Hey “Dog Friendly” Hotels, What’s With the Big Dog Ban?

updated May 3, 2019
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(Image credit: Emma Fiala)

More of us than ever before are hitting the road with our furry families. Stats show 37% of pet owners travel with their pets (up from 19% about 10 years ago). And savvy marketers (naturally) want to get in on this action. Hotels are fond of plastering “dog friendly” on everything, luring pet families with promises of treats and dog bowls and beds to pamper their pooches.

I’m sure they think it makes them look good, but maybe what they’re not considering is the frustration it generates when dog owners like me (and maybe you) start digging around to review their pet policies.

My family includes a senior fluffball named Truffle who weighs about 15 pounds, and a strapping young pup named Cassius Thunderpaws who’s around 90 pounds and growing. Cash is AKC Canine Good Citizen certified and also passed a therapy dog test, an even stricter evaluation of his sociability, obedience, and manners. (Therapy dogs, just to be clear, are trained to give and receive love in places like schools, libraries, and hospitals; they’re not to be confused with an emotional support pet, and definitely not with a working service animal).

Of my two guys, Truffle is the far worse behaved. But guess which one would be welcomed with open arms at most “dog friendly” hotels? Yup. My yappy little dog. Meanwhile there’s no room at the inn for my sweet, heels-off-leash, stays-when-told, lovable giant at most so-called pet friendly hotels.

The Truth About “Dog Friendly” Hotels

We’ve been looking for a summer road trip destination with our guys and let me tell you, it’s tough going finding a place that will take them both and not blow our budget right out of the gate. If we can find a hotel that will even take a dog over 25 or 50 pounds—let alone two dogs!—we’re also looking at fees from $50 to $150, even more. And some hotels won’t let you leave your dog alone in the room (which I can’t quite grasp—you may travel thousands of miles and then you can’t leave the hotel?).

Look, I get the need for rules, and I understand that dogs (well, to be more precise, their less-than-responsible owners) bring all sorts of possible complications. We have an Airbnb home where we allow dogs, and even we have rules (what we don’t have is a size limit, breed restriction, or additional fees). Of course it’s at every hotel’s own discretion as to whether to allow pets and under what circumstances, and likewise I don’t have to stay there if I don’t like the rules.

But, my beef is calling yourself dog-friendly when what you really are is small-dog-tolerant. You can’t have it both ways, hotels. You don’t get the cred for your warm and fuzzy dogs-welcome approach if you’re going to prohibit half my canine family from walking in. And the weight thing seems totally arbitrary. Why is a 25 pound dog okay but not 40? Or 50 but not 100? Here’s the thing. If someone has a 100 pound dog that they can’t control, it’s probably unlikely they’re going to pack him up and take him on vacation. If, on the other hand, their pocket pup will bite someone just as soon as they look at them but they can just pick them up, the temptation to travel dog in tow is greater.

And if you truly want to be dog friendly, try traveling with a dog yourself to get an idea of what pet families need. Yes the Frisbee or Milkbone is great and all but my wish list would include hooks by the door to hang their leashes, enough space in the room to set up a large crate (in order to follow the must-be-crated rule), and dark towels that I don’t have to worry about staining if I need to wipe muddy paws. You’ll have our undying gratitude and loyalty if you just make it a little easier to bring our pups.

(Image credit: Diana Liang)

Some Hotels That Are Actually Dog-Friendly

Credit where it’s due. Some hotels are doing it right. Kimpton is absolutely amazing. “If your pet fits through the door, we’ll welcome them in,” they say, and it’s true. We stayed at their Palomar in Chicago with our two guys, when Cash was still a big puppy, no less. (There was even an incident with a wagging tail and a cocktail table full of drinks at the dogs-welcome happy—aka yappy—hour and nobody batted an eye.) Others will waive those big-dog restrictions if you sign a waiver, so our guys got to enjoy the Aloft in Cleveland.

And several budget hotel chains also roll out the welcome mat for big dogs. Motel 6 doesn’t charge a fee or have size limits, and Red Roofs even offer a 10% discount if you travel with your pet.

But the posher hotels aren’t everywhere, and you know, I like nice hotels and I will not lie. So, hotels, if you’re listening, how about it? Why not re-consider those arbitrary weight limits and either open your doors to the big dogs—or stop pretending to be all-dog friendly when you only want the little pups?