Dining Out with Your Dog: 15 Etiquette Tips to Always Follow

Just because they can sit on your lap, it doesn't mean they should!

Dining out with your dog is a fun way to spend time together and can make your dining experience more pleasant. As the pandemic continues, more and more restaurants are offering outdoor service, making it easier than ever for your dog to tag along at mealtime. But whether you’re visiting a local restaurant or one of the best pet-friendly hotels in the country, there are a few etiquette rules you should follow so you don’t make other diners or your dog uncomfortable.

According to experts, the key is to be prepared and polite, and you should do your best to anticipate potential problems. After all, you don’t want to accidentally turn your pup’s leash into a tripping hazard—or force anyone to sit through a meal with a barking dog (no matter how cute he is). Follow these tips to make sure everyone is happy with you and your dining companion. And no matter where you are, avoid these rude habits pet owners need to stop ASAP.

Know your dog

The number one thing you should do before dining out with your dog? Be honest with yourself about your dog’s personality and training. No matter how well-behaved your pup is at home during a meal, not all dogs have a temperament well suited to dining out in public, says Sarah Wooten, DVM, a veterinarian expert at Pumpkin Pet Insurance. Dogs that are aggressive, easily startled, territorial, don’t do well with strangers, bark a lot, are high energy, have special medical needs, or need a lot of attention are likely to have a difficult time in any public space but especially in close quarters like a restaurant.

Another factor to consider is your dog’s size, says Stephanie Mantilla, a former zookeeper and a certified animal trainer at Curiosity Trained. Large dogs, even if they are “gentle giants,” may knock things over or cause accidents, while small dogs may get overwhelmed or scared. “Just because your dog is small doesn’t mean they are automatically good dining guests,” she notes.
You may want to overlook your fur baby’s quirks, but bringing a dog that may cause problems isn’t fair to the dog, the restaurant, or other diners. If there’s any doubt that your dog can’t handle dining out, leave him at home, Dr. Wooten says. These are the things your dog actually wants from you (and dining out isn’t one of them).

Know the restaurant

Similarly, some restaurants are better suited to hosting dogs than others, says Jeff Carbridge, a certified animal behaviorist specializing in canines and a consultant to the website Dog Owner. Casual dining and places with outdoor seating are your best bet. Check out a restaurant’s website and read reviews online.

It’s also important to keep the human patrons in mind, Mantilla says. While your dog may be well trained, patrons at other tables may not know how to deal with dogs, may be allergic, or may have a fear of dogs. It’s best to pick a restaurant known for being dog-friendly or one that allows for plenty of space between diners. Surrounding them with strangers is one of the things dogs hate when you do.

Call ahead

Even if you know the restaurant you will be visiting allows dogs, it is still a good idea to call ahead to clarify its policies and make reservations for the patio. This is also the time to let the restaurant know if your dog will need any special accommodations, like a water bowl, Dr. Wooten says.

Pick a corner table on the patio

Cute chihuahua young dog in outdoors cafe with chairs and green plants in pots in old city downtown. Summer morning solar bright effect. Pets friendly vacations travel concept.Prystai/Getty ImagesLocation can make it or break it when dining with a dog, Mantilla says. “If at all possible, eat outside on the patio and in a corner,” she says. “By having a corner table, your dog can be in a spot that isn’t next to other tables.” That way, your dog won’t be overly stimulated and will have a better chance of relaxing. Do you know these 28 ways your pet is trying to say “I love you”?

Use a harness and a short leash

Stick to standard short leashes when eating indoors or on the patio. Retractable leashes and long “tie-outs” are a health hazard and can cause trips, entanglements, and rope burns, says Erin DeAngelis, a dog behavior expert with Pet Supplies Plus. And make sure the leash is attached to a harness. “Dogs can easily slip out of collars, so a harness gives you more control if there is anything startling or when a dog is pulling at the table,” she explains. If you don’t own one, choose from this list of the best harnesses for every kind of dog.

