If you live anywhere near a major metropolitan area, chances are there is at least one coffee shop that allows dogs to come inside and socialize near your home (or a short distance away). Here in the New York City area where Janice, Leroy and I enjoy life, there are actually a handful of dog-friendly coffee shops along with different restaurants, venues and other establishments. It makes sense because New York is a very popular spot with dog owners. (HINT: The new documentary from Netflix, “Dogs”, features an entire episode on dogs in the Big Apple!).
Whenever I head into the city or one of the urban areas surrounding it, I feel comfortable bringing the dogs on their sturdier harnesses and allowing them to enjoy the fun of a city exploration. Not long ago, as we planned an excursion into Manhattan, good friend told me of a dog-friendly coffee shop in her neighborhood, and so we included it on our list of things to see and do.
Named Boris and Horton, it is was actually the first in the city designed to allow dining and shopping in the company of canine companions. It was not just a coffee shop that allows dogs (of which there are many), but one actually meant to be visited by dogs with their people along for the fun. Humans can enjoy food from the vegetarian menu as well as coffees and cocktails from a humans-only area, and then tote it into the dog-friendly area where a bunch of tables let you sit down with humans and dogs in the way life was meant to be lived!
My puppos loved their visit and meeting the resident dogs who give their names to the café, and as we road home, it got me wondering if this dog-friendliness is going to be a growing trend. Me being me, I went home and started to do some research that I would share with you – my dog-loving, coffee drinking – readers.
One of the first things I discovered is that the BringFido website offers up an ongoing and growing list of restaurants that welcome pups in all parts of the world. As they say at the site, they “point you towards a great sidewalk cafe, brew pub, coffee shop, or other eatery that will welcome Fido to join you at an outdoor table.”
Note those last few words – “an outdoor table”. This is not because the owners of these dog-friendly eateries are trying to get the street cred of saying they welcome dogs without actually welcoming them, but more of a health code thing.
For instance, at Boris and Horton, the owners worked around all of the health code issues by creating an entirely separate indoor space where dog owners can bring their puppos inside, and then go and get their food from the humans-only part of the café or place an order to have it brought to the indoor table. This is the same as having an outdoor seating area but allows year-round dog-friendliness.
There are not a lot of places that can offer such an option, yet, but with the clear interest in this sort of experience, it won’t be long before similar shops open up and begin serving humans and canines together.
That brought me to the next consideration or issue to research, and it had to do with etiquette and safety. After all, how do you navigate the tight quarters, potential food issues and other factors of a restaurant or coffee shop that allows dogs. What is a dog owner’s responsibility? What should you expect from a dog in terms of behavior or capabilities? I had a lot of questions I felt should be answered, and so you don’t have to go looking, I present all of the dogs and coffee shop etiquette answers you need! Not only will following these guidelines ensure you and your dogs have a great time whenever you go out to eat, but it also guarantees everyone remains safe the entire time, too.
After all, coffee, coffee grounds and coffee beans are toxic to dogs, and if you are heading into a place where some rather harmful foods are in great abundance, you want to be sure your dog is ready for the challenge.
Are Dogs Allowed in Coffee Shops and Restaurants if They Are Rude? Dogs and Coffee Shop Etiquette 101
The famed New York City publication TimeOut did an article about Boris and Horton, and in it, the owner says that she posts house rules to help dog owners understand what is accepted and expected. Some of the rules included things like “keep it classy” and “mind the hormones”, meaning that really strict guidelines are not readily available.
So, let’s just start with the basics and move forward from there:
Even if a coffee shop allows dogs, they don’t anticipate that you would bring a barking, nipping or overly energetic dog into the environment. That is why the very first rule of etiquette for bringing your dog into restaurants or coffee shops that allow dogs is to make sure they are what I like to call “restaurant ready”.
What does that mean? Actually, it means two things. The first is that your dog is up to date on all of its shots and flea medications. At dog-friendly hotspots, your dog is likely to interact with other pups. And even if they don’t, previous patrons may have left behind “traces” in the form of fleas and ticks. So, never pay a visit to cafes, restaurants or coffee shops that allow dogs without also being restaurant ready in that first way.
