Wiley, Bowie, Lenny. All rescue mutts.
Wiley, Bowie, Lenny. All rescue mutts.

The New Rules of Dog Ownership

A codified set of behaviors for dog owners in public places


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Human society is made possible by rules, both written and unwritten. Yet there’s no such series of concrete, accepted rules for dog owners, and that’s becoming a problem.

Take my experience this past weekend. In need of a quick getaway, my girlfriend and I booked a room at the Kimpton Goodland, in Santa Barbara, California, with our two mutts. All Kimpton hotels are incredibly dog friendly, which makes the boutique chain a unique resource for dog owners. There’s no extra deposit or fees for dog owners, and the pups are allowed anywhere in the hotel. (Except for the restaurants.) It’s a unique opportunity to enjoy a nice hotel with your dogs. But this weekend, even we were annoyed with the behavior of other dog owners. Dogs locked in rooms unattended barked persistently. Owners let their small untrained and unsocialized pets bark at other guests in the lobby and hotel bar. Some took their dogs to the poolside lawn for bathroom breaks. 

Of course, Kimpton, and other dog-friendly businesses, has some basic guidelines for dog owners: pay for any damage the dogs cause, pick up after them, keep them under control. But rules like that are both vague and extremely basic. There’s no further instruction on how to behave in public with your dog from dog owner organizations like the American Kennel Club. While the AKC offers a Good Canine Citizen certification to the dogs themselves, it offers no guidance for owners. 

If we want to be able to take our dogs into more hotels and businesses, and if we want to be welcome in public places and in general get along with the rest of human society, then us dog owners need a rulebook—an agreed-upon set of behaviors that will allow us, as a community, to better share our limited resources and to interact with the non-dog-owning public in a way that’s positive for everyone.

This is my best effort at setting those rules down in writing.

In General

Never Fake a Service Dog: Not only is this one of the few dog owner rules that’s written in law, but it also infringes on the rights and wellbeing of people with genuine disabilities. Taking your emotional support animal into a business or claiming that your pet is a service dog when it’s not is a violation of federal and state law. Here in California, for instance, that action is punishable by six months in jail and a $1,000 fine.

Ensure Your Dog Is Exercised: An exhausted dog is a good dog. Providing your dog with significant exercise, appropriate for its size, age, and breed, is the best way to ensure its behavior. An adequately exercised dog will appear calmer, make less noise, and be less reactive to other dogs. Always give your dog ample exercise before taking it to a public place.

Socialize Your Dog: If you’re going to walk a dog on city streets, take it to businesses, or visit public parks, then you need to make sure your dog is able to be around other dogs while remaining calm, friendly, and under control. If a dog is fearful or aggressive, it is not welcome in public.

Help Other Dog Owners: We are only as strong as our community. Contribute to it by being polite and patient with other dog owners, even if their dog is experiencing problems. Help them if they are in need. Do not be fearful of others’ dogs, or assume that yours is unique or deserves special treatment.

In Businesses

Ask First: Due to health codes, dogs aren’t allowed inside restaurants, and other places that make or sell food. They may be allowed on restaurant patios and inside businesses that don’t serve food. But it’s impolite to assume your dog is welcome. Rather than simply walking right in, stop outside the door, look for any signage that may indicate whether or not dogs are welcome, then catch the attention of an employee and ask permission to bring your dog inside.

Keep Your Dog on a Short Leash: Allow your dog enough slack in its leash that it may walk, sit, or lay down immediately by your side, no more. Not only do loose leashes represent a tripping hazard, but other customers may not welcome the presence of your dog. 

Your Dog Should Sit at All Times: Whenever you’re not moving around a business, your dog should remain seated or lying down. This demonstrates control on behalf of both the dog, and the owner, and works to put other patrons and business employees at ease.

Keep Your Dog Out of Walkways: It’s rude to ask other people to squeeze past a seated dog or step over one that’s laying down. Keep your dog under your seat or table, or against a wall, away from foot traffic.

Some Noise Is Fine, Persistent Noise Is Not: It is normal and expected for a dog to occasionally bark or whine. But it is invasive and annoying for a dog to continue to make noise after it is asked to stop. If you are unable to stop your dog from making noise, leave.

Your Dog Belongs on the Floor: If you have a small dog, it may seem convenient to place it in your lap. However, this puts the dog in close proximity to table tops, counters, and seating surfaces used by humans, and is considered unsanitary and impolite. Have your dog sit or lay on the floor.

Consider Other Customers First: Other people visiting the business may not welcome the presence of your dog. If you are seated in close proximity to other patrons, or if someone does not appear to be comfortable with your dog, ask their permission before bringing the dog into their space.

In Hotels

Never Leave Your Dog Unattended: Even if your dog has never before been a problem barker, being left alone in an unfamiliar environment may cause it to persistently make noise.

Walk Your Dog Frequently, Outside the Hotel: Your dog needs regular opportunities to go to the bathroom, and you should ensure it does so outside the hotel, in areas that aren’t used by other guests, such as lawns on the parking lot perimeter. Ornamental landscaping and poolside grass are not acceptable places for which a dog to relieve itself on.

Give Other Dogs Owners Ample Space: Kept on leash, in a confined area, dogs who are otherwise friendly may display defensive behavior. In hallways, on patios, and in other hotel areas, allow other dog owners plenty of room to pass or be seated in their own space.

In Dog Parks

All Dogs Should Always Be Off-Leash: Once in the appropriate, off-leash portion of a dog park, all dogs who visit should remain off-leash. Dogs get along better when unleashed, and the mixed presence of on- and off-leash dogs often leads to aggressive behavior. If your dog cannot behave off-leash, you should not visit a dog park.

Respect On-Leash Areas: See above. Some dog owners need to remain in on-leash portions of public parks and that need should be respected.

Pick Up Poop Immediately: Keep an eye on your dog, and clean up after it. If possible, also clean up any unclaimed poop.

Allow Dogs to be Dogs: Dogs like to run, jump, bark, and wrestle. Dog parks are safe places for them to do all that, and are a necessary resource for many owners. Be tolerant of a dogs’ need for exercise and play, and leave if you are uncomfortable.

On The Trail

Respect Leash Laws: Dogs should remain on-leash in areas where it is required. These trails are frequently busy, and used for multiple purposes, so leashes are required as much for your dog’s safety as they are for other people’s comfort. If you want to take your dog off-leash, visit a trail where doing so is permitted.

Pick Up Poop: Hiking with your dog may take place within a city park, where you should bag the poop, and carry it to a trashcan, or it may take place several days into the backcountry, where you should just make sure the poop is off the trail, and away from campsites and water sources.

Retain Control: Keep your dog within range of your voice and sight, and recall them before you have a problem with other animals, or other people.

Respect the Space of Others: Keep your dogs out of other people’s campsites. If other trail users appear uncomfortable with your dog, recall it, and have it sit next to you while they pass. Be especially careful around horses.

Always Carry a Leash: Even in remote wilderness areas, you may encounter situations that put your dog in danger, or where it needs to be leashed temporarily for the wellbeing of others, or the environment.

Don’t Get In Over Your Head: Weather, terrain, wild animals, and other factors can quickly make the outdoors dangerous for both owners and dogs. Scale your activities in proportion to your experience, and make smart, conservative decisions about your dog’s safety.

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