Should Dogs Be Allowed in More Public Places?

Written on 08/18/2021
Island Dog Blog

No Tuckers allowed!

I recently came across an article* titled ‘Dogs are more and more like family to us. Why do some public places still bar them?’ written by a young dog owner advocating for dogs to be more widely accepted in public spaces.

Though the article was published a few years ago, it piqued my interest as the issue remains a pertinent and controversial one.

The author’s argument predominantly centres around the evolution of a dog’s role in our lives from family pet to something of much greater significance. Describing herself as a single, childless millennial, the author explains that her dog is essentially her family. He boosts her mental wellbeing by helping to alleviate her ongoing anxiety and depression. He evokes a parental-type bond with her, and to use her words, is the ‘center of her universe’ As a source of love, support, comfort and companionship, he fulfills a role in her life that might traditionally be occupied by a person. As such, she wants him to be with her when she goes out in public.

Thinking about Tucker, I can relate. He’s my own furry support system and I love having him with me whenever I can. But I can’t take for granted that he’ll be welcome. Whether it’s shopping, dining out, travelling, or even planning an outdoor visit, it seems that dog prohibition is still prevalent and the big red ‘no dogs’ sign an all-too familiar sight.

So, as dogs equal and even supersede humans in our affections, it begs (excuse the pun) the question: Should we allow them more in public places?

Four paws and retail

When it comes to stores, unless I see a large ‘dogs welcome’ sign outside, I tend to assume they’re not. I really appreciate a dog-friendly shopping experience, but as I live in fear of mortally offending someone by trying to take my dog somewhere he’s not welcome, I usually just leave him at home – so retailers, if your store is dog-friendly, don’t be afraid to really sing it out.

I’ve been pleasantly surprised to see dogs in large chain stores such as Winners, Home Depot, and Bed, Bath and Beyond, though in my experience shopping malls do not allow dogs (with the exception of service animals). Some small local retailers also allow dogs – pets stores are an obvious one, and I’ve also come across dog-friendly book stores, shoe stores, home stores and even liquor stores. But one of the problems for me is that it still seems a bit arbitrary – for example, why are dogs allowed in individual establishments, but not in the open space of a mall?   

While I don’t mind dogs in stores (as long as they’re well-behaved – more on that later), I know not everyone shares my enthusiasm. So, I decided to ask an online community of dog enthusiasts for their opinion on rover-friendly retailers, and if more stores should relax their rules. To my surprise, the overwhelming response was a resounding ‘no’.

Many cited poor behavior as the source of their enmity, including reactivity to other dogs and people while on-leash, aggression, and pooping or marking indoors (which I have seen happen in a pet store). A service dog handler commented that training a service dog takes around two years, much of which is spent teaching them to behave appropriately in public settings, and with this in mind, there was no way the average dog could be expected to do it. Allergies were also a factor, as was the fact that a lot of people simply don’t like dogs and aren’t comfortable around them. Conversely, someone pointed out that some dogs get stressed around people, particularly in crowds of them, which can also trigger bad behaviour.

Interestingly, I found that Europeans were far more approbatory than North Americans. A respondent from Switzerland explained that dogs are allowed in most stores there except food shops and pharmacies, and that you can even bring them into restaurants. However, she also noted that most Swiss dog owners train their hounds to a minimal level of obedience. Ditto in Austria, which also has more relaxed rules.

Some argued that it should simply be up to individual store owners whether to permit dogs, which seems reasonable but for the fact that many still choose not to – presumably due to the aforementioned issues.

Intrigued by the group’s antipathy, I wondered if having dogs in eateries would elicit a similar response.

‘No-one wants to eat near your dog’

I was born and raised in England, where pubs are ubiquitous and more often than not, dog-friendly. Many pubs have designated bar or lounge areas where dogs can accompany their owners – yes, they’re inside, and yes, they serve food. Customers (or ‘punters’ as we call them) who aren’t comfortable around dogs can enjoy separate, canine-free dining areas – or go somewhere else. All I can say is, don’t try to come between an Englishman, their dog and a pint. Similarly, many cafes also welcome dogs inside, so you can share your full English breakfast.

In my experience, Canada is far more prohibitive. In British Columbia (BC), dogs are banned from premises that prepare and serve provincial public health law (once again, with the exception of service animals). Thankfully, some eateries generously allow dogs in outdoor areas such as gardens and patios, although by law they’re not supposed to and as such risk being fined. In March 2021, the government of Nova Scotia introduced legislation to allow dogs on cafe, bar and restaurant patios in the province, while leaving the decision to permit dogs at the discretion of individual establishments. This seems like a decent compromise for dog owners, and I’d love to see similar allowances introduced here in BC.  

Back to my online polling, I once again encountered resistance, resulting in a heated debate with some locals. One respondent helpfully replied, ‘no-one wants to eat near your dog’, which irked me because well, proud dog parent. Another brought up the more legitimate point that it’s annoying and a potential hazard for serving staff to have dogs underfoot, but when I asked whether kids could be more problematic than my well-behaved dog, who’s sitting quietly under the table and well out of the way, I received the evasive response that ‘dogs are dogs and people are people’.

Overall, the biggest concern among the community was still poor behaviour, with honourable mention going to allergies. Hygiene was also raised, but if the last year has shown us anything, it’s that you’re much more likely to get sick from another person than a dog, especially when the only thing it’s touching is the floor.    

I can understand reluctance to bringing dogs into restaurants, particularly in finer dining establishments. While I’d love to take Tucker for a steak dinner, I’m aware that he’s a world-class shedder, and worse still, drooler, which can definitely be off-putting. That said, I do wish I could take him inside more casual environments like cafes and coffee shops, and personally, I certainly don’t see an issue with having well-behaved dogs on a patio or designated outdoor area – that way, you won’t get the dog hair soup unless you order it!

Know thy dog

Reflecting on my online feedback, I realized that people’s judgement is rooted in personal experience and that I am (shockingly) biased because my own dog is so well-behaved.

If I take Tucker into a store for example, I know he’ll simply stand next to me and wait patiently, or if I’m taking too long, he’ll get bored and lie down. On a patio or anywhere that food is present, he will understandably get more excited and fidgety, so I know I need to be firmer with him to settle him down.

For me, it’s pretty simple – dog owners, know thy dog. It’s an owners responsibility to be aware of their dog’s behaviour in public and to be in control of it.

While this seems like common sense, I was surprised to find that for the most part, the online community did not concur. Many didn’t like the opinion that owners are accountable for their dog’s bad behaviour, despite the fact that inconsiderate owners were consistently raised as a cause for concern. One argued that in the case of rescue dogs, their past experiences colour their present behaviour – which is very true – but that owners aren’t responsible for it. But the bottom line is, they are – if not, who is? Nowadays, there are a wealth of resources available to help tackle challenging canines. And if you don’t want to train your dog, no problem – just leave them at home where they’re happy and safe. If Tucker ever caused issues in public, that’s what I’d do, and it’s as simple as that. It’s about being considerate of others – everyone deserves to shop, eat, sell or serve without having to worry about rowdy, aggressive dogs, or their owners.

Circling back to our dog-loving millennial, it seems that she’s living in an ideal world. While it would be wonderful to take our dogs everywhere without worry, we still have a long way to go to reach that utopia. But if every dog owner took responsibility, we might have a shot.

*Here it is: Dogs are more and more like family to us. Why do some public places still bar them? By Cinnamon Janzer, The Washington Post.