Or “Goodwoof” – dog festival at Goodwood Estate in West Sussex, a day with a show of “Barkitectural Masterpieces”.
At these dog festivals, fun and activities are specially tailored to your four-legged friends, not just as a reflection. “I see it as where you would go if you were a dog,” says Tess Drew, director of DogFest. “It comes from wanting a dog to have the best day he can, so we do a lot of nice things for him and support him with things that people find helpful on their way to the dog owner.”
Organizers are consciously selecting beautiful spots that are normally off-limits to the public to make dog walking more attractive, Drew says. “You can go out and do one of our ‘Great Dog Walks’ in the grounds of stately homes you wouldn’t normally be able to enter, then come back, have a drink at the bar and watch a fun dog show.”
Melissa Bishop, 28, and partner Tom Driscoll, 27, visited Loseley Park DogFest from their home in Epsom with their eight-year-old Rottweiler-Staffordshire Bull Terrier twins Keith and Brendan and a few friends. “We have read [festival] a few times, but I would do it now,” says Melissa. “We can all come and there is enough for us and for them [the dogs] To do.”
Kate Blight, 55, husband Chris and their daughter, as well as their dogs Labradoodle Lyla and Jack Russell Benny, feel like they’re at the festival. “We thought it would be fun to do this with family and friends,” she says. “We’ve been to family-friendly festivals before, but it was the dog that drew us to it.”
Drew says that for many families, being able to rent a dog — rather than leave it at home — is critical (owners are increasingly taking their dogs on vacation, too). “Your dog is part of your life, so going out for something related to him or her is a bit like spoiling the other child. If you’re a parent, you should go to places like CBeebies Land and Legoland – it’s basically for dogs.
In addition to the interesting program, the event includes education and advice for pet owners, both in the field of nutrition and keeping your dog’s teeth clean. It’s even aimed at potential dog owners who want to learn more about rescuing or owning a dog.
But for Drew, the “differentiator” in the organizing phase is creating a festival atmosphere. “There is really great festival food and drink, there is a stage for an orchestra and a DJ. It seems like you’d like to go to a place where only dogs take center stage.”
He warns that people should not come and wait for a match like Crufts. “None of the programs are competitive,” he says. The idea is that dogs and owners of all ages and backgrounds can try it.
This quest to create a new dog-centric environment isn’t just about DogFest. The Goodwoof website says, “Dogs bring so much joy to so many people that we wanted to create a completely different kind of event and one that really celebrates everything our canine friends bring into our lives; a real experience for everyone, but especially for our dogs.”
The crowd at Loseley Park gathered dog owners young and old who were willing to show their dog in the ring and go out on the latest dog gear, and those who just wanted to enjoy a cocktail on a lounger with their dog nearby.
For Drew, the birth of dog festivals gives people the opportunity to choose something different for their post-pandemic social agenda, to hang out with man’s best friend, instead of closing the door on them: 40 and I know so many of my friends who are more excited about it.” that now they can go to DogFest than to a music festival.”