If you travel with your dog and prefer small inns and B&Bs over chain hotels, it can be frustrating that so few allow pets. If you listen to some innkeepers' stories, though, you may wonder why any of them do.
At Les Artistes Inn in Del Mar, Calif., for example, a pair of Weimaraners crashed through a window when they saw another dog walk past. "The owners had said, 'Don't worry, they'll be fine,'" said owner John Halper. "The 'fine' part was incorrect."
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Halper only allows pets in some rooms, but one couple checked into his best no-pets, ocean-view room with a crate "carrying this cat that has a head bigger than my own," he said. They told him it was "a real live hybrid bobcat."
While most stays don't involves horror stories like these, understanding the rules -- and the reasons behind them -- can make your vacation more pleasant for you, your pet and the staff.
Can your dog handle being alone?
The policy with the biggest impact on your stay is whether your dog can be left in the room alone. Innkeepers need to balance your desire to go out for dinner with the potential for property damage and the comfort of other guests.
"You wouldn't want to be in a room that had a barking dog in it all afternoon when you're trying to take a nap," says Tom Dott of the Lamb and Lion Inn on Massachusett's Cape Cod.
Inez Conover remembers guests who left their dog alone at her inn, Bewitched and Bedazzled, in Rehoboth Beach, Del. The dog barked and scratched for nine hours, and the owners never answered their cell. She told them about the problem when they returned, but the next day, she heard a "terrible dragging-back-and-forth noise" in the room. She found the dog tied to the bed, which he'd dragged all over, "tearing up the hardwood floor," and breaking the bed away from the headboard.
Conover is the rare innkeeper who allows dogs to be left alone, because she is willing to make a special effort to keep them out of trouble. If a dog makes noise, she'll bring it to her office, where she has calming supplies ranging from herbal supplements to chew toys. She also recently put Plexiglas on door bottoms to protect them from scratch marks.
But don't expect an innkeeper to make an exception to a no-dogs-left-alone policy because your dog is fine at home all day while you go to work. Its behavior in a new place may not be the same. Dogs "have to acclimate first," said Dott. "They get scared if left in a strange place by themselves."
To test how a dog will react to a hotel room, leave the dog for a short time while you "hang out by the pool, have breakfast," Dott said. "In that hour, if your dog's quiet, I'm sold."
A crate-trained dog is a better candidate for being left alone. But the crate needs to be something you use regularly at home, not something you've bought for the trip. "I've had dogs kenneled that were throwing themselves against the kennels and moving the kennels across the floor," said Conover.
No matter your dog's training and behavior, don't expect exceptions everywhere. Laila Kollmann says the no-dogs-alone rule at Cayucos Shoreline Inn in Cayucos, Calif., is hard and fast. "We don't even allow them alone in the room with a crate, even if we personally know them," she says. "It's unfair to see a dog allowed in one room and not the other." Even regular guests who bring a rabbit that they walk around on a leash aren't allowed to leave it in a cage in their room.
Innkeepers with a no-pets-alone rule can often direct you to local doggie day care, or pet-sitters who will come to your room.
How dog-friendly is your destination?
The dog-friendliness of the destination is worth considering when planning trips.
Where Halper is located, near San Diego, bringing your dog everywhere won't constrain your activities much. "We have 350 days of sunshine a year," he said. "There's a dog beach within a mile. There are lots of sidewalk cafes in town where dogs are allowed to sit with their owners."
But on Cape Cod, that's less common, so Dott provides guests with a map of dog-friendly spots.
Read the fine print
Even in dog-friendly inns, pets are often allowed only in certain rooms. Some also have size restrictions. Dott says they allow only small dogs in the busy season because of staff time constraints. "We love big dogs," he said, "but when you are going at record speed doing housekeeping in July and August, a big black lab adds an extra hour" to cleaning because of shedding.
Most places charge pet fees, largely because of the extra housekeeping, but Dott has another reason: "You want to get people who are traveling with their dog because they want to travel with their dog, not because it's cheaper."
In other words, don't just bring your dog to save on kennel fees.
How to be the perfect dog-owning guest
• If you're leaving a dog in your room, give the front desk your cell number -- and answer it.
• Be considerate of the furnishings. In beach towns, inns often provide a place to hose your dog down outside. Some places ask you to cover the couch and bedspread with a sheet. Some guests "say their dog never gets on the furniture, but we ask them to put them on anyway," said Kollmann. "You don't know what a dog will do in another place."
• Respect leash rules. Once at Halper's inn, a dog snapped at a child coming in a front gate. The child screamed, and her father and the dog-owner nearly came to blows. "It was just two guys not paying attention, one not watching his dog, one not watching his daughter," said Halper. The incident made him reconsider whether to allow pets. Now dogs must be leashed in all common areas.
• Don't bring aggressive dogs to a hotel, and remember that not everyone loves dogs -- even little ones like Dott's Yorkies and pocket Pomeranians. "You'd be amazed how many people are frightened of dogs, even something that small," he said.