Do you like to take your dog out to eat? In recent years, many restaurants have opened up more outdoor seating, giving people the option to bring their dog to dinner. Dining out with your dog can be a great activity for both of you, but it's important to note that bringing your dog out to dinner is not something every dog will enjoy.
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When not to bring your dog out to dinner
As much fun as it is to bring your dog out to eat with you, it's important to make sure that the outing is something that will be fun not just for you, but most importantly for your dog. If you have a dog who is very shy or uncomfortable in new situations, outdoor dining in a busy cafe or restaurant probably won't be fun for your pup. If your dog is reactive to other dogs or to people, it's not fair to ask your dog to join you at a restaurant where they will have to be in close proximity to other dogs or people.
Even if your dog isn't reactive or nervous, if your dog struggles with "table manners" and tends to jump up, steal food, or disruptively beg from the table at home, it's a good idea to leave your pup at home. Even if your dog enjoys outside dining with you, you'll want to think about the weather. If it's extremely hot outside, your dog is probably going to be happier staying at home waiting for you to return with a doggy bag to share. Similarly, if your normally happy, calm and social dog seems upset or starts displaying stress signals while at the restaurant it's a good idea to support your dog by getting out of there and asking for your meal to-go.
If you are bringing your dog out to eat with you it's a good idea to do some research in advance. If you can, look at the restaurant's website or social media page or call ahead to confirm that their outdoor seating is dog friendly. If you have a large dog, it can also be helpful to look online at pictures of the patio area to make sure there is space near the tables for your dog to settle without having people tripping or walking over them, which can be very stressful for dogs.
Bring Fido and Dog Friendly are both great resources for looking for dog-friendly dining options near home or if you're traveling. Of course, it's always a good idea to check to make sure the restaurant is still dog friendly before going. If you and your dog are planning on dining at a popular restaurant you may also want to consider getting a reservation in the dog friendly area to prevent you and your dog from having to wait a long time to get seated.
When bringing your dog out for meals with you it's important to bring everything your dog needs to be comfortable and occupied. Before going out to eat make sure your dog is wearing a comfortable and well-fitted collar or harness, and is on leash. It's important that your dog's leash isn't too long because you don't want your dog getting into walkways, distracting, or engaging with wait staff when they are bringing food to tables or distracting other diners. In most instances a standard six-foot leash works well.
Some restaurants will provide individual bowls of water for your dog, while others just have a communal bowl in one area of the patio or sidewalk. It's always a good idea to bring your own collapsible dog bowl. You'll also want to pack plenty of treats so you can reward your dog for calm behavior and engaging with you despite anything else that might be going on at the restaurant. As always, you'll also want to have poop bags with you just in case. Depending on the flooring (cement, gravel, etc.) and your dog's preferences, you should also bring something your dog likes to lay on, such as a small blanket or mat, to make sure your dog is comfortable. (Many dogs do not want to lay on the hard floor for an extended period of time!)
Restaurant manners for dogs
When bringing your dog to a restaurant, it's a great opportunity to practice training skills like focusing on you and relaxing without trying to engage with other dogs or people at the restaurant. Before going into the restaurant's patio area give your dog an opportunity to potty. When at a restaurant, don't allow your dog to pull towards other dogs, and instead reward them with treats and praise your dog for staying near you. When out to eat with your dog, it's important to be ready to advocate for your dog. Even if you are out in public together your dog is not public property and not a petting zoo. It's completely appropriate to ask other people to keep their dogs away from yours when at a restaurant. Even if your dog enjoys playing with other dogs a restaurant patio isn't a good place for play as it's a tight crowded space which can lead to conflict between dogs. You and your dog are there to have fun together. your dog doesn't have to entertain strangers. If your dog is settled next to you it's completely ok to say "no" if people come up to your table and ask to greet your dog.
Increasingly, restaurants are offering doggie menu items including specialty dog treats made in the restaurant kitchen with dogs in mind. If the restaurant you are waiting at doesn't have a doggie menu, you can also try to find treats on the menu that are dog-safe to share with your pup in small quantities. Obviously, you don't have to order anything for your dog, but if your dog doesn't have any allergies or dietary restrictions it can be a fun way to make the outing feel more special for you and your dog.
Increasingly, in contemporary society we have unrealistic expectations of our dogs to be seen and not heard. Essentially, there's a lot of pressure for dogs to act more like stuffed animals than dogs. But if you're bringing your dog out to eat it's important for the outing to be fun for your dog. If dining out together is going to be upsetting or stressful for your dog and leave your dog overstimulated or shut down, it's better to leave your dog home. As long as your dog isn't excessively barking or interfering with anyone else's time at the restaurant, it's completely fine to let your dog have fun. While the adage that "trained dogs are happy dogs" is generally true, that doesn't mean our dogs are robotic. Talk to your dog, give your dog treats, practice some tricks. If your dog enjoys meeting new people it's completely appropriate to allow your dog to greet servers if they approach your table and ask to greet your dog, but don't allow your dog to jump up or disrupt waiters as they are trying to work. When out to eat with your dog set your dog up for success by rewarding the behavior that you want like checking in with you, watching you, calmly settling etc.
Make it a date
If you're looking for fun places to go with your dog before or after dinner you might be surprised to learn how many stores and restaurants in your local area are dog friendly! For social dogs who enjoy going new places, outdoor dining together is a great opportunity to have fun together, and to take your training to the next level by hanging out together and practicing engagement in new distracting environments. With a little bit of preparation you and your dog will be able to take advantage of the increase in restaurants without door seating and have dinner dates that are fun for both of you!