Don’t tie their leash to furniture

The most common mistake owners make when dining out with their dog is tying the dog’s leash to a table, chair, gate, or other furniture. Don’t do it, as this can easily cause injuries to yourself or others or broken furniture, Carbridge says. “Always keep hold of their lead,” he advises. “You can loop it around your wrist, but don’t attach it to the furniture.”

Never feed your dog off your plate

High Angle View Of Dog At RestaurantThomas Gottschalk/EyeEm/Getty ImagesEven if you do it at home, resist the urge to feed table scraps or snacks to your dog when dining out, Dr. Wooten says. “Feeding your dog from your plate will reinforce begging at the table, and a lot of restaurant food is not healthy for dogs to eat,” she explains. Plus, other diners may be grossed out by seeing an animal eat at a restaurant table.

Avoid sitting by children

Kids often find dogs irresistible and may not know all the rules for interacting with them in public. That’s why it’s best to ask for a table away from diners with young children, DeAngelis says. Even if your dog is good with little ones, the excitement of play or the newness of the environment may cause him to react in ways he normally wouldn’t.

Feed your dog beforehand and bring treats

“Restaurants are a cornucopia of tempting food smells for your dog,” Dr. Wooten says. Making sure your dog is fed before you head to the restaurant so he isn’t hungry, as well as bringing treats, will keep him from sneaking the fried chicken off your neighbor’s table, she says. Try packing these simple homemade dog treats your pup will love.

Don’t feed other dogs

There may be other friendly, adorable dogs in the dining area, but resist the urge to share your dog treats or food. “Do not feed any dog you don’t know,” DeAngelis says. “Even healthy-looking dogs can have underlying health conditions that result in food restrictions.” Don’t allow strangers to feed your dog either, she adds.

Make sure they know these three commands

Dog sitting in a restaurant waiting to be attendedJ2R/Getty Images
If your dog cannot reliably obey “sit,” “lie down,” and “leave it” (for food), then you shouldn’t dine out with him, Mantilla says. Just like there is an expected standard etiquette for human diners, so there is for dogs. Taking time to train your dog is one of the 15 things great pet owners do every day.

Bring your own water bowl

While many dog-friendly restaurants provide water bowls, it’s not their responsibility to do so. “You wouldn’t ask a server to provide a bottle for your baby, so why would you ask them to provide a bowl for your dog?” Dr. Wooten says. She recommends getting a collapsible travel water bowl, since it’s lightweight and can be easily carried in a bag or purse.

Bring a comfort toy

If your dog has a special chew toy or a comfort object that will help keep him quiet, settled, and occupied, bring that with you, Carbridge says. Allow him to have the toy during your meal. You might have luck with these clever puzzle toys for bored dogs.

Seat your dog on the floor

Dogs should not sit on a chair, on your lap, or anywhere they could get food off of the table, Carbridge says. Additionally, keep your dog in a spot on the floor where he will be out of the way of other diners and restaurant staff—away from walkways, doors, busing stations, and other high-traffic areas.

Time it right

Pet friendlyMilan_Jovic/Getty Images
“Go when the restaurant is less busy and you and your dog are more likely to have a relaxed, enjoyable experience,” Dr. Wooten says. Also be sure to limit the amount of time you spend sitting. Just like with human toddlers, you want to leave before your dog gets bored, tired, or needs to go potty. Wish you could take your pup (almost) everywhere? You’ll have a lot more luck if you live in or are visiting one of these friendliest cities for dogs in the United States.

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Charlotte Hilton Andersen
Charlotte Hilton Andersen, BS, MS, has been covering health, fitness, parenting, and culture for many major outlets, both in print and online, for 15 years. She's the author of two books, co-host of the Self Help Obsession podcast, and also does freelance editing and ghostwriting. She has appeared in television news segments for CBS, FOX, and NBC.