Pet hates: the doggy dos and don'ts at your hotel

09 February 2023 by

For every hotel that welcomes dogs there's another full of doggie don'ts. Lottie Gross reports on how to welcome dogs the right way

The hospitality world is awash with dog-friendly offerings. Dog-friendly hotel rooms, dog-friendly afternoon teas, dog-friendly roast dinners and even dog-friendly spa treatments.

So it's hardly surprising that the benefit of letting the dogs in goes beyond profit margins. Kennel Club research shows that many think that dogs lift the atmosphere of a venue, and the same research showed that almost 20% of dog owners will go elsewhere if they can't bring their pet.

Dog owners are often more than happy to spend extra so their pet can be included, so making them your target market is a clever decision. But it's not as simple as letting them in and continuing with business as usual, and getting it right can be a challenge – one person's definition of "dog-friendly" is another's "dog tolerant", and the latter won't be impressed.

For example, on the first trip I did with my late Manchester terrier Milo, we found ourselves in a catch-22 situation: dogs were not to be left alone in the room, but they're also not allowed in the breakfast room. To get over this, I was asked to have breakfast in my bedroom – and pay a hefty tray charge for the privilege. Not exactly dog friendly.

So what is dog-friendly? The needs of dog owners are relatively simple: they need a large enough space for the dog to sleep, a bowl or two in the room for food and water, somewhere nearby for a morning or late evening toilet walk, and a space in the restaurant where they can dine with their pet. And if you can go the extra mile – an enclosed space for dogs to run around off the lead so owners can exercise them stress-free, or perhaps a map of local walks that are doable with a dog in tow – then that's even better.

Doggone it

It's essential to ensure you're investing in the right things. A favourite among pubs and restaurants is a "Doggy Dinner" menu, but veterinary surgeon at ManyPets, Kirsten Ronngren, doesn't approve: "Generally speaking, I recommend people avoid giving their pets human food. This is mainly because people don't realise what can be toxic to pets, but also because even things that aren't necessarily toxic can cause GI upset. A major issue is that pets can easily get vomiting, diarrhoea and even pancreatitis from things that wouldn't normally bother you or I."

No dog owner wants to contend with picking up after a dog with the runs, so it's likely your lovely doggy afternoon teas or roast dinners are only going to make things tricky.

"I would say the best things hotels can do to be dog friendly would be to make sure treats are pet safe, provide water bowls in common areas, and make sure they have outdoor areas for dogs to go to the toilet that are maintained and cleaned regularly," says Ronngren. "Also, if they could avoid having things that are tempting for dogs to chew on, and avoid things like toxic plant species, that would be a bonus."

Even the seemingly innocent "puppuccino", a cup of whipped cream popularised by coffee chain Starbucks, isn't really dog-friendly. They might love it, but it's not good for them, says dog behaviourist Adem Fehmi, whose Dog-ease dog school has a fake café setting where dogs can practice being good boys and girls in public.

Another pet hate of his is untrained staff: "There should be a clear staff code of conduct with dogs. Staff should be friendly but not overwhelming or loud, and learn to read the signs when a dog may not want to be approached or touched. Staff should understand to stay composed and calm and always ask an owner before petting a dog. They should be taught to stay at a suitable distance and invite dogs to them, preferably with a treat to offer – with owner permission and not held directly into their face. If the dog declines to move forward or engage, they should understand to leave the dog alone."

Animal house

This is something the team at the Fish, a dog-friendly hotel in the Cotswolds, ensures for their staff. "Generally speaking, people who bring their dog are well-versed in travelling with their dog and it's rare the dog is too nervous," says general manager Tom Aspey. "But every now and then that's not the case and our team is mindful of this. We've got a number of cosy corners in the lodge and we make sure we have appropriate private spaces for dogs and their owners at breakfast or dinner.

"Dog-friendly is a fundamental part of our offering, so with any new member of the team we make sure they understand."

It's also important to remember that when dog owners come to stay in hotels, they're usually on holiday – and holidays should be relaxing. What isn't relaxing is being handed a list of rules to follow the moment you step through the door – often disguised as a "welcome letter" for the dog. So instead of stipulating that dogs can't go on the sofa in the bedrooms, provide plenty of throws to protect the furniture so they can treat it like a home from home, and if you don't want them left in the room alone, offer the phone number of local dog sitters for when your guests might want a dog-free day out or meal.

At Bainland Lodges, a self-catering holiday park in Lincolnshire, owner Simon Craddick says guests often really worry about the rules, but they needn't: "Our whole philosophy is ‘be nice'," he says. They don't have any rules, but instead believe that if they attract the right clientele with their brand, they can place trust in their guests to do the right thing. "They know to pick up after their dog and they know not to let them run riot everywhere," he explains.

As research tells us, dog owners are a spend-happy market and there's more than ever before. But to capitalise on it, you've got to be barking up the right tree.

Bad dog

  • The non-dog-friendly things you need to avoid when welcoming pets into your establishment:
  • Over-pricing the pet fee: an added cleaning cost is reasonable, but don't ask for hefty deposits (some hotels charge a refundable £1,000 per night) or overprice it. Anything more than £30 is unreasonable.
  • Cramming customers in: if you can't fit a Great Dane between two of your restaurant tables, your place isn't really that dog-friendly. Dogs need space to relax while their owners dine and don't want to be stepped on as waiting staff go by.
  • Causing a fuss: not all dogs like to be the centre of attention, and it's often irritating for owners when they have to indulge cooing staff members. Train your team to act appropriately around dogs.
  • Making a dog's dinner: a sudden and unexpected change in a dog's diet can cause stomach upset, which isn't something any owner wants to contend with on the morning walk. Forget about doggy menus and put your efforts into the essentials.

Doggy treats

  • The Fish Hotel in the Cotswolds has long held a dog-friendly policy. Here's how they're getting it right:
  • Dog-friendly dining area in the bar with the full restaurant menu available to guests with dogs, rather than just bar snacks – an all-too-common restriction for dog owners. They even lay down a soft mat for the dog to lie on by the table before you come down for dinner
  • A boot room with spare wellies and plenty of maps with dog-friendly walks in the local area – plus spare tennis balls for games of fetch
  • Dog blankets in the room, plus water bowls and a few pet-friendly snacks
  • An outdoor warm water bathtub with pet shampoo for washing muddy paws after walks
  • An agility paddock for dogs to run around off-lead to release some energy before dinner

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