Over recent years, the number of dog-friendly events and places has exploded. I’ve heard tell of dog-friendly cinema screenings and dog-friendly concerts. There are dog-friendly pubs and dog-friendly hotels. And, of course, my own personal favourite- dog-friendly workplaces.
This would be fabulous, if indeed all of these places were actually dog-friendly. Sadly, most of them are not. They are dog-owner-friendly, in that they allow owners to bring their dog along to human-friendly events and places.
To me, the definition of a dog-friendly event or space should be much more than that. It should consider the needs and normal behaviours of a dog, and consider how being at the event or space in question can be made as pleasant as possible for the dog without compromising the needs of the human users.
Small changes can make a huge difference to how a dog might feel about these places and I believe that a truly dog friendly space should:
Have adequate spaces to comfortably accommodate dogs.
Most dogs will want to lie down, stretch out and relax if they’re going to be in the one spot for a while. Many will want some sort of cushioning beneath them, particularly older dogs and the bonier breeds. And of course, they’ll probably want to move about a bit and see what’s happening. It’s not much fun to be brought somewhere, then expected to ram yourself under a table, lie down on the hard ground, and then stay there while your human chats, eats or drinks! Providing enough space for the dogs’ own beds, providing blankets or cushions, or raised beds (or better still, allowing the dogs on the furniture!) can help meet this need for a comfortable spot.
Take into account the acuity of our dogs’ senses.
We know that our dogs’ senses are generally a lot more acute than our own, particularly in terms of their hearing and their sense of smell. It is often said that a dog’s hearing is about 4 times better than ours, so screeching coffee machines, blaring music and shouty people are likely to be a dreadful assault on their ears! In coffee shops and workplaces, it may be possible to position dogs’ resting areas away from noisier machinery. For pubs or restaurants, a ‘happy hound hour’ could see the music turned off for periods of time to facilitate dogs and their ears!
Their sense of smell, meanwhile, is many, many times better than ours. Scent diffusers, perfumes and cleaning products tend to be strongly scented. And if they’re lying on a recently cleaned floor, their noses are a lot closer to those smells than ours are ever likely to be! As well as being aware of the ‘bad’ smells that are likely to offend our dogs’ sense of smell, we must also be aware of the ‘good’ smells that they’re going to want to investigate. The spots where other dogs have been, other people, food, etc. Not being allowed to check any of that stuff out must be incredibly frustrating for dogs, so it’s important that dog-friendly places allow for a degree of doggy mooching.
Allow for dogs to be out of the direct eye-line of other dogs and safe from unwelcome advances from unfamiliar humans.
Direct eye-contact is difficult for dogs. They naturally want to curve around each other, and otherwise use their body language to maintain a peaceful environment. In small places where dogs are tethered or otherwise restricted in movement, this becomes difficult for them. Simple things, like coats over chairs, can be used to break up situations where unfamiliar dogs could end up in each other’s direct line of vision. Where dogs are in motion (at markets, fairs, dog events etc) giving them a long enough lead to move away from other dogs or people, to curve around them etc. can help prevent stress or conflict.
Allow for dogs to be dogs.
Places that claim to be child-friendly will usually make allowances for children to make some noise, move around, and very possibly provide some sort of a diversion for them such as crayons and paper, rather than expecting them to sit still and be silent for the duration of their stay. Our dogs would most likely welcome the same acceptance of their doggy ways in dog-friendly places, as well as some sort of a diversion for if they get bored or restless. This could be an outdoor or indoor area that they could freely investigate, things to chew, snuffle mats or interactive toys.
Most importantly, as dog-owners, we can stop and ask ourselves if our dogs will really enjoy accompanying us to the dog-friendly event/place in question, or if it is just we who would enjoy having them there. Perhaps they'd prefer to go for potter around the local park and then home for a snooze? Food for thought...
If you’re a dog-friendly business, and would like help optimizing your dog-friendly environment, please don’t hesitate to get in touch!