Dining with dogs, the best low-maintenance pets

How to bring your furry friend to local restaurants and watering holes.

Love animals but live a busy, on-the-go kind of life? It helps to have a pet that matches your lifestyle.

Fish, cats, rodents and reptiles are often listed as easy-to-care-for critters. These small pets are great for busy people, especially those living in big cities and small apartments. But if you’re looking for low-maintenance pets that’ll join you on your adventures, you might want to consider the species that earned the title “man’s best friend.”

Dogs are eager and willing companions, and proper training can prepare them to join you on many of your favorite outings. Parks and trails are easy, but what about restaurants, breweries and cafes?

Here are a few things to keep in mind when taking your dog out on the town:

Know where you can go (with Fido in tow)

You may be surprised by how many spots will allow you to bring your dog along. Shops, restaurants, bars, breweries, wineries and vineyards, tourist attractions, and even some museums are opening their doors to dogs. Some may even roll out the red carpet for your pup, providing amenities like drinking water and dog treats.

And while most restaurants won’t allow pets to travel indoors (or near the kitchen), you can find local eateries and popular chains with pet-friendly patios. Keep in mind—especially when traveling—that pet policies can vary by city and state, as some locals are more relaxed about dining with dogs than others.

Just call ahead to make sure your dog’s allowed, and ask about any special rules.

Be mindful of breed and disposition

Looking for low-maintenance pets you can take out on the town? You might increase your odds of a good match by considering certain canine breeds.

Breeds such as Maltese and bichon frise can be perfect if you’re looking for small pets that travel well in a carrier. And small, nonshedding dogs may also make great low-maintenance pets for apartments, as long as you have time to take them for walks.

Breed can also provide some clues about a dog’s personality and behavior—the most important factors in determining whether your dog will do well in a public setting.

“Characteristics to look for include being calm and quiet, and an ability to gracefully handle the unexpected—say, a toddler pulling your ear,” says Dr. Jennifer Coates, a veterinarian and member of the Pet Life Today advisory board. (As an added perk, this advice could also lead you to low-maintenance pets that like to cuddle and that play well with children, too.)

“Breeds that tend to have these qualities include golden retrievers, Bernese mountain dogs, bulldogs, Cavalier King Charles spaniels, Clumber spaniels and shih tzus,” Coates says. “But you could easily find a dog of another breed, or a mixed breed, who would be an ideal partner.”

And while a dog’s breed can provide clues about their disposition, Coates cautions that every dog is different. “Variation between individuals shouldn’t be underestimated,” she says.

Thinking of adopting a dog past its puppy years? There are a couple of other traits to consider, says Jessica Gore, a Los Angeles-based dog behaviorist and certified professional dog trainer.

Gore suggests you pay attention to a dog’s prey drive (whether they’re likely to take off running when they see a squirrel) and their social savvy (how at ease they’ll be around new people and in strange environments).

“Some individuals have an innate social awareness, or savvy,” Gore says. “These dogs tend to play and get along well with most others but can also disengage easily when necessary. It’s important that the dog can work securely around novel stimuli. That’s a special quality not all dogs possess, but it can be improved with positive training and socialization.”

Get your dog restaurant-ready

Ever see a well-behaved dog sitting quietly by its owner’s feet at a local cafe? That can be the payoff of good training. And with the right guidance, your dog can dine out with grace, too.

“I honestly believe any dog can join you on your adventures to pet-friendly cafes and shops,” says Nicole Ellis, a pet expert and certified professional dog trainer with Rover.com.

Want to get your pet restaurant-ready? Consider these important training tips:

Start early with socialization

Human children learn some things faster than adults. And the same is true for other species, including dogs, which go through a critical socialization period, Ellis explains.

Want your dog to get along well with strangers? It’s helpful if they get used to meeting new people as a puppy. Ellis suggests your dog meet more than 100 people in their first year of life. Along the way, they should learn polite greetings. That means not jumping up on people, Ellis says.

