I imagine that yesterday, or over the coming days, many of you will try to work off the excesses of Christmas by going for a walk with family or acquaintances. And, of course, it wouldn't be the same without our four-legged friends.
There is, however, increasingly a problem. Such a walk will, inevitably, end up at a pub – it would be rather pointless otherwise, wouldn't it? And if you have taken the four-legged friend with you, he may have to be tied up outside in the cold, so he shivers while you toast your feet and enjoy some Christmas cheer by the fire inside.
In recent years, pubs have become less and less dog-friendly. They seem to be overrun instead by noisy children, who do not inevitably cheer people up. However, a faithful hound lying harmlessly under the table is now increasingly deemed offensive to the customers. The reasons are sadly predictable.
For pubs to survive the relentless and cynical above-inflation increases in alcohol duties the Chancellor insists on inflicting on them, and the smoking ban that drives tobacco addicts to drink at home where they cannot be persecuted, they have had to diversify and be 'family friendly'.
A pub that is family-friendly seems to find it rather a struggle to be dog-friendly.
This is because, to entice families in, pubs have to offer elaborate menus of food, and start to consider themselves as restaurants in all but name. In fact, even if a pub serves only baskets of chips and the odd sandwich, the rules and regulations that come with that are enough to ring alarm bells for wary publicans, this endangered species that lives in fear of the health-and-safety commissar.
This army of busybodies is never so vigilant as where food is concerned. It lives in permanent combat with such enemies as the norovirus and E.coli – neither of which, so far as I can tell, is transmitted to humans by dogs.
Nonetheless, many publicans, café owners and restaurant proprietors take the view that dogs are incredibly dirty, and a potential health hazard, and therefore must not be allowed anywhere near where food and drink are consumed.
There also seems to be a growing idea that the public – in this nation of dog-lovers – don't really like dogs that much after all. As far as I can tell, people do like dogs, just as they like most domestic pets – the swelling coffers of the RSPCA seem to be proof of that. And as for a fear of contamination keeping dogs away from people who are eating, that is nothing but a grotesque over-reaction.
Nor can the usual villain of the piece – the European Union and its propensity to interfere at every turn – be blamed for this. However fascistic some aspects of European Union legislation are, they are not – as any traveller to the Continent knows – so fascistic as this.
EU rules say that dogs are not allowed in areas where food is being prepared. However, there is nothing to prevent them being in places where food is served. If you wander into a bar or a restaurant in France you almost feel undressed if you aren't accompanied by a dog. Nor do I mean the preposterous little handbag-size dogs that French women walk around with like fashion accessories. It is quite common in France to have to step over steaming great hounds as they stretch out waiting for Gaston to finish his cafe creme. The culture here, sadly, has become rather different. Dogs are assumed to be dirty, the carriers of all sorts of the most disgusting diseases. Allegedly, one has only to see a dog in the same place that egg, ham and chips are being eaten for the entire clientele to require immediate medical investigation.
It's man's best friend we're talking about, for pity's sake, not a sewer rat. Many of us have dogs at home. In flagrant violation of EU law, Bert the Dog – Mrs Heffer's devoted companion – has, to my certain knowledge, frequently been present in her kitchen not just when food is being eaten, but even when it is being prepared. We have entertained guests when Bert has sat under the table staring intently and hopefully up at a susceptible diner – he can usually spot a softie five miles away – hoping for a scrap of left-over roast beef, or a morsel of cheese, to come his way.
His regular presence over the past 12 years, dog and puppy, has not, so far as I am aware, resulted in the rapid admission to hospital of anyone present, or even their rapid admission to the nearest bathroom. If people do not catch hideous diseases from their dogs at home, what is it that makes a dog so insanitary when it enters a place of public refreshment that it must be banned from there? Nothing, of course: it is simply an absurd prejudice.
Even more ridiculous, however, is the sign one sees occasionally in the windows of pubs and cafés that says 'no dogs, except guide dogs'.
This has always posed two important questions for me, though I may be rather naïve.
First, what is it about a guide dog that gives it a superior bill of health to a purely ornamental dog like Bert? If dogs are kept out of pubs and restaurants because they spread some sort of plague, how do guide dogs avoid this common pestilence?
Second, what is the point of putting up such a sign when a blind person with a guide dog cannot, by definition, read it? Or do guide dogs, as well as being superior in their cleanliness, also have the means to read these out to their masters before entering?
Happily, there are many like-minded people on this particular case. A search of the internet shows a number of websites that list dog-friendly establishments, where landlords and proprietors choose to interpret the law literally rather than excessively, and let dogs in. The Kennel Club has a campaign called 'Open for Dogs' to encourage businesses to become more dog friendly. After all, the anti-smoking law has already driven customers out of pubs in their legions, and caused thousands of them to close: discouraging people with dogs from going into them can only achieve more of the same.
The bottom line, surely, is this. Most of the offensive and quite possibly contaminating living creatures we know are human. Very few are canine. Enter most pubs or restaurants and some of the people you will see there are far more revolting than any dog we might want to take with us. Yet very few of them are barred pre-emptively from entering, and it usually takes a judge to do it.
Dogs, on the other hand, are genial and relaxing, and can be the life and soul of the party. Who can forget the scene in The Dam Busters when Guy Gibson's legendary dog — the unfortunately-named Nigger – downs a pint of beer in the officers' mess just before the raid?
Many of us, on entering a pub, a restaurant or a café, will quickly surmise that some of the humans in there are far more objectionable than any canine who might enter the premises.
And it is the case with most dogs who are difficult that the real problem is their disgusting owners. The rule should be that dogs are welcome: but dogs with thoughtless or unpleasant owners are not. It is rare that we should feel the need to take lessons from the French.
But if they can accommodate dogs wherever they go out to eat and drink, and not keel over afterwards, then so can we.