Andrea McHugh advises on how to plan the perfect dog-friendly holiday...
There are often days when it seems as if winter will never end, but at these times it’s important to remind ourselves that spring really is just a couple of months away. To help overcome the winter blues, why not start planning a dog-friendly holiday to look forward to with your favourite companion?
Over the years, I have tried and tested many dog-friendly holidays and I’ve become very aware that, despite what may be advertised, some accommodation falls distinctly into the category of dog-tolerant, rather than dog-friendly — and there is a world of difference between the two!
Although some people advertise their accommodation as dog-friendly, in reality they simply allow dogs to stay, and make no special concessions for them, such as ensuring there are enclosed exercise areas, welcome packs, or poo bag deposit bins. People who run authentic dog-friendly holidays will do all of the above and so much more — really making you and your canine pal feel welcome and at home throughout the duration of your stay. Choosing somewhere that is dog-friendly, rather than a place where dogs are merely tolerated, will affect how much you and your dog are able to relax, unwind, and enjoy your time together.
Here are my top tips to help you plan your perfect dog-friendly holiday.
1. Location, location, location
Begin by considering where in the country you might like to visit, but be flexible with your choices. I’ve enjoyed many holidays with my dogs in locations I would not have previously considered, only to be very pleasantly surprised when I arrived. For example, one of my favourite locations was in the Louth area, where I found the beaches absolutely stunning and the town filled with interesting places to visit, with country parks all around and many dog-friendly attractions. This was not somewhere I would have thought about visiting had I not been invited, but I was very pleasantly surprised on arrival and would definitely go again.
If your dog doesn’t travel very well, you may wish to choose somewhere that is within a couple of hours from where you live, or you may prefer seaside resorts to mountain trails. Whatever your preferences, look on the map for likely locations and draw up a shortlist of your favourites.
2. Do your research
Once you have a rough idea of where you’d like to visit, think about whether you’d prefer to stay in self-catering, a pet-friendly hotel, or a campsite, then begin your research. Word-of-mouth is always a good place to start, and if you know a friend or family member who has recently enjoyed a holiday with their dog, ask them if they can recommend accommodation to you.
Each year, Your Dog Magazine produces its Holidays Guide, which offers dog-friendly holiday advice. On this website, you will also find lots of information, plus regional guides and travel advice to help you make your decision.
Once you have spotted somewhere you like the look of, it’s very useful to check what other dog owners thought of it by looking on an internet review website, such as TripAdvisor or Google reviews. Although useful, remember that these are not definitive guides, as no matter how wonderful a place is, it will never be perfect to everyone and some people seem to delight in writing negative reviews.
However, if several people have noted that the accommodation is not very clean and there are dog hairs all over the bedding, it might be something you would like to take into consideration. Just because you’re taking your dog on holiday does not mean you should accept accommodation that is not clean, attractive, and well maintained.
3. Read the small print
Even the smallest of holiday cottages is likely to have a website and it is important to read the small print before you send off your deposit. Email, telephone, or write to the owner and find out if there is a daily charge for dogs, and if this applies to every dog you take. If you have more than one dog, ask for the maximum number of dogs allowed in the property, and if there are areas that dogs are not allowed to access. For example, some properties do not allow dogs to go upstairs, and others do not allow them on the furniture. This may or may not be problematic for you, depending on your expectations, but it is important to find out before you go so that you can make appropriate arrangements, such as taking throws and blankets or your own pet beds, crates, and dog bowls.
4. Home alone
Owners of dog-friendly accommodation will understand that you need flexibility for when and where you can leave your dog unattended. For example, if you are in a hotel, find out if you can take your dog down to breakfast with you, or whether you are expected to eat breakfast in your room. Dogs are often not allowed into restaurants, but many pubs and hotels allow dogs into their bars and lounge areas, and some set aside special areas for pet owners to be able to dine with their dogs rather than leaving them alone in the room.
If you want to visit a local attraction where dogs are not allowed, can you leave the dog unattended for a couple of hours, or is there a pet-sitting service you can use? Are crates available at the accommodation or are you expected to take your own? Some pet-friendly accommodation will provide toys, chews, and home-made treats for dogs, but it’s always a good idea to take some of your dog’s favourite toys to help reassure him in his temporary new accommodation.
It is also a good idea to find out what type of flooring the accommodation has. If it has a cream carpet, you may worry that walking in with a dog with muddy paws is less than ideal. Laminate or tiled floors can be much less problematic. Alternatively, ask if there is an outdoor tap where you can wash off muddy paws and whether dog towels are provided.
5. Devil in the details
To determine whether you are booking a dog-friendly holiday, rather than a dog-tolerant one, try to uncover as many details as possible. Find out if you’re likely to be met at the premises by the owner, as this is a good opportunity to ask about local amenities and where to visit during your stay.
Does the owner provide a welcome pack for pet owners with details of where the nearest veterinary surgery is and its opening hours? Do they provide maps and details of good walks in the area and dog-friendly pubs where you can eat? Some people provide temporary dog tags for visitors to write the telephone number of where they are staying, which can be useful. In addition, find out if dog bowls and blankets are provided.
6. Going out
Part of the fun of going on holiday is exploring new areas, sights, and sounds. And if you are going on holiday with your dog, this is naturally something that you will want to do together. When doing your homework, find out where the best places are to visit and whether or not they are pet-friendly. Are local beaches open to dogs at the time of year you’re visiting? If your accommodation is in the middle of nowhere, you may have to travel quite far to visit shops and local attractions. If this is something that could spoil your holiday, make sure you are aware beforehand.
7. Exercise area
Good dog-friendly accommodation will offer a secure, dog-proof exercise area in the garden where you can allow your dog off-lead first thing in the morning or last thing at night. It is thoughtful if they provide a torch near the back door so you can see where you are going in the dark.
Dog-tolerant accommodation will not provide this kind of exercise area and, as a result, you may have to get dressed and take your dog for a lead walk if he wakes in the night and needs to toilet outside.
8. Spread the word
When I arrive at my holiday accommodation, I always find that a visitors’ book is a good read, as other dog owners will have written about where there are good places to visit, nice places to eat, and where dogs have been made especially welcome. They may also mention places that you would want to avoid, such as a walk where the land tends to get flooded or very muddy. Make time at the end of your holiday to add your own comments, as this will really help people in the future. Happy holidays!
- Take care when you visit a new area; look out for hazards such as cliff edges, or unexpected livestock. If in doubt, keep your dog on a lead.
- When going on holiday with your dog, pack all his things in his own bag, rather than separate carrier bags.
- Before going on your holiday, work on your dog’s training and ensure his recall is as good as it can be!
DID YOU KNOW?
There are 15 National Trails spread across England and Wales, which offer great walking for dog owners. It may be worth researching these areas as potential holiday destinations.