It’s patio dining season! As a transplant to Wisconsin, it’s been hard for me to not be able to eat outside every day and only be able to enjoy al fresco dining for a few months each year. The good news is that more and more places are allowing me to bring my dog with me which makes for a totally different and fun dining experience. Service dogs are still the only dogs allowed inside restaurants, but the views can be quite pretty outside so we’ll take what we can get when we can get it. Want to make the most of your dog dining experience?

Here are a few tips to help you, your dog, and the staff have a fun time.

TIMING IS EVERYTHING

Whether you pick the early bird special or you wait until the rush hour is done, select a time when the restaurant isn’t completely packed. When I have chosen to go at peak time there is often a weight which is not easy with a dog. Service is better and the staff has time to interact with your dog when you come before or after peak times.

MAKE SURE YOUR DOG IS WALKED BEFORE YOU DINE.

If possible, schedule a nice walk and potty break before visiting the restaurant. If your dog is hungry, feed your dog before going in the restaurant, allowing a half hour after the meal for predictable potty time.

FIND THE PERFECT SPACE

I have smaller dogs but I now have two of them so I have to start being strategic about where to sit. If you have large dogs, this is extra important. I love The Ground Round in Oshkosh, besides the fact that they are hosting Paws on the Patio for us on June 15, because they have an exterior entrance to their gorgeous patio which makes it easy for us to come and go.

LOOK FOR A CORNER TABLE.

I try to find a corner table or a spot away from the obvious foot traffic. Sitting in the back can also be an option.

BRING YOUR OWN WATER DISH.

I have two plastic-lined cloth bowls that I keep in the car. This way if a restaurant doesn’t have dog bowls, more of them are adding that to their list of dog accouterments, then you’ll always have a bowl for water. Ask the server to fill the bowl and add some ice cubes on those hot days.

Summertime, and the living is easy.

KEEP YOUR DOG ON A SHORT LEASH.

It’s important to keep your dog on a short leash somehow attached to you are anchored by a heavy chair made heavier by your weight. The last thing you want is a too-friendly-pup licking a baby or eating someone’s food.

BRING A CHEW AND/OR TREATS.

My dogs love the beef knuckle bones sold for $1.00 at NEW PAWS. They are a bit smelly so for restaurant dates when I order off the specials menu I’ll bring smaller rawhides for Coconut and Mele because they don’t smell and they stay occupied. I bring small training treats to redirect their attention if he should become too interested in fellow diners, other doggie diners, or all that food the waitstaff keeps walking by with. The smells must be so hard to deal with.

DON’T TETHER YOUR DOG TO THE TABLE.

I’ll let you picture that scenario in your mind.

DON’T FEED OR WATER YOUR DOG FROM RESTAURANT PLATES.

We always carry a popup silicone bowl, attached to my dog walking bag, but many restaurants will be happy to bring out a bowl or carry-out container for your dog’s water.

CHAIRS AND TABLES ARE FOR PEOPLE, NOT DOGS.

Yep, we’ve all seen the small dog sitting in the restaurant chair, often with his front feet on the table. Don’t be that person. All it takes is one complaint and a restaurant might reconsider their dog-friendly policy.

BRING A MAT FOR YOUR DOG.

A cooling mat in the summer or a warm mat in the winter is another idea that might be a good addition to what you carry in your trunk.

WATCH FOR DISCARDED FOOD BENEATH THE TABLE.

Before you sit down check to see if there are any dropped chicken bones or hunks of bread under the table that your dogs would just love to steal. While the hunk of bread would not be the end of the world the chicken wing bone could cause some real problems. Doing a quick sweep could make all the difference in a fun lunch or a dangerous one.

NOT EVERYONE IS A DOG LOVER

Of course, we find our dogs immeasurably adorable but we know that not everyone shares our feelings. Always ask for permission to approach, especially with small children, and don’t make the meal all about your dog. Your dogs are just happy to be in the sun enjoying time with you. Start small with a dining area of just a few tables and no outside stimulation such as loud music. You can work your way up once your dog realizes that being a good boy has benefits outside of the house, too.

Bon Appetite!