Dog-Friendly Business Owners Share Their Experience And Advice

By Emily Hourican
Dog-Friendly Business Owners Share Their Experience And Advice

It’s your call, but not one to be taken lightly. Dog-friendly business owners share their experience and advice with Rachel Haslam

This article was originally published in the Winter 2023 issue of Hospitality Ireland Magazine, in December of 2023.

Dockyard No. 8 – a restaurant in Bray, Co. Wicklow – has welcomed dogs since opening in 2014.

“We’re by the harbour, where people park to walk their dogs. Our space already had a giant awning at the front and we love dogs, so we decided to go for it,” says owner-manager Lauren O’Sullivan.

“We got some funny looks at first because food is our core focus, but dogs get the biggest hits on Instagram. It’s part of the appeal of the place now. Dogs get people talking to each other across the tables. Regular customers bring their small children in to meet them. On a busy weekend, we could have dogs at every table downstairs.”


This all sounds like a bad accident waiting to happen, but O’Sullivan claims that her experience has been overwhelmingly positive.

“Dogs are sometimes better behaved than humans. There are certain breeds that I see coming in, and I have a moment where I think, this is not going to end well, but I’ve been proven wrong every single time. It’s self-policing now, in that few people would bring a nervous or high-risk dog into our restaurant. I hire staff who like dogs and brief them properly. They know the rules, but are also empowered to make the right judgment calls.”

O’Sullivan says that they were strict at first about dogs always being under the table and on the lead, but, as they’ve gotten to know regulars, they’ve made exceptions.

“An old German Shepherd who comes in here is no longer able to squeeze under the table, so she lies down in the middle of the floor and we all walk around her!”

However, O’Sullivan is unwavering about hygiene, saying, “My staff always sanitise their hands after petting a dog. What dog owners sometimes don’t realise, though, is that we can’t put anything for their dogs into a glass or onto a plate. Once a dog has licked it, it has to go straight into the bin. It’s literally not allowed back into the kitchen.”


Instead, she has a rotating number of doggie bowls and offers sausages in takeaway boxes.

No Brainer

For Fergus O’Leary, head of beverages for Press Up Hospitality Group, it’s a “no-brainer” to allow dogs into its pubs.

“The turning point for us was when the MVP story broke in 2016,” O’Leary says, referring to a Dublin pub that was told by a visiting HSE inspector to stop allowing dogs inside.

According to O’Leary, it was the outpouring of support that accompanied MVP’s decision to go public about the dog ban that convinced Press Up pubs to become dog friendly.

Keith Fogarty, marketing executive for the group, says that it’s been a great business decision, stating, “Providing free treats doesn’t cost much, but it puts owners at ease. When customers feel comfortable, they stay longer, drink more, and come back again.”


In February of this year, Press Up opened a new outdoor terrace with heaters and a retractable roof, in Ashton’s of Clonskeagh, where dog owners can eat, drink, watch sport on a giant screen or listen to live music with their furry and non-furry friends.

Pet-Friendly Suites

Dining inside is still for human guests only. In the Glasson Lakehouse hotel in Athlone, dog-owning guests have their own pet-friendly suites, but they are only allowed to eat with their dogs in the bar.

Fogarty says that they believe that most diners would prefer not to have dogs around in a formal restaurant setting.

“If you’re on a special night out and have hired a babysitter or left your dog at home, last thing you want is to be surrounded by somebody else’s, no matter how much you love kids or dogs. It’s not quite the vibe you’re paying for.”

Good Behaviour

If it’s tricky to be dog friendly for formal restaurants, it’s trickier again for hotels.


“Having a guest with a dog is more work for you and your team. You have to really want to do it and do it well,” says Fergus O’Halloran, manager of the Twelve in Galway. His boutique hotel has been welcoming dogs for over 15 years now, which has been good for publicity, but it can work against you.

“Plenty of people do not want to check in to a dog-friendly hotel. We go to great pains to point out that dogs are only ever allowed to sleep in our three pet-friendly suites, and not in the other 47 rooms.”

Only two tables with dogs are permitted at any one time in the restaurant. Dogs must remain under the table, and the tables are strategically located out of the path of other guests, to ensure that it doesn’t detract from their enjoyment.

“We have to be people friendly, as well as dog friendly,” says O’Halloran.

A 2022 survey commissioned by Dogs Trust shows that 49% of households in Ireland now have a dog. The equivalent figure for the UK is 34%. Despite this, the UK and other countries provide a bigger range of dog-friendly venues. When asked why this is the case, O’Halloran puts it down to lack of education.

“In Canada, where I got the inspiration for the Twelve, there are signs everywhere telling people what is or is not acceptable dog behaviour. The public know that it’s not unhygienic to have a dog in a restaurant – a common misperception in Ireland, even though the FSAI regulations changed in 2018 to allow them inside.”

Then there’s the fact that most dog owners are responsible, but a tiny minority of them aren’t.

“We want to be more laid back, but we have to have strict policies in place and enforce them. This can sometimes make you unpopular in the pet community.”

Word Of Mouth

Colleen Lowry, owner of Blessingbourne Estate, which has always allowed dogs in its self-catering accommodation, agrees that most dog owners make great guests.

“We wouldn’t have done the business we did this year without being dog friendly. We see a big uptick when we invest in pet-friendly ads, even though we’re up against Booking.com and Center Parcs. Word of mouth and repeat business is high amongst dog owners.”

In Lowry’s experience, there has been a step change in how devoted dog owners have become, with her saying, “Pre-pandemic, dogs were part of the family. Now they’re treated more like children than pets.”

Dog Tolerant

International evidence suggests that she’s right. A Forbes Advisor survey of 10,000 dog owners found that they make professional, financial and lifestyle sacrifices for their canine companions.

Asked what advice these dog-friendly hosts have for anyone thinking of following their lead – no pun intended! – and they all agree on one thing: it’s not a business decision as much as a personal one. If you don’t LOVE dogs, don’t do it, and if you do it, you have to be all in. Becoming dog friendly is easier if you’re a pub or cafe owner – less so if you’re running a high-end restaurant and/or hotel.

There is a difference between being dog friendly and dog tolerant. Dog advocates will say that you’re not a dog-friendly restaurant if dogs are not allowed inside, and you’re not a dog-friendly hotel if dogs have to sleep in kennels.

‘Pet parents’ may expect more than you’re able or willing to deliver. Take things slowly at first. Don’t dig a hole for yourself by plastering your dog-friendly status and rules all over social media.

Say, ‘We’re just trying this for now to see how we get on.’ You can then row it back or dial it up accordingly.

You’re the top dog when it comes to your business – it has to work for you.