The second meaning of restaurant ready is that you have done all of the initial obedience training that ensures your dog will always, and by always, I mean ALWAYS, respond to commands such as sit, stay, leave it, come, and down. If they haven’t, you should revisit our articles about training and how to master those basic, essential skills.
Yet, just because your puppo is great about responding to commands at home or even at the dog park, it is important to determine how they will react in a place full of distractions, unexpected sounds and motion, and other dogs. The key here is to start small. Don’t head to the busiest dog park at peak play times to see if your dog is okay with other dogs and lots of hustle and bustle.
Start at a time when one or two dogs are around. If your dog is not socialized and growls, barks or cowers around other dogs, please take the time necessary to help them get over those reactions. Until you do, they shouldn’t be brought anywhere they’ll encounter other dogs, least of all a place with food and lots of activity.
In the past, I’ve written about places you can bring dogs to help them get exercise in hot weather, including big box stores like Home Depot. These stores also give you an opportunity to test out how your dog does in public settings. For instance, if you are not sure that your dog is restaurant ready or even public ready, take them into a store like Home Depot towards the end of business hours. See how your dog reacts to unusual sounds, new people, and all of those smells. If they are calm, you’re in luck!
If not, then watch to see what bothers your dog and work on those issues. For example, the biggest pet peeve (no pun intended) of restaurant and café owners is when dogs sit on the patio and bark at any odd sounds. The pan dropped in the kitchen, the people inside making noise, or the rush of the traffic might startle the dog, and if this results in some barking, it is not welcome in a restaurant.
If a dog has a barking issue in a restaurant, café or coffee shop that allows dogs, it might get all of the other dogs going, and nine times out of ten, you’ll be asked (quietly and politely, or not) to leave. Of course, it is not unusual to get your dog to a status at which you feel they are authentically restaurant ready only to see that they become very nervous or agitated if the café or coffee shop suddenly becomes overly busy. This is why it might be a good idea to test out your dog’s reactions to things like thunder vests and calming caps that help to cut down the anxiety, aggression or fear a dog experiences during a high stress moment (such as suddenly finding themselves on a short leash in a very crowded restaurant).
So, take the time well ahead of any restaurant visits to see how your dog is under those more challenging conditions. Once you get to the point where your dog will sit, stay, come, “leave it”, or lay down on command, act normally and sociably around other dogs and people, and ignore or overlook lots of hustle and bustle, you can feel comfortable that they are ready for a trip to a café or coffee shop that allows dogs as patrons.
As a responsible dog owner, I never bring my pets anywhere I haven’t already visited myself. I know what I can expect from those two lovable maniacs, and if I feel a space is just too small or overly crowded, I don’t bring them. Now, this is because they are rather large dogs prone to bouts of horrific gas, and though this is not a big deal at the dog park or even at some of those stores that welcome dogs, in eateries, it is…well, unwelcome.
By scoping the “lay of the land,” I also get to ask the owners or wait staff about the house rules or guidelines. For example, I was visiting a friend in Colorado and almost every restaurant had outdoor patios for dogs. Some even had entrances dedicated to the patrons with dogs in tow. However, not all had wait staff that came outside to take orders. This is more important than you realize because not many of us will feel comfortable leaving our dog(s) unattended in order to go inside, place an order, wait for it and carry it back outdoors. When I learn that a café or coffee shop that allows dogs has no table service, I make sure I always visit with a human friend in tow, and they will help manage the dogs while one of us gets the food and drinks.
Another thing I have learned by doing preliminary visits is which restaurants and coffee shops welcome dogs only when they are on leashes. Though some spots have laidback rules and even allow dogs to feel free to wander a bit, many also prefer that guests keep their dogs leashed and that the leash is attached to the human owner and not a table or chair leg.
As one dog trainer who advocates for always keeping your dog leashed when going to a coffee shop that allows dogs said, “Short dog leashes prevent dogs from bugging nearby guests while they eat, snatching fallen food crumbs from nearby tables, or jumping on tables and servers.”
