Let’s face it, many of us treat our dogs like they were our children.

We buy them presents and often take them out to dinner with us. And just like human children, some of the four-legged varieties are better behaved than others. Also, as with human children, the fault for bad behavior should be placed squarely on the shoulders of the parents. In most South Florida restaurants, dogs are allowed to dine outdoors with their caretakers. Indoor dining is restricted to service animals, legitimate service animals that have been trained to do a specific job for their companions. If a dog is barking or misbehaving in public, it is most likely NOT a legitimate service animal, but may have a certificate from an online provider and is listed as a “comfort animal.” 

Now before you get all hot and bothered, I will stipulate that there are indeed companion dogs that provide comfort to those with real anxiety, but we all know the vast majority of those being claimed as service animals are not. However, your dog doesn’t need to be a service animal to be welcome at your dining table, just as with children they just need to be trained to act appropriately. With so many South Florida restaurants offering outdoor dining, there are plenty of options to dine al fresco with your canine companion. The number one rule is to always check with the establishment beforehand. While many restaurants are pet friendly, it is entirely up to the establishment to set its own policy. 

Some of the dog restaurant etiquette tips that follow are basic common sense, but we all know that many folks don’t have common sense when it comes to dogs or children. This goes for other diners. If you see a dog, no matter how adorable, ask the owner before you attempt to pet it or speak to it. Of course, you should never feed someone else’s dog without their permission. 

  • Teach your pooch essential training commands. "Sit," "Stay," and "Down" are all musts, while "Leave it" will ensure that your fur-baby doesn’t eat something they shouldn’t.
  • Tire them out before you go; take your dog for a nice long walk, play time, or a training session before heading to the restaurant. This should make them much more likely to lie quietly at your feet while you enjoy a relaxing meal. Feeding your dog before you go to the restaurant may also help.
  • Find a quiet spot; restaurants can be a stimulating environment with a whole lot of distractions for your dog. This can cause too much excitement for your pup, which isn't what you want, so search for a table in a quiet corner away from other diners.
  • Always keep your dog leashed and train it to sit under your table. This is for the safety of your dog (you don’t want him/her stepped on), and those walking nearby.
  • Excessive barking or any aggressive behavior should not be allowed.
  • Don’t tie their leash to furniture. This is a recipe for disaster if your dog decides to make a run for it.
  • Don’t let your pup beg. Training your dog so they understand that begging won’t get them what they want is good advice in general.
  • Keep them off the furniture and your lap. A small dog may stay in its carrier on a chair.
  • NEVER let a dog eat from restaurant plates or flatware (unless disposable). Ask for a paper or plastic bowl for food or water.
  • Don’t let your dog become bored at the restaurant. Take along a favorite chew toy as a distraction, or a snack or food-stuffed puzzle toy to keep them occupied.
  • Never leave your pooch unattended at any time.
  • Be considerate of other customers. If your dog’s having a tough time, get your check and leave early.

By following the simple etiquette tips above you’ll ensure that you and your pooch are welcome back. And there are plenty of places along Wilton Drive that are more than happy to welcome you and your fur-baby to dine outdoors. I’ve spied folks dining with doggies at Bona, Rosie’s, Hamburger Mary’s, Spencer’s, Gym Bar, Pub, Courtyard Café, Alibi Monkey Bar, Java Boys, Tulio’s, Apt. 3f, Ethos, Nate’s, Tropics and, of course, Dairy Queen. Along Las Olas, Louie Bossi and The Floridian are among the places welcoming pups. 

Some places even have special menus for their canine diners. Shooter’s Waterfront offers a chicken thigh with russet potatoes and ground beef with whole-wheat macaroni. Casa Sensei has an extensive dog menu as well as “Lucky Dog Happy Hour.” Kelly’s Landing always has free dog biscuits on hand, and Nauti Dawg has a “For the Dawgs” menu at all times and “yappy hour” every Monday from 11:30 a.m. to 9 p.m. when entrees for dogs are half-price. 

With a little preparation and attention, you and your canine companion can truly enjoy dining out during the dog days of summer.

Rick Karlin is SFGN's food editor. Visit SFGN.com/Food to read his previous reviews. Have a culinary tip to share? Email Rick at This email address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it..