Here's everything you should consider before your pup tags along at the tailgate.
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dog at a tailgating party
Credit: Keith J Finks / Shutterstock

September is in full swing, and we all know what that means: It's football season! Whether you're deep into a fantasy league, or just relish the opportunity for chili and appetizers (guilty), it's an exciting season with lots to do. And just like every other occasion, we love to get our pets involved in the fun however we can. That begs the question: Is tailgating with dogs possible?

Who doesn't love a tailgate? You're outside in a parking lot or in a yard before the big game. Your friend's got the grill going. The portable speaker is way too loud. The cooler's full of tasty—or at least cheap—adult beverages. This is the best part of gameday, especially if your team happens to stink.

Considering that it's an outdoor party, dog owners might want to bring their four-legged friends along—but there are a few things to consider first.

Can You Bring a Dog to a Tailgate?

"The question of bringing a dog to a tailgate party isn't a complicated one … Yes, of course you can. Before you do, however, consider your dog," says Sarah Hodgson, a certified dog trainer and behavior consultant.

As their paw-rent, you know your dog best. Are they a social butterfly who enjoys ear scratches from all angles, or are they typically shy when it comes to meeting new people? Hodgson says that most dogs, similar to people, need personal space and might not want to be touched by random strangers.

"If your dog is the rare exception—loves people of [all kinds] and at various levels of inebriation, can tolerate unfamiliar distractions, and doesn't mind the occasional hug, then yes, you can try to bring them," she says.

You should also consider yourself and how you like to enjoy a party. "Bringing a dog is like bringing a baby. Do you want that responsibility?" Hodgson says. If you think you'd rather let loose and enjoy yourself without restraint, it's best to leave your pup at home.

Is Your Dog Enjoying the Tailgate? Signs to Look For

You can tell a lot about your dog through their body language—according to Hodgson, there are key communication points through subtle movements in their eyes, ears, mouth, tail, and stance. Watch out for the following signs that they are uncomfortable:

  • Tail positioned to one extreme: arched over the back or tucked
  • Ears lowered or pitched over their forehead
  • Mouth closed or lips curled
  • Pupils dilated with eyes either blinking or still and strained
  • Posture rigid or lowered
  • Other behaviors that can indicate a rising level of emotional distress, like yawning, panting, or lip-licking

"These signals indicate a rising level in [the] cortisol hormone—the stress hormone that can trigger the fight or flight response," Hodgson says. If the excitement of the tailgate causes stress or any of the behaviors mentioned, she suggests taking your dog home or to a safe location away from crowds to help them calm down.

10 Tips for Tailgating With Your Dog

The big game is this weekend, and you've decided that your social, people-loving pooch will be comfortable with the crowd. Great! Let's talk through a few tips to ensure that your dog has a good time.

  1. Make sure dogs are allowed at the venue.
  2. Check the weather: Keep dogs at home on hot, cold, or rainy days.
  3. Dress them in appropriate attire that they're comfortable with—don't put them in ill-fitting clothes or accessories just for the sake of the tailgate and photo ops.
  4. Make sure your dog is socialized and good with crowds.
  5. Keep your pup on a short leash so they can't wander into trouble (leave the retractable leashes at home).
  6. Bring familiar items: "Remember to pack a few constants from home: a mat, favorite ball, or toy," says Hodgson.
  7. Bring plenty of water, a collapsible water bowl, and treats to reward good behavior. Don't forget the poop bags!
  8. Don't let people feed them any table scraps, and make sure they stay away from the food tables so they don't accidentally ingest something toxic. Watch out for any spilled beverages your pup could lick up—alcohol is extremely dangerous for dogs.
  9. Don't expect them to last all day, even if they love people. Dogs have social limits, too.
  10. Finally, it's perfectly OK to leave them at home. "Should you decide to leave your dog behind with a trusted family member, friend, or dogwalker, don't feel guilty," Hodgson says.