Your dog should also become comfortable with the kinds of experiences and people (both adults and children) they’ll likely encounter when joining you on your adventures.

“Be sure to expose them, with positive reinforcement, to all sorts of items, sounds and experiences,” Ellis advises. “This will help them not only not be scared or reactive to these sounds but also be confident. Everything from firework sounds, doorbell, large crowds and various types of people.”

And while it can be easier to train a puppy, Ellis says that adult dogs can still learn these behaviors. So if you’re looking to rescue a dog from a shelter, you can still find a low-maintenance pet, eager student and well-behaved dinner companion.

“Many rescue dogs have been exposed to tons of experiences already and are eager for positive guidance through familiar turf,” Gore explains.

Practice basic commands

A few well-learned commands can go a long way in getting your dog restaurant-ready.

“The most useful commands when dogs are in public spaces are ‘come,’ ‘down’ and ‘stay,’” Coates shares. “Dogs who impeccably follow these commands, even when in a highly distractive environment, are probably ready for a restaurant.”

Another important skill? “A strong ‘leave it’ behavior to ignore any dropped food,” Ellis says—especially helpful when that bread basket takes a tumble.

But even the best-behaved dog can grow restless. And you’ll give your pup a better shot at success when dining out if you make the experience familiar and enjoyable.

“I love teaching dogs to lay on a small mat, such as ones that P.L.A.Y.® sells that are small enough to roll up and bring on our adventures,” Ellis shares. “It’s easy to teach this and useful when dining at a cafe, as you can ask your pup to go relax on his mat—a behavior he knows because you practiced at home first.”

Another pro tip from Ellis: Your dog is more likely to relax if they’ve worked off extra energy before your outing. So take them on a walk before you ask them to sit still for an extended period of time.

Don’t feed from the table

Want a quick way to undo some of your pup’s great training? Feed them from the table.

It can be tempting to share a small treat with your dog, especially if they’ve been good. But don’t let it come from the table, cautions Gore.

“Dogs are very smart,” she warns. “They’ll quickly learn that these situations mean a possible paycheck for them, and the associated behaviors may ensue—like begging!”

Don’t mind those puppy dog eyes staring intently at you and your plate? Even if you think it’s cute, the people at the next table might not.

“Dogs should never see these outings as an opportunity to eat,” Coates says. “The last thing you want is for your dog to start bothering other patrons.”

To reduce the likelihood of begging and scrounging, Coates recommends feeding your dog before you take them out. Ellis suggests packing a treat like a bully stick to make the experience more pleasurable. And if it’s hot outside, don’t forget to bring a small bowl and some water.

That doggy bag is just for you

Need another reason not to feed your dog table scraps? Even your leftovers can be a problem. Many popular human foods are hazardous to your dog’s health. And guessing what’s in restaurant food can be tricky, as menus don’t typically include full ingredient lists.

“Some common human foods should be avoided because they can cause sensitivity, throw the system off balance or become toxic in quantity,” Gore explains.

Chocolate, onions, garlic, grapes, raisins, and the sugar substitute xylitol are all foods dogs should avoid, says Coates. Reflecting on other restaurant foods that pose a risk for your pup, Ellis adds alcohol, avocados, coffee, mushrooms, walnuts and candy to this do-not-feed list.

It’s not just about avoiding foods that could be toxic—there’s also the issue of allergies.

Soy, wheat and animal products such as eggs, dairy, beef, lamb, pork, rabbit and fish are some of the common sources of canine allergies, she says. Concerned about potential allergies? Ellis recommends running an at-home allergy test designed for dogs.

Teach old dogs new tricks

Some dogs may be better suited for dining out than others, at least initially.

But don’t forget: “It’s never too late to start training and bringing your pup on adventures with you,” Ellis says. “I have a feeling you’ll both enjoy the process and adventures you’ll have.”

So what are you waiting for? Pack some water, a chew toy and your pup’s favorite mat—and go explore some dog-friendly spots.

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