One of the biggest challenges people face when traveling with their pets is figuring out where to eat. Leaving pets in cars – especially in the summer – can be dangerous. But the thought of taking a dog that acts more like a dingo to pet friendly restaurants isn’t pleasant either. Whether you have a pup who’s just learning his dining manners, or working with an older or reactive dog, these tips will help you teach your dog to behave at restaurants.

Golden Retriever dog and man sitting at a table at a pet friendly restaurant


Start Training At Home

The first rule of being a good dog owner is knowing your pup. So, if your pooch isn’t ready for prime time, don’t put him on the main stage! Begin by working with your dog at home.

With our puppy, Myles, we started by teaching him to lay on his mat while we ate. (Using a toy, stuffed with his food and frozen over night, kept his attention while we finished our meal.) Once he had the hang of that, we brought the stuffed toy along and moved outside where there are more distractions. Then we added some friends for even more challenge!

Puppy eating food from a toy inside

Puppy laying on a mat on a deck with a stuffed toy in front of him and people eating at tables behind him


Asking your dog to lay on his mat while you eat is something you can practice at home all his life. It’s a great skill to have when your hosting a dinner party or your house is full of holiday guests.

Tips for Dining at Pet Friendly Restaurants

Once your dog has the hang of things at home, it’s time to step things up. With every new experience, you want to set your dog up to be successful. You could start by going for a cup of coffee at a time when traffic will be slow. If that goes well, choose a quiet restaurant during a moderately busy time of day. Before you know it, your dog will be contently laying under your table for a multi-course meal during prime time.

Find The Right Restaurant

You can’t just decide one day to take your dog for brunch at the hip new place with people lined up around the block. If you want to have a good experience, you’ll need to do some homework first.

One thing to consider is whether the restaurant is truly pet friendly. When seating you, hosts at pet friendly restaurants will ask where your dog will be most comfortable. They’ll understand if you request a shady spot, or one that limits your dog’s view of other diners. And they’ll bring out a bowl of water for your pup.

You’ll also want to consider whether your dog will be comfortable given the restaurant’s seating arrangement. Some restaurants say their sidewalk seating is pet friendly, but trying to squeeze even the tiniest dog under your table away from foot traffic would be difficult. Other “pet friendly restaurants” have a fenced seating area and require pets to be tied outside.

The ideal dog friendly dining area has some shade, enough room between tables that dogs can lie down without being disturbed, and something that screens other diners — like potted plants or a lower level.

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Two dogs laying under a table at a pet friendly restaurant in Charleston, SC


Be a Good Ambassador

Having the opportunity to eat at pet friendly restaurants is a privilege, and it only takes one bad experience to ruin things for the rest of us. Doing something that might offend other customers or make additional work for the staff could cause a restaurant to change their pet policy. So, be sure your dog relieves himself before you arrive at the restaurant, keep him off the chairs and table, and don’t feed him off the restaurant’s plates or utensils — unless they’re provided for that purpose.

Toby the Bulldog enjoying items from the dog-centric menu at Lazy Dog Restaurant

Stay Alert

Patiently training your dog and choosing the right restaurant are a good start. But even if you have the perfect dog, eating out together means you’ll need to split your attention. While enjoying the meal and chatting with your companions, you’ll also need to keep an eye out for possible issues.

Another dog could pass by. The waiter might deliver a especially tempting dish to a nearby table. Someone’s toddler could toss food on the floor. A dog lover might decide to pet your pup. It’s your job to be alert and head off issues before they occur. Be sure to have few special treats to reward your dog for not reacting if something that would normally upset him.

Dog Friendly Restaurants in Chicago


Be Prepared to Leave

We all have bad days. Dogs included. And you can’t plan for everything. A squirrel might appear looking for tidbits. A rambunctious soccer team could show up for pizza.

If something happens and your dog starts to react, just get up and leave. It’s best if you have a friend who will pay the bill and have your food packed to go. But if you’re on your own, leave enough cash to cover the check and beat a quick retreat.

Tips for People Dining Near Dogs

Patronizing pet friendly restaurants – even if you don’t have a pet with you – is always appreciated. And don’t forget to thank management for their pet friendly policy! If you’re in this situation, there are also a few things you can do to support the pet owners dining with their dogs:

  • Ignore the dog. Yes, I know it’s hard. But if you see someone enjoying a relaxing meal, their dog lying peacefully at their feet, please don’t approach them. It’s no different than a stranger waling up to a family’s table to give their child a good tickle to get her all worked up.
  • Ask for permission. If you simply can’t resist, please ask for permission before you reach to pet the dog. And don’t let your feelings be hurt if the answer is no. Dogs are at different stages of ability. Perhaps it’s taking all this dog’s willpower not to lope over and cover you with kisses. Laying calmly by the table could be really hard work, and something as simple as a quick scratch could set him back in his training.

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What If Your Dog Isn’t Ready

Let’s face it … being a well-behaved dining companion is an advanced skill. It takes practice, and still doesn’t always go well. Perhaps your dog is still learning, or is too reactive to succeed in that environment. Does that mean you can never eat out with your dog?

Absolutely not! Picnic-style is the way to go when your dog isn’t ready for the challenge of pet friendly seating areas. Look for a deli, grocery store with a prepared food counter, or pizza joint and get your meal to go. A picnic table in the park might be a required step between your backyard deck and a pet friendly patio.

Man and dog sitting on the grass with a glass of kombucha at pet-friendly restaurant, Kebaba, in Bend, Oregon


Whatever your dog’s abilities, don’t lose heart – your pup is doing the best he can. The most important thing isn’t where you eat … it’s that you’re together.

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