Don’t forget the water bowl!

Sweet summertime is in full swing! With warm weather and longer evenings, you may find yourself craving al fresco dining in your city or town. And the only thing better than splitting a bottle of chilled white wine with someone you love is getting to bring your four-legged friend along for the adventure.

Your loyal pup will savor any and all time they spend with you, but it's essential to plan ahead for their comfort. After all, you want to be able to enjoy your meal and their company without worrying if they're overheating or stirring up chaos. We spoke with veterinarians about the best practices and strategies for taking your dog to a restaurant or bar during patio season.

Are Dogs Allowed at Restaurants and Bars?

The short answer: Yes, no, and sometimes. The rules vary by zip code, so check your local government's website before packing your dog up to dine. Also, you can't go wrong with preparation, says Annette Louviere, DVM, a veterinarian and the manager of technical veterinary support at Wisdom Health. She recommends doing your homework on dog-friendly places, including what amenities they offer (like dog bowls for water or shaded tables). You can also call ahead to see if they have specific guidelines or restrictions for doggie guests, including seasonality and breed. When you book your reservation, make a note you're bringing your pup, so they seat you appropriately.

8 Tips for Dining Out With Your Dog This Patio Season

Once you've checked (and triple-checked) the restaurant or bar welcomes your doggo, it's time to prepare for the adventure! From what to pack to how to keep your tail-waggin' bestie happy and calm, here's how to set both humans and fur children up for success.

1. Go for a long walk first.

As a dog owner, you know what it's like when your pup has been cooped up in the house all day due to weather. They couldn't go for their usual long stroll or playtime in the park, so now they have zoomies indoors. And they're restless, constantly whining or bring you their squeaky toys.

Now: think about that same energy at a busy restaurant. No thanks, right? Before you go out to eat, it's essential to take your pup on a lengthy walk, says Hunter Bowen, DVM, a veterinarian at Firehouse Animal Health Center. In addition to cutting down on enthusiasm, it also reduces the chances of an accident. "No one wants to have to get the poop bags out in the middle of lunch—giving them a good chance to go potty before you go will help avoid that," he continues. "The exercise also releases endorphins that will make them much happier and more relaxed during your outing."

2. Keep them close.  

When you're hiking or in an open area, a retractable leash might seem like a good idea, so your dog has more room to roam. But experts like Stephanie Lantry, DVM, the veterinary expert for the telehealth app Airvet, actually advise against using these, and say they're an especially big no-no for a patio. How come? Retractable leashes don't provide adequate control for your pup, especially in small settings. "No matter how cute fellow patrons or servers find your dog, no one wants to have them with their nose in their meal or have their leash wrapped around their legs or chairs," she continues. "Retractable leashes can also be a tripping or safety hazard and are not recommended."

dog at a restaurant
Credit: DisobeyArt / Getty

3. Make sure your pup has water. 

This may seem like a no-brainer, but when you're running late and in a mad dash to make it out the door, it's easy to forget. Many restaurants will provide a dog bowl for water if you ask, but in the instance they don't have anything available, you should pack your own along with some H20 for your pooch. As Bowen says, day or night, your doggo will get thirsty during any summer outing. "Take lots of water for them if it won't be available where you are going," he says. "Even if water will be available, it is a good idea to pack a water bowl that your dog is familiar with and comfortable drinking from."

4. Bring toys or treats to keep them occupied. 

Out of respect for other restaurant patrons, ensure your pup has their own space and won't be begging for food from you or others, says Katy Nelson, DVM, a senior veterinarian at Chewy. In addition to a water bowl, you might consider bringing some of their favorite ways to pass time so you won't have to tend to them every second. Nelson says this might include chew toys, chew sticks, treats, and even a small towel or blanket for them to lay on.

5. Keep puppies at home. 

"There are lots of reasons we all want to take our new puppy everywhere we go: we miss them, they miss us, and the world does deserve to see how adorable they are," Bowen says. However, as cute and cuddly as they are, young puppies shouldn't be brought to a restaurant or bar setting. And yes, this is true even if the pup (and ahem, you) have separation anxiety.

Bowen explains that taking your pup to a busy spot like a restaurant patio can actually put their health at risk. Unfortunately, puppies less than 16 weeks old or who have not finished their puppy vaccinations are very vulnerable to deadly viruses like canine parvovirus and canine distemper. "Your pup can catch those viruses from any environment that has had an infected dog in it recently, with no direct contact required, so never take your puppy to any public spaces until your veterinarian says they are ready," he recommends.

6. Be careful in the heat.

Just like humans sweat and become uncomfortable in high temperatures, our dogs can suffer from heat symptoms, too. If they spend too much time outside under the hot sun, they can become dehydrated, or worse, become a heatstroke victim, warns Lantry. When at all possible, choose a shady table and don't stay for too long. An hour or two is probably OK, but pay attention to your pup's actions to ensure they are cool enough and have access to shade and cool water.

7. Take a practice walk. 

In order for your first restaurant experience with your pup to be a success, you may need some practice, Nelson says. With food, drinks, noise, strangers, and possibly other dogs everywhere, restaurants can be overwhelming places, particularly for pups who don't live in cities.

She recommends starting small by taking your pup out with you on walks in public areas to get used to new sounds—both human and animal. "Once your pet is comfortable navigating public spaces, next get them used to food in public spaces; perhaps your favorite sidewalk cafe could be a great place to start," she shares. "After your pup has conquered the sidewalk, the enclosed area of a patio should be a great experience."

8. Listen to your dog and be flexible.

As Bowen puts it, just like us, sometimes our dogs are just not in the mood to be social or decide they are ready to go home. "When you take your dog out, listen to what they are telling you and be prepared to leave early if they are not having fun," he continues. "Sometimes it's hard to tell why they are stressing out, but the longer they feel that way in a public place, the harder it will be to take them out on doggie dates in the future."

Also understand that not all dogs are meant for crowded outings with tons of people and other pets. The hustle and bustle can make many dogs feel anxious and afraid. If you notice your dog displaying fearful body language when you have a lot of friends over or when out in public for a walk, your dog is probably not feeling safe in their environment (and probably wouldn't enjoy an outing on a patio). Signs of anxiety can include ears back tight against the head, whites of the eyes easily seen, cowering, stiff body posture, or trembling.

Always take your dog's safety and happiness into consideration first and foremost, and never force your pooch to do anything or go anywhere they don't enjoy.