I know, I know! It can seem counterproductive to go to a dog-friendly space only to keep your dogs tied up and under tight control. Trust me, it isn’t. Dogs still enjoy getting see and interact with other dogs, sniff all the good sniffs, and just be with you. Dogs, as we must always remember, typically want to be with their humans as we are their pack and pack leaders. Though it can be challenging for a more nervous or even aggressive dog to master restaurant readiness, and remain leashed, they will actually be happier to accompany you rather than sitting at home, alone.
If your dog has not yet visited a restaurant or coffee shop, or if you are unsure about the patrons you might meet, visit at a less busy time and ask for a quieter corner. If it is outdoors on a patio, find a spot with shade because overheating in the sun is not likely to make you or your dog very happy about the experience.
Also consider the seat you choose based on your dog’s personality. For example, there are some dogs that are almost entirely uninterested in other humans, and then there are dogs that need to greet everyone they see.
If your dog is a social butterfly and totally comfortable with all kinds of people, sounds, dogs and everything else a café or coffee shop can throw at them, you won’t have to be too worried about where you are going to sit. Naturally, if they are an overly exuberant dog that wants to say hi and welcome everyone, you don’t want to take a position near the entrance since this can actually lead to problems.
For instance, Janice, Leroy and I were entering the outdoor patio of a local family restaurant during the summer season. A couple with a large yellow Lab had taken the table close to the area left open for people and dogs to enter and exit. The owners thought it was just wonderful the way their dog stood up, barked once or twice and even tried to jump on some of the people coming in to take a seat.
Leroy, of course, misread this dog’s meaning when he leapt up, barked at me (ignoring the dogs) and made to jump. He issued a low, grumbling growl, and so I turned around and headed back to the car. Why? Because the Lab’s behavior was going to lead to some sort of scuffle. I heard from the restaurant’s owner that trouble did begin that same night, and it was (of all things) a tiny little Miniature Schnauzer who decided to put this heavy-handed oaf in his place.
It was not a big dog fight, just a moment of scary sounding snarls and a big “yip” from the Lab, but it could have been disastrous.
So, be thoughtful about where you sit with your dog(s). If they’ve never done a café or coffee shop that allows dogs, take up an out of the way corner or a place without much foot traffic. This way, the dog can watch, safely and cozily, from a distance. They can see that this is just a spot where humans and dogs come and go, eating a bit, speaking, and where friendly dogs say hi to one another.
If you have one of those hyper-social butterflies, also try to keep out of the way of the main flow of traffic as this discourages the dog from feeling the need to be friendly to all who enter. If, however, this causes barking, you need to train the dog to respond immediately to your “down” command and cease any disruptive behaviors at once.
And about the down command…
When I take the dogs into a café, restaurant or coffee shop that allows dogs or has a dog-friendly area, we follow a pretty fixed routine. They know that I bring the leash in short (only about three feet from their collars at the most) and that they are to go specifically where I lead them. They are great at ignoring things, though I know they give other dogs a side-eye as they strut to the table.
Once at the table, they know that it is bellies on the floor, and that the leashes remain on and tied to Mom’s waist. I usually ask for a corner area as it allows me to put them to one side of me and have a lot of control over the situation. If that is not possible, I just ask them to tuck themselves tightly to me and assume the down pose.
Why do I ask them to do this instead of just sitting up? A few reasons.
First, I really don’t agree with dog owners who allow their puppos to take a position on a chair at the table. This might be cute or commonplace at home, but in a restaurant or café, even a coffee shop that allows dogs, it is unsanitary and risky. A dog might feel territorial about the table or food, causing problems with the wait staff or other patrons and pups.
Secondly, it is how I taught my two to stop begging for food. Remember that I am a huge advocate for the use of positive reinforcement. That means training your dog in a happy alternative to the unwelcome behavior. My dogs were trained to take a down stay position instead of asking for table food and are rewarded for this with their favorite treats at the end of a meal or restaurant visit.
Yes, that means you should be super consistent about a “not feeding from the table” rule at home and in public. It is fun to treat your dogs, believe me, I know, but permitting or even rewarding begging is a bad habit and unhealthy for the dog.
It can also be really gross.
