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Healthy Outlook

Dog-Friendly Dining Comes With Responsibility for Restaurants and Customers

By Marilyn Underwood

Friday, September 12, 2014

Given the proliferation of dog-friendly businesses lately, it may surprise you to learn that dogs are banned in California restaurants, except for police and service dogs.

But dog owners can enjoy dining out with their pets beginning in January, because of legislation signed by Gov. Jerry Brown in August.

The new law allows restaurants to legally accommodate pet dogs in outdoor dining areas, if they meet several conditions intended to protect diners and staff. Local government can make ordinances adding stricter rules within their jurisdictions, but Contra Costa County has not done so.

That does not mean every restaurant allows dogs, or that pet-friendly restaurants will follow different health and safety rules than others. The new law makes it legal for dogs to be in outdoor dining areas, and also clarifies the standards that Contra Costa County will use when regulating them.

Customers who want to support dog-friendly restaurants should know that these businesses will be in a period of transition after the law takes effect. A great way to help is to follow all pet-related rules and instructions provided by the business, and also to be particularly mindful of your pet while dining.

For example, don't enter through the front door. The law requires pet-friendly restaurants to have a separate, outdoor entrance leading to the patio. Restaurants can help by making sure that the dog entrance is well marked, and also by clearly posting the business's policy about dogs on signs.

Pets must stay in a pet carrier or leashed and on the ground – not on chairs or tables. It is also not a good idea to tie the leash to your table, out of the path of staff and diners, and stay with them at all times. Dogs must not eat from plates, glasses or utensils provided for people by the restaurant.

Please leave home any pet that is aggressive, nervous, or not trained to be around crowds of people or other dogs. The dog owner is responsible for controlling behavior and restraining their animal at all times. It is not enough to warn others about a dog's tendencies or to tell neighbors not to touch.

Walk your dog before dining, and bring a scooper and bag to the restaurant to clean up any waste. Accidents can happen, but they are no less unpleasant at a restaurant that caters to pets, and no less risky from a public health perspective.

Dog waste and other bodily fluids contain germs that can contaminate food and make people sick. If your dog makes a mess, it's important to clean it up and also to let staff know.

In addition, many people are allergic to dog hair and dander, and nobody likes to find hair in their food or to catch a whiff of dirty dog while eating. Please only bring clean, well-groomed dogs to restaurants.

Pet owners who do not follow the rules can be asked to leave, just like any other unruly customer.

Remember, this law does not give you the right to dine out with your dog. It gives restaurants the right, with conditions, to allow dogs if they choose. By being respectful of your fellow diners, your canine companion will also be a welcomed guest.

Healthy Outlook is written by the professional staff of Contra Costa Health Services, the county health department. Send questions to series coordinator Dr. David Pepper at For more health information, go to
About the Author
Marilyn Underwood is the Environmental Health Director of Contra Costa County.