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9 Etiquette Tips for Dining Out With Your Dog

A helpful guide to make sure you and your pooch are welcome at restaurants


spinner image A woman sits out an outdoor restaurant with her dog
Getty Images

As the weather warms up, you may be inclined to dine outdoors at your favorite neighborhood restaurant — along with a four-legged friend.

It’s increasingly common for people to bring their dogs with them everywhere, including restaurants, cafés and other establishments that serve food. Luckily, the U.S. Food and Drug Administration recently updated its food code, signaling it’s OK for diners to bring dogs to restaurants’ outdoor seating areas “where allowed” by state, local and restaurant policies.​

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That's a good thing, since more Americans own dogs than any other pet. Dog ownership boomed during the COVID-19 pandemic, so now more than 65 million U.S. households own a canine, according to the American Pet Products Association.

“The human-canine bond is extremely unique,” says Brandi Munden, a vice president of the American Kennel Club (AKC). “A dog becomes part of the family,” including for family outings, she adds.​

Health codes keep most restaurants from letting dogs inside, but many permit them in outdoor seating areas.

Overall, 20 states have laws or regulations allowing restaurant patrons to bring pet dogs to patios, but policies vary widely by locality. The exception is service dogs (but not emotional support dogs), which are allowed inside any restaurant or on a patio if they accompany people with disabilities. Owners of service dogs must comply with local licensing and registration requirements, but no documentation or certification is needed. As always, make sure your dog is up to date on vaccinations. ​

When taking your dog out, be prepared so you can enjoy yourself, your pet is comfortable and other patrons won’t be disrupted by frisky Fido.​

spinner image Sheryl Gadol's three dogs Elvis, Ladybug, and Larry in the lobby of the Bluefin Grille in Providence, Rhode Island
Sheryl Gadol likes to take her three dogs out to eat. 
Courtesy Sheryl Gadol

Sheryl Gadol often travels with her three American cocker spaniels — Elvis, Larry and Ladybug — and doesn’t think twice about bringing them to restaurant patios. But she’s also aware of the social compact that applies when she does so.​

“It’s wonderful to bring your dog with you, but they must be able to stay quiet and calm,” says the 58-year-old resident of North Smithfield, Rhode Island. “They can’t be jumping up and trying to eat your food or someone else’s food.”​

Follow these nine tips to ensure you and your furry friend are prepared for any situation.​

1. Make sure your dog is well-behaved

Experts say the number one priority is to make sure your dog is well-trained and well-behaved. That means no barking, growling or jumping on neighboring diners. Gadol followed the AKC’s Canine Good Citizen program to train her dogs, including passing a 10-skills test for politeness in public.

​You can train your dog yourself, but Tiffany Tupler, a veterinarian at pet site Chewy, recommends dog trainers certified by the Certification Council for Professional Dog Trainers and the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants. Older adults may want to consider clicker training — a positive reinforcement training technique — because it helps pet owners control dogs without much physical exertion and it’s easy to use.​

“Learn to connect with your dog when you’re going out,” says Tupler, who has three dogs at home. “Practice, practice, practice. Slowly add in other distractors and keep training when your dog is at home. Go to a patio seating on a Tuesday when there aren’t a lot of people.”​

2. Know your dog

Experts say it’s important to understand your dog’s body language and know the triggers that make them skittish or anxious and cause them to bark, run or even bite.​

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Many dogs have noise phobias that are set off by people cheering or large trucks, or they fear unknown objects, such as a bicycle or baby stroller, Tupler says. Make sure you can recognize when your dog feels uncomfortable. ​

Monitor your dog when out for signs of fear or anxiety, such as cowering, ears tacked back, head lowered, tail low and tucked down, a frozen posture or trembling, which may signal it’s time to go home. “What does a scared dog look like?” Tupler says. “What does a happy dog look like?”​

Maureen Bovie, 71, of Petaluma, California, doesn’t take her dog, Curly Sue, to restaurants. ​

“She’s just so big that it doesn’t seem like it would be much fun for her,” Bovie says of her 94-pound, long-hair German shepherd–Belgian Malinois mix. And “I don’t want to disrupt anyone else’s time.”​

3. Leash up

Keep your pup on a leash while dining out, says Munden, who owns three dogs. The leash should be 6 feet or less because a shorter leash provides more control of a dog, she adds. Don’t use a retractable leash because it can be a trip hazard for you and other people.​

4. Consider a carrier case

If you have a small dog, think about putting your pet in a carrier case at the restaurant. Not only will the case contain your dog, but it may make Fluffy more comfortable in an unfamiliar setting.​

Gadol does that with her dog, Elvis, at restaurants. “For me, it’s security,” she says. “It’s safe and clean.”​

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5. Choose a seat carefully

Choose your seat at a restaurant, café or pub with the comfort of your dog, staff and other patrons in mind.​

Pick a location with low foot traffic, and away from crowds and walkways where your dog may react to other pups, passersby or vehicles, Tupler suggests. Placing your dog on the inside of patios and walkways also protects it from someone stepping on a paw or tail or other accidents. ​

Some restaurants allow dogs on seats, but don’t let them on the table or eat off your plate. Make sure your dog doesn’t block walkways so other patrons can pass by and workers can do their jobs. ​

“You want your dog to be calm in a variety of situations,” Munden says. “It’s your job to make sure your dog is well-behaved.”

6. Take care of business beforehand

Before going to a restaurant, make sure your dog has peed and pooped to prevent accidents. Don’t use the restaurant’s grounds for this purpose, which “may not make them very welcoming” to you and your four-legged friend, Munden says. Bring extra poop bags and wipes just in case.

7. Carry water for your dog

Some restaurants provide water or a dog bowl for water upon request, but carry your own collapsible bowl and water just in case. It’s especially important on a hot or humid day so your dog doesn’t overheat. ​

8. Bring treats and more 

It’s OK to bring treats to a restaurant to keep your dog occupied and stop it from drooling over human food. It may be a good idea to bring a towel or blanket for your dog to sit or lie on, especially if the ground surface is hot.​

Some dog-friendly establishments, such as Dairy Queen, Shake Shack and Starbucks, provide treats and even special dog menus for canine patio guests, but call ahead to check. BringFido and other websites list dog-friendly restaurants and other businesses.​

9. Clean up after your pet

Wipes will come in handy if your dog drools or leaves bits of food on the ground. The goal is to make the dining experience positive for you and for your dog, but also for patrons and staff, Tupler says: “Don’t create an inconvenience for” restaurant staff. ​​​

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