What Makes a Great Pet-Friendly Destination?

Mixed breed dog on boat in St. Lawrence River

Shadow really enjoyed the boat ride we took in the Thousand Islands region--especially once the little kids at the front of the boat spilled their popcorn.

We’ve had a lot of fun learning about the best cities for pet travelers this week. But what really makes a place pet-friendly? Is it  just having a nice dog park or a shop that sells yummy dog treats? Or are there other things you should consider when taking your dog on vacation with you?

Is this place pet-friendly?

These are the questions I’d suggest you ask before deciding.

Can you get there by a method that is safe, comfortable, and enjoyable for your pet?

Sure, Paris is commonly regarded as one of the most dog-friendly places in the world. Even indoor restaurants and shops welcome dogs. But if you have an English Bulldog and live in Australia, the long flight in a plane’s cargo area takes it off your list.

Consider sharing a croissant with your pooch and watching Amélie on DVD instead.

Once there, can you find lodging that is truly pet-friendly?

Some hotels allow dogs but place lots of barriers on your use of their property. A place that is truly dog-friendly will feature the following:

  • Large, grassy areas for walks and potty breaks. If you leave the hotel entrance and have to walk many blocks before you find a permissible area for your dog to relieve herself, all the dog biscuits on your pillow don’t make a hotel pet-friendly.
  • Non-smoking rooms for non-smoking people and their dogs. Just because some dogs can be messy doesn’t mean I want to have a migraine caused by sleeping in a room with lingering tobacco smells. Smoking and dogs are two different matters and a customer-friendly hotel should be able to accommodate both.
  • All clean and well-behaved dogs are welcome regardless of size and breed.
  • The setting will be comfortable for your pet even if you leave him alone (briefly) there. You must be able to put a “do not disturb, pet sleeping” sign on the door or know that your dog won’t panic from the sound of dozens of people using the ice machine across the hall.

Are there plenty of enjoyable things to do with your pet?

I’ve loved exploring cities with my dogs. But if your dog panics around lots of new people and other dogs, she might rather you take her to a state park—off season.

What does your dog really love to do on a regular basis?

  • play in water or swim?
  • hike or climb?
  • socialize with other dogs?
  • meet new people?
  • sit quietly and watch the world go by?
  • eat little morsels that fall near his head?
Golden Retriever in a Kayak

This kayaking isn't too bad. You're not going to make me paddle, are you?

Your honest answer to this question will tell you what destination your dog would find pet-friendly. Don’t even think of taking a high-energy dog that loves to run shopping in a congested area followed by brunch where he sits under your table for over an hour. At least not unless you’ve given him a several hour workout first.

And your couch potato whose favorite form of exercise is snagging a stray piece of popcorn during movie night is probably not going to become a dock diver overnight.

Pet-Friendly According to ?

Yes, lists of dog-friendly cities and towns are lots of fun. They get us dreaming of travel and saying, “Gee, I wish my town had that.”

But the list of pet-friendly destinations for your family will be unique.

I’ve been vacationing with dogs for over 20 years. When Agatha and Christie were with us, most of our vacations were camping. They had separation anxiety and would not have done well in a hotel room if we had to leave them briefly. Our trips featured lots of togetherness and campsites far from other people and strange dogs.

Honey is a different dog. She has as much fun frolicking with new dogs in the surf as she does being admired by servers while sitting under our table in a restaurant.

For Honey, the most important thing is traveling there comfortably and being comfortable once we arrive. We know we will find fun once we get there.

When we’re not camping, we usually rent a house for a week at our favorite vacation spot (Cape May, NJ is at the top of the list). Having a house is comparable in price or a little less than a hotel room, allows us to save money by letting us cook at home, and gives us a roomy place to hang out with Honey when we’re not doing vacation-ey stuff.

Now that I have a more social dog, I’ve been thinking about more unusual travel destinations. I love a parade. How about Mardi Gras in Louisiana?


Would your dog find this fun? Or dreadful? Do you have other questions you ask before deciding if a destination is pet-friendly?