When I was a teenager, my parents adopted Bear. This was a good boy if ever there was one, and authentically one of the best dogs I’ve ever known. A total cuddle bug, he was a large guy (a German Shepherd and Rottweiler mix of some sort) who was so smart it was almost spooky. He would go on long woodland romps, swim in the lake during family vacations, crash by the fireplace in the cold weather, and watch TV with us.
One thing Bear did that was not so great was stare at you at the dinner table. He stared, and then he drooled. We’re not talking a little droplet of spit, but long impossibly sticky streamers of spit that make me gag just remembering them all of these years later. And if you had foods like pasta or ice cream, you might as well toss them away because you’d lose your appetite at the amount of slobber these caused that dog to emit.
Yet, we kept feeding him from the table because we were so crazy about him. This led to one very bad fight with a smaller dog we brought into the mix a bit later in time, and it became something unpleasant to anticipate at almost any meal. We didn’t do him any favors giving him table food when we should have just taught him a down stay and rewarded him for it later.
Now, imagine what might happen if you brought a dog with that caliber of drool production into a restaurant or dog-friendly coffee shop. Most people would complain, and you would more than likely be asked to depart, pronto!
You can usually eliminate the desire to beg by ensuring your dog has had a good meal before the restaurant visit. Yet, that can lead to the need for a potty break in the middle of your own meal. This is a main reason that few dog owners actually do give their pups heavy meals before heading to a restaurant. You can try this method to see if it works, but just remain aware of the potential issues it can cause.
So, be sure your dog’s restaurant routine starts with that down command, as it is great for restaurants and coffee shops because you can ask the dog to lay down at your feet, by your side or beneath the table, and this can be a good distraction from any other worries or concerns. If they think their “job” is to lay down in that chosen spot, they will usually do so, and still have fun people watching, dog watching and savoring all of the new and satisfying smells that a restaurant visit involves.
As I said, our routine is to enter on short leashes, go directly to the table without stopping to socialize – even if someone gives them a pat – and doing the down stay position. They sit quietly while I take my chair and connect the leads. They know that they are going to get their most favorite snacks once we reach the car, and so they never beg, drool, or try to snitch things from the table. When we are done, I give them the “let’s go” command that tells them it’s time to stand up and walk out. If someone says hello on the way out, we will usually stop for a moment as a sort of reward (Janice is a total social butterfly), but it is that bag of homemade treats that they know is waiting that motivates them to exit quickly.
And what if your dog is not great about the down stay position for a long time? It is okay to bring something for them to do. I’ve had times when we’ve been at a café or other establishment and it has stretched for a longer than normal visit. That is when they both get their fuzzy bunnies. These are “out of the house only” toys that they do not see until we are on overly long car trips or extended stays in other people’s homes or in spots like restaurants.
They are non-squeaky toys that are made from braided old towels. The dogs can gnaw on them, hold them between their paws and gnaw on them, and I’ve even seen Leroy delicately pick up the end of one in his mouth, and shake it back and forth very slowly and quietly (I called it his “quiet kill” mode”). The point is that these are visual cues for the dogs to sit and play quietly for just a bit longer than normal.
However, another part of our routine is to never outstay our welcome. If one or both dogs seem to be sending me cues that they are ready to go, I don’t expect them to calm down. They are well-trained and cooperative most of the time, and if one of them seems disturbed or agitated, I respect it. You should do the same and recognize that your noisy, fidgety or whiny dog is a dog that is ready to go home or head out of the restaurant. If that means getting a doggy bag…do it.
And if your dog’s signs of being bored include a desire to wander or make their way to the next table, definitely curb the behavior. I found that Leroy attempted this maneuver early on in his training. A few times he ignored or side eyed me when I said stay or sit. The way I ended it was simple – I walked him out to the car. He quickly learned that wandering of any sort meant the fun was over. If the neighboring dogs and owners clearly indicate that some socializing is welcome, don’t let it be a free-range affair. Keep your dog leashed, and be 100% focused on the interaction, that way you can intervene if any sign of trouble emerges.
Of course, your routine may also mean having some ready solutions to other issues besides boredom. For example, the excellent behaviors exhibited by Janice and Leroy usually get them a bit of praise from other dog owners or patrons of the eatery we are visiting. And while that is great, I’ve noticed that most people who comment on the dogs will fall into one of two groups:
The latter group is made up of people who might make a lot of noise when they see a dog, bend down and touch the dog without first checking that this is wise or acceptable, and maybe even feed them from their plates.
