Yes, I know it’s a controversial subject. Not like breed-specific legislation or mandatory spay-neuter, of course. Yet many people still think dogs should not be allowed on restaurant patios, and many municipalities forbid it. But since our audience is virtually all dog lovers, I thought it might be safe to broach this topic.

Over the past decade, dogs have truly made inroads into eating establishments. Twenty years ago, you’d be lucky to find a place where you and your dog could even be in the vicinity of a restaurant without getting a dirty look. But especially in climates where it’s comfortable all year long to walk around downtown and eat outdoors – without bundling up like a snowman – I’ve been finding progressively more states, counties and cities that accommodate the dog ownerand the dog, at least when it comes to breakfast.

This isn’t one of my favorite things simply because I’d like to take my dog along with me to breakfast. Max is unpredictable as to his affection for other dogs, especially when he’s leashed. He was pretty set in his ways when we got him at age 4 ½, and, while his ability to tolerate other dogs and often even interact with them has improved, it’s just not safe to have him underfoot at a restaurant.

It’s a whole different scene when dogs share dining space with people. Photo © Roi Brooks/Dreamstime.

Two things give me great enjoyment and entertainment when a restaurant – and the health laws governing it – allows dogs on its patio.

First, it’s a bit like going to a dog show. You see a lot of different breeds, they’re usually well-groomed and mostly well-behaved, and their owners generally love to talk about them. The places near us that really cater to dogs often will have three or four on the patio at the same time. They can range from a big Great Dane – typically at a corner table where he can be out of the path of other diners’ walking legs – to a Toy Poodle sitting on someone’s lap whilethe human eats.

And I’m one of those dog lovers who can fawn over and even live with almost any breed of dog. So, whatever shows up on any given day, I’m happy to see, talk to and pet a bit, if the owner is equally friendly.

It’s a great way to get a little dose of doggie diversity without driving to a show, finding parking, then toting a chair or sitting on bleachers. In other words, a lazy person’s dog show.

Second, I love to watch how people interact with their canine charges. You get a bit of this while walking your dog, but those meetings are typically quite short, mostly dealing with whether or not the owner is willing to allow her dog to engage with yours. In a restaurant, however, you might get up to an hour-long glimpse into the relationship between a dog and its owner.­­

I find it fascinating how some people settle their dogs under the table, then proceed through perusing the menu, ordering, waiting, then eating with nary another nod or word to the patient pooches. On the other end of the spectrum, of course, is the person who can’t seem to leave her poor dog alone. It just wants to sleep or rest while keeping an eye – or ear – on things, but the owner keeps poking, prodding and correcting regardless of the dog’s actual need for such.

Of course, most diners fall somewhere in between. They’re my favorite. It’s not like they’ve forgotten the fact that another sentient being is with them, but they’re not so focused on the dog that they ignore their human dining companions. Clearly, these people love their dogs – otherwise they’d just leave them at home. Usually the dogs seem to enjoy the outing, as well as the attention other dog lovers shower on them. And, of course, they anticipate the occasional “accidental” dropping of a tasty morsel from the table above. What’s not to love?

The thing that almost all dining dog owners have in common is that they brighten up when you ask about their dogs. “How old is he?” and “Is he a [insert any breed here]?” almost always bring an immediate connection. And who doesn’t like to hear, “Oh, she’s so cute.” Of course, I have to restrain myself from sharing the latest dog news or giving advice. Once I get going, it can get intrusive pretty quickly. Just ask my husband.

For the most part, I’m happy just to watch people who love their dogs as they share a pleasant morning or afternoon interlude with them. A hand absentmindedly strokes the Lab’s head as his owner reads his morning newspaper. A bright-eyed Terrier closely monitors the activity of the children at a nearby table. A server delivers a biscuit to the long-suffering Cocker waiting through brunch. It’s a whole different scene when dogs share dining space with people. And I’m fortunate to witness it all.

Want to read about some of my other favorite things? You might enjoy “Show Vendor Finds,”  “Mushing in Alaska”  and “Dog Art Close to Home.”