Best City for Pet Travelers Brackets

Check out the hot competition for best city for pet travelers over at the Go Pet Friendly blog. You’ll get lots of ideas for interesting places to travel.

And I’d love your vote to move Cape May, NJ on in the competition. Go. Vote. Now.

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  1. I’d love to travel more with Georgia now that she’s less noisy in cars and has lost her angst with strange dogs. Not sure she’ll like camping. Sleep on the ground? Yegods! I hate pet friendly places that have size/weight restrictions or that are decorated with white couches, glass tables, breakable knick-knacks and polished floors. Are they nuts?

    Has Cape May given you the key to the city yet?

  2. My dogs have simple needs for a getaway: a romantic walk across a beach on the Pacific Ocean and something dead to roll in. Needless to say we are at odds on where we go.

  3. I need a person(s) to care for the dogs at home so I’m able travel with the dog I choose – most likely Justus – a big boy with good house manners who loves a parade.
    BTW, your video gives me an idea for a fundraiser for next year….

  4. Kol’s greatest thrill in life is a balcony, high over the city, so I always ask if the balcony is fully enclosed with glass or if it’s just a metal railing. He’s small enough to squeeze through a railing, so I’m not taking any chances. I also tend to ask how close the nearest independent pet store, since we feed raw and I pick up food when I get there. Felix is a tad reactive, so I prefer hotels that don’t have the bedrooms right on the hallway, that way I can close him up in the bedroom and know he isn’t going to hear people coming/going and bark.

  5. We’ve learned that traveling with the dogs means we have to be able to pace things at different rates for them. While Bunny and Morgan can go all day, Blueberry can’t, and Kuster needs a lot of activity for a while and then some down time. We’ll be traveling with them next month for the first time since we lost Lilac and added The Kus. I pray we don’t get kicked out of our hotel! I know the girls will be good travelers, and Kuster did great on his own, but how he’ll do with all of us there together remains to be seen.

    One thing I’d say to check when you travel with your dog is to check for any BSL that might exist. It wasn’t something we ever gave a thought to before we had the Shepherds, but it matters a little more now. You also need to be sure to really watch your dog when you travel. A tired dog can get into trouble a lot more easily.

  6. Wonderful post Pamela. I think it’s hard to imagine myself traveling anywhere with my dogs. Unfortunately, in the “house of special needs dogs”, a trip anywhere requires a lot of planning, and in some cases a lot of unnecessary stress for Daisy and Lady (I think Jasper would love it.)

    But, the idea of renting a home somewhere that allows us all to enjoy a bit of down time sounds lovely. I may have to check that out. Thanks for the idea!

  7. A good question. One of the main problems traveling with our dog I think is dining. Some hotels say that you can’t leave the dog in the room alone, and even if you could I’m pretty sure Kelly would bark the whole time we were away. I think in-room pet sitters might be our only solution.

    I’m pretty sure one of the dogs in that video is a goat.

  8. We too like renting a house. It’s the best way for us to enjoy our vacation. Neither one of us is comfortable leaving the dogs home.

    Our best vacation was when our daughter got married in Florida, we rented a house on a canal in St. Petersburg. Since we were just relaxing and getting ready for a wedding Sampson always had someone around him and on the day of the wedding and the day of the rehearsal he stayed by himself but by that time he was comfortable in the house.

    I noticed a lot of hotels have weight restrictions and your dog must be crated when you are gone restrictions, which are total turn offs for me.

  9. Are there really still hotels that have smoking rooms? I think they have been abolished everywhere in Canada now, with the exception of Quebec. Clearly I need to get out more.

    So far any traveling we have done with our dog has involved camping. I am just not sure yet about bringing her to a hotel room. She can be overly anxious in new spaces and I’d hate to get in trouble if she started barking at every bump in the night, or every voice in the hall. Camping is fun for all of us though and I am really looking forward to summer to get out there again!

  10. I love your tip about renting a house. It never occurred to me because I assumed it was MORE moneu than a hotel. I will absolutely look into it.