Okay, so my dog Honey is Little Miss Perfect. I can take her to parades, malls, and even social media conferences without fear of being embarrassed or threatened with doggy jail. Most of all, I can take her out to eat on a pet-friendly patio.
But I haven’t always had confident and well socialized dogs. And I know from experience you can eat out with a reactive dog without losing your mind.
What is a Reactive Dog
“Reactive” is a way to describe a dog’s behavior in certain situations without judging it. It simply means a dog has a strong reaction to outside stimuli.
If your dog barks at strangers or becomes a fuzzy little psychopath when another dog walks by, taking him out to a pet-friendly restaurant may be the last thing you can imagine doing. But I have a little bag of tricks for vacationing with reactive dogs. And I have another for eating out with them.
Before Taking a Reactive Dog Out to Eat
I’m assuming that if you’re thinking about dining out with your reactive dog that you’re actively working to lessen his reactivity. You’re doing training to help him focus on you instead of whatever jacks him up in the surroundings.
If you aren’t doing that, then stop reading this piece and start researching training and treatment for reactive dogs.
But if you think you and your dog have reached a point where you can manage his reactions, here’s how to plan a successful meal out.
Don’t just decide one afternoon you want to go for brunch at that cool place that has people lining up around the block. Do your homework first.
Is the restaurant truly pet-friendly?
I remember visiting a restaurant in Cape Cod that advertised itself in all the tourism literature as having dog friendly dining. As we walked up, the hostess came running out to give us a list of rules and a lecture on proper behavior. She then seated us in a far-off corner. I got the feeling the restaurant’s owners thought being dog friendly was a good business opportunity without actually liking dogs at all.
In contrast, when we go to Gecko’s in Cape May, the hostess asks where we think our dog might be most comfortable. They understand when I ask for a shady spot or one that limits my dog’s view of other diners. And they bring out a big bowl of water as soon as we sit down.
Can your dog sit in the restaurant comfortably?
Pet-friendly dining on Restaurant Row in my hometown is insane. They crowd as many tables onto the sidewalk as they can fit and all but the tiniest dog would find it uncomfortable.
I look for a dining area that has some shade, enough room between tables that my dog can lie down without being disturbed, and a location that screens other diners—perhaps behind some potted plants or on a lower level.
If your dog can’t relax, he’ll be up looking for things to bark at.
When is the restaurant least crowded?
If eating lunch at 11 a.m. or 3:15 p.m. gives you the best chance of having the place to yourself, take it. Remember, you’re the one asking your dog to eat out with you. He’s not begging you to take him to a restaurant.
Set Your Dog Up For Success
Reward your dog for not reacting. Or better yet, keep him so busy he doesn’t notice what’s happening around him.
If you’re eating, why not feed your dog at the same time by packing his meal into a stuffed Kong? Not only will your dog stay busy, but he’ll see that eating out is very rewarding.
Plan an Exit Strategy
You can’t plan everything.
A woman walks by with a Yorkie in her purse. Your dog freaks out at men with beards and the Ernest Hemingway club stops in for a few drinks.
If despite your planning your dog starts to react, get out of there. That’s why it’s best to have a friend who will pay the check and pack your food to take home.
Which leads me to another idea.
What If Your Dog Just Isn’t Ready
Let’s face it. Sitting calmly under a table in a restaurant is an advanced skill. And maybe your dog is too reactive for that environment—no matter how well you prepare.
Does that mean you can never eat out with your dog?
It didn’t stop me from eating out with Agatha and Christie. Picnic-style is the way to go when your dog isn’t ready for cute decks and patios.
In Cape May, you have to stop at Hot Dog Tommy’s. If you can find a quiet place to click and treat your dog for not reacting to everything happening around him, your partner can get a couple of dogs to share with you on a deserted stretch of beach or a quiet corner of the park.
It may not be the same as enjoying brunch and mimosas with your best friend sitting at your knee. But you’re eating out with your dog. And what could be better than that?
Best City for Pet Travelers
Key West Florida is kicking Cape May’s butt in the competition. That is unacceptable.
Why should Key West win just because people have heard of it? Time to talk a little trash.
Here’s why you should NOT vote for Key West:
Zombie cats – One of Key West’s famous tourist destinations is Ernest Hemingway’s house which is overrun by six and seven toed cats. That’s just weird. I’m thinking these are zombie cats who want to eat your dog’s brain (light meal though it may be).
Heck, maybe they’re controlling Amy’s brain at Go Pet Friendly so they can carry out their nefarious plan to lure dogs to their town.
Okay, maybe not. But are you sure? Really sure? If there’s any doubt in your mind, go vote for Cape May now (fifth up from the bottom).
Celebrating the dark – Yeah, everyone makes a big deal about toasting the sunset at Key West. But that’s just crazy.
On the longest day of the year, Key West has 1 1/2 fewer hours of sunlight than Cape May. So why are they so excited about the sun going down? Unless the zombie cats are really vampire cats and they’re controlling everyone?
Ashamed to be seen with you – Yep, Key West has a marker stating they are the farthest south you can be in the U.S. Sounds like a teenager who’s pretending she’s not really with you.
“Friends” have called New Jersey an armpit. But there’s no doubt she belongs in the U.S.
Vote for Cape May as the Best City for Pet Travelers. It’s a great town for dog lovers, foodies, nature lovers, and architecture buffs. And TripAdvisor ranked it as the second best beach in the U.S. and 9th best beach In. The. World.
Update: Sadly, Cape May was knocked out of the competition by Key West. Damn zombie kitties.
Your Turn: How do you decide when your dog is ready for a new adventure, like eating out with you?