That is why I have a sort of “stock script” or at least a few bullet points that I am prepared to repeat whenever we meet those in the second group. Depending on how they act, I might speak as if I’m Janice or Leroy, “Oh…Mom doesn’t let us have table food because it can cause a fight” is one example of how I inform other people of the dogs’ rules.
There are a lot of issues that can occur…many more than you might realize. You’ll have to think fast if you want to give a more palatable answer than a simple, brusque “No, you can’t pet my dog.” Does it matter if you are that sharp? I think so. We all need to be just a bit nicer to one another, and dogs are a great conduit for socializing and interacting with others. Even if you are tired and grumpy, think about the reason you brought the dog or dogs with you into a public setting. Some people, whether they are polite or overstep boundaries, just need to connect with others, and your dogs might be a great way to encourage that. In other words, try not to just shut people down, even if they do something a bit annoying.
It is important that you prepare yourself for this at any time you head out with a dog because people are not always well-informed about the right behaviors, and some are actually offended if you correct or prevent certain things. As an example, you might have to have a few ready statements because:
In all of these instances and issues, you may need to speak to a stranger who is breaking one of the dog’s rules, such as trying to pet them, feed them, stop them as they enter or exit, and so on. If someone is kind enough to ask for permission, it’s the best scenario possible because they will understand if you say no or ask for something specific (i.e. he can’t have a treat until he shakes paws). If they don’t, it can be awkward, so do your best to inform them of the dog’s rules in as polite a manner as you can.
And part of any good restaurant or dog-friendly coffee shop routine is also to always be sure to have a portable water dish to provide the dog with a way of hydrating. Whether you are there for a long or short period, a dog should always have fresh water to ensure they remain comfortable.
Lastly, your routine should also include tidying up any messes your dog made. If they had some food below the table, make sure it is all cleaned up. If they spilled water, wipe it up. You shouldn’t leave any sort of mess for your wait staff to clean up, and you should tip them a bit more if they were attentive to your needs. I often reward wait staff if they bring extra water, some napkins and even an extra plate if I intend to share something with the dogs (though, I don’t…I know…I’m horrible).
Of course, dog etiquette and great behavior in a coffee shop that allows dogs can be assured by doing what I call “getting their ya-yas out” beforehand. As you might guess, it means I take the dogs for a romp just before heading to the café or coffee shop. This addresses several needs and issues. First, it burns up a lot of energy that might otherwise lead to bad behaviors, boredom and fidgeting when we are at the eatery.
Second, it lets the dogs do their business before we reach the restaurant. There is nothing grosser than a dog having an accident in the middle of an outdoor dining patio, and yet I’ve seen it happen many, many times. To prevent this from happening with Janice and Leroy, I simply enjoy that 30 to 45 minutes of play in a spot where they can also go potty if needed.
I have never had a problem with them in restaurants, shops or anywhere else because we take the time to burn off that excess energy and relieve ourselves ahead of time.
If you take all of these steps to get your dogs restaurant ready, you’ll soon be part of the dogs and coffee shop crowd. Remember, though, that the risks don’t end with behaviors and training.
As a prime example, there are still a lot of people who will argue that coffee is safe for dogs because it would take so much to actually poison them. These are the same people who might give your dog a treat and insist that it is fine for a dog to have one – even if it is human food with ingredients like chocolate or other potentially hazardous foods. Because of that, I would say that you might want to train your dogs to never accept treats from strangers if you will be making a real habit of hitting the local coffee shop that allows dogs on a regular basis.
You can train a dog to take something only when given the verbal cue that it is okay to do so. This is one way to reduce risks when dogs and coffee shops mix.
However, most dog owners are aware of the hazards and that caffeine, coffee and even coffee beans are bad for dogs. So, focus first on getting your dog ready for a visit to a coffee shop, and see how they like it. Also try to remember what one pet training expert said, “As pet owners, we represent all pet owners. Take your time and teach your dog how to politely react in a restaurant environment. It will make us all look good!”