Pampered Pooches

With 1 in 4 households now owning a dog, and 1 in 10 of those four-legged friends owning a passport to travel abroad, it is little surprise that being dog-friendly can help set your business apart. Deborah Heather, Director of Quality in Tourism discusses the merits of catering to the pampered pooch.

Five years ago, dog-friendly hospitality businesses were largely the reserve of the country-set, with working farm dogs the most likely to rest their heads on the flagstones by the fire. Typically the domain of country inns and pubs only, the average four-legged friend was more likely to be found at home than out and about in pubs with the owners who love them. Weekends away, holidays and even an evening at the pub were left to the people, and it was unusual to see more than the odd dog inside a pub.

Speaking to our assessors, it’s clear that it’s not only the owners who used to be reluctant to bring their dog; many businesses shied away from advertising their dog-friendly nature too, particularly over concerns it would put other guests off. Imaginations ran wild with dog hairs in the bathroom or slobber on the sheets, and being dog-friendly was as much a hindrance as it was a help. Interestingly however, in the last two or three years, there has been a significant and fairly fundamental shift in attitudes, with an increasing number of businesses advertising their pet-friendly ways, and many even making specific effort to acquire pet-loving guests.

Our inspector Stephanie comments “I noticed when I first started assessing five years ago that people were shying away from being 'dog friendly' as they said it was putting other guests off, but the tables have certainly turned in the last few years with a major focus on dogs. The biggest change is that this means that proprietors have to be extra vigilant when it comes to changeovers; but honestly, all the doggy places I have been have been pristine. Some even comment that the guests who bring dogs are the best they have and the cleanest; they appear to take more care than normal guests because they are conscious of the potential mess created by their four-legged friend.”

In terms of specific regulation and requirements, hoteliers are never obliged to allow dogs to stay, except in the case of assistance dogs and accessibility needs. These dogs are naturally exempt from any personal and professional policies, assisting their handlers with seeing, hearing, epilepsy and many other conditions. Should you decided to permit other dogs however, the only other aspect you have to  be mindful of are the regulations and legislation relating to food preparation, and monitored by EHOs, so it is usually sensible to prevent dogs  entering the confines of the kitchen and dining areas.

Assessor lead Carol comments “Naturally, areas where walking and outdoor activities are a draw still have a much higher tolerance of four-legged guests, but urban areas are growing more relaxed too. Interestingly, for hotel guests, peak travel times with their pets tend to be during school term time, as many owners who holiday with their pets either don’t have children, or if they do have children opt for cottages or homestays where they can take the whole family. Many of our members comment that they don’t tend to have lots of children and animals in the hotel at the same time, which is an interesting trend.”

Of course, while there are no specific legislative needs to enable guests to bring their dogs, there are some hygienic and training considerations required for your staff. Naturally, many members of staff will stroke or play with the pets that come through the door, creating a welcoming vibe for the pet and guests alike, and plenty of pleasure for the staff too. However, it is worth  ensuring that specific consideration is made around the hygiene and training aspects. I am sure I’m not the first to wonder whether the staff member I saw in reception patting a dog, has washed their hands before serving me a drink in the bar a few minutes later.

According to a survey by Direct Line Pet Cover, 45% of pet owners now state that their pet is a key factor in deciding where and when they will travel, with 40% of these owners also saying that services specific to the dog will influence their decision. Naturally, it is down to the property owner or manager as to the degree to which you want to accommodation pets, but we’ve seen it range from a dog bowl in the room to doggy ice cream, and even a room service menu of doggy treats available at Lucknam Park, specifically designed by the hotel’s award-winning chef. One of Steph’s favourites is Westleigh B&B in Beer where all the dogs receive a special hand-baked treat on arrival, much to their delight. The owners of course never forget the guests, but it is a nice touch that your doggy best friend receives the same level of treatment as you do!

Other practical considerations are dependent somewhat on the size, scope and facilities on offer in the hotel. From the collection and disposal of dog waste within the grounds, to the provision of a boot room or changing area where mud, leaves and detritus can be left outside or hosed off. Dedicated dog towels for drying wet feet and fur are a nice touch, and help to keep your guest towels in tip-top condition too. We recommend to our members that they request up-to-date vaccine, health and insurance information for the dogs coming to stay, and ensure the hotel’s own insurance policy will cover any potential damage which occurs. You may also want to put a hold on a security deposit on a credit card if needs be, although that is your commercial decision to make. We also suggest creating a welcome pack and website page for dog owners, highlighting the do’s and do not’s of the local area, from local livestock considerations to relevant updates such as dogs only being allowed on the beach in evenings or in the winter months for example. You should also include local emergency vet information just in case. This will all help the owners and dogs alike have a brilliant time.

We actively discourage hoteliers from buying and storing standard dog food for four-legged guests; it has the potential to spoil and owners are likely to have very specific and carefully-planned diets for their dogs. Adding a dog menu with snacks and treats can be a brilliant ploy, but we still suggest leaving off standard pet food brands. It is also worth spending some time in a pet shop and asking them about the types of food on offer (if you are not already a dog owner yourself), and any specific storage instructions, then work out how and where you plan to store food. Keeping it in the bedroom with the dogs and guests could be a disaster waiting to happen, and storing it with other foodstuffs is not recommended. Similarly, some pets have a raw diet which is stored in the fridge or freezer, and there is no way you can put this in the main appliances in the kitchen. Some people may of course feel more comfortable leaving it in their car overnight and that is a consideration too.

If you plan to permit dogs within the hotel, it is worth asking them to complete a questionnaire, or prepare a series of questions that can be asked at the time of booking. From the food storage issue to the likely behaviour of the dog around new people and animals, they can all help you prepare for an easy stay. Of course, this is not mandatory or essential, and may seem overwhelming, but it should be simple enough and can help reduce the likelihood of an unexpected surprise.

It is also worth you developing a pet policy, which clearly sets out your expectations of pet-tiquette and your do’s and don’t’s for the guests who love them. Not all dogs have been away with their owners before, and not all owners are honest with themselves or others about their pet’s behaviour. A howling hound will not do wonders for your other guests, and forcing their pets to stay off the bed can be considered ‘optional’ by many owners. You should also determine your own wants list from pet residents, with many hotels opting to limit doggy domestic-ness to specific bedrooms, and / or limiting the number of dogs allowed in the hotel at once. You’ll also need to ensure that your professional cleaning equipment is up to the standard, with time to air out dog-friendly rooms, air fresheners to prep for potential pong and carpet cleaners just in case of unhappy accidents. You may of course even want to re-décor, choosing something stylish, chic and on trend, which in reality can also be washed down with ease and refreshed very rapidly.

One final point; decide whether being pet-friendly is a marketing strategy or just a quiet guest perk. While some hoteliers have had no problems welcoming dogs, and have found specific advertising has pushed up occupancy, there are others who cite negative impacts from letting dogs in, with other guest complaints about barking and the like. Ultimately, this will come down to your own policies, wants and wishes and specific hotel amenities, so make the decision for yourself!   

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