GONE ARE the days when showing affection for your dog meant a brisk walk and a scratch on the back. Today's breed of Very Important Pets are becoming higher maintenance than ever, and a growing number of doting carers will stop at nothing to please them.
In London, the bar for pet grooming has been raised with the recent launch of The Pet Spa at Harrods. This 3,000 sq ft haven offers its furry customers the ultimate in pampering - from luxurious massages and indulgent mud baths, to custom hair styling and exfoliating or moisturizing facials.
There's behavioural therapy for dogs with 'issues', and an 'Old Age Pensioner Club' for those with creaky joints. There's even the option of reiki healing and 'Animal Communication' sessions, during which a therapist will 'discover what is happening with your pet from his or her perspective'.
'It's important to remember that your pet needs time to unwind psychologically as well as physically, something many owners overlook,' explains Stephanie Mehanna, head of Harrods Pet Spa. Harrods has also partnered with Debrett's to create Petiquette (harrods.com), a guide on protocol in pet lifestyle, grooming and fashion.
After an indulgent spa visit, your little companion may expect the royal treatment to be extended at home - which is where custom-made designer pet furniture and accessories come in handy. Puppy de Paris' Louis XIV-inspired Place Vend?me 'apartment' is a bed fit for any four-legged monarch. Its lower part offers all-important privacy, with velvet curtains held open by French passementerie tiebacks, while the upper part provides deep upholstered drawers, with handles gilded in 24-carat gold - perfect for storing designer dog apparel and precious accessories. The cornice opens up like a jewellery chest, evoking all the splendour of the Parisian square in which it was crafted.
The Ecuelle Royal bowl, from the same fine jewellery workshop, is about as refined as a dog bowl can get. Inspired by an original 16th-century goldsmith's drawing, it is gilded in 24-carat gold and decorated with three fleurs-de-lis, reminiscent of the coats of arms of French royalty. Each limited-edition bowl is signed and numbered from one to 100. They also happen to be dishwasher safe.
One way to ensure your pooch will not be out-sparkled, the Amour Amour diamond dog collar (ilovedogs.com) is the world's most deluxe dog collar at US$3.2 million. 'Our collars are attainable by only a very exclusive set of clientele,' says Martha Smith, general manager of I Love Dogs, Inc. 'We get a lot of interest from celebrities, very successful businesspeople and their families.'
Five-star pet hotels are also becoming increasingly popular, especially in the US, where places such as Los Angeles D Pet Hotel offer 'Uber' suites complete with queen-sized beds and 42' flat-screen TVs. The Pooch Hotel - the home-away-from-home for Silicon Valley dogs - boasts a 30,000 sq ft facility (half of which is play area) and a 'comprehensive pooch lifestyle management programme'. There's a quiet wing for elderly or shy dogs; a group sleeping room for those that prefer not to snooze alone; webcams for anxious carers to monitor their loved ones at a distance; a spa and an exercise area that includes an underwater treadmill and an indoor natural saline lap pool.
While the market for luxury pet pampering and products is still relatively niche in Hong Kong, it's growing fast. 'As incomes rise and birth rates fall, more people are treating their pets as their children,' says Jee Lee, owner of Hong Kong-based Puplicity, selling luxury products for pets. Lee opened her shop last year, and recently launched an online store to cater to demand from abroad.
Wendy Chan, owner of Pawette, a deluxe pet boutique, salon and spa in Hong Kong, says while some customers bring their dogs in for regular salon and spa treatments, others bring them in for day care. 'Not because there is no one to take care of the dogs at home, but because they want them to have playmates - like joining a playgroup.'
Chan also says that Pawette is teaming up with a dog-loving yoga instructor to start 'doga' (dog yoga) classes in Central this month (inquiries: 2537 9999). 'We hope this will create quality bonding time between the owner and their doggies.'
Do dogs really enjoy being pampered and dressed up? 'Most certainly,' says Lee, adding that what they love most is the human attention it entails. 'What I don't agree with is when 'pampering' goes against what the dog needs and wants. To push a dog in a stroller, for example, is cruel. Dogs need to walk as much as they need to eat or sleep.'
The key, she advises, is to remember that each dog is different. 'The best pampering any owner can do for their dog is to be mindful of their dog's preferences. Done right, it's good for both.'