Big Dog Discrimination

If you go back through the annals of the Soapbox, in my first month of blogging (a few years ago, now) I wrote In Defence of Big Dogs, a wordy rant lamenting sized-based dog discrimination.

Well our recent trip to the west coast reignited some of that fury.

We had the pleasure of our vehicle breaking down during our trip, finding ourselves stranded while it was repaired and in need of a last-minute hotel room for ourselves and the Newfs.

Calls to about 8 different places were required because it’s tough to find a place that’s (a) pet-friendly, (b) no, ACTUALLY pet-friendly, and (c) has pet-friendly rooms available.

As it turns out, “pet-friendly” is a subjective term. A lot of hotels will tout pet-friendliness until you test that notion with Moses, a 180lb Newfoundland. Even a lot of those pet-friendly travel websites and directories require some digging through the fine print.


No room at the inn? But his name is Moses… not… you know…

The biggest obstacles were the seemingly arbitrary size limits. “Pet friendly up to 50 pounds.” “Pet friendly up to 25 pounds.” I actually called one hotel and the lady on the phone cheerfully advised me that “of course” they were pet friendly… up to 15 pounds.

15 pounds! [Insert spit-take here.]

There are perfectly healthy cats that weigh more than that! I politely told the woman that a 15 pound limit isn’t actually very friendly at all and we’d continue to look elsewhere.

After a while, and half a dozen calls, I started to feel desperate. I actually found myself thinking, I wonder if we could pass Alma off as 80 pounds? And then just sneak Moses in a back exit, in some elaborate and clumsy Three’s Company-style ruse? If anyone asks, it’s just one dog, and their eyes must be playing tricks on them.

But I think we all know I’m not up to that. I once rode transit home without paying for fare – it was the first of the month and I’d forgotten to buy my monthly pass – and while the bad-ass feeling was exhilerating, once I realized what I’d done, I spent the rest of the ride eyeing my fellow passengers, it being clear they could all tell I was a dirty thief. The guilt (more like fear of being caught, but close enough) ate me up.

We ended up at the Marriott, which, while not necessarily the most cost-effective option, was certainly the most accommodating and I would highly recommend them and stay there again. Their pet fee was reasonable, the room was nice, and the staff was friendly and all big fans of Moses and Alma. We actually felt welcome there rather than a burden.

Moses and Alma in the hotel, waiting for the elevator

Moses and Alma at the Marriott, waiting for the elevator

And this is the thing I don’t get: how do smaller dogs seem to always get a pass? And where do we get one?

There are some days I’m tempted to take Moses and Alma though service or therapy dog training just so they can go anywhere, unencumbered.

I mean, I would understand – even welcome – requirements such as “pet friendly for all Canine Good Neighbours.” That way the business is ensured each dog has some basic training and socialization. After all, aren’t property damage and noise disturbances the biggest concerns?

Sure, I guess it makes sense to a certain extent. Smaller dogs have smaller bladders and smaller mouths, so if some sort of accident or destruction is going to happen, it will be lessened with a smaller dog. I get that. But that reasoning seems to assumes all dogs are destruction machines and the hotel is just hedging bets based on size.

And I don’t want this to be misconstrued as hinting that all small breed dogs are little hellians and are somehow getting undeserved privileges, despite my own previous confessions on bias. But it would just make sense to acknowledge that well-behaved dogs and poorly-behaved dogs come in all sizes, because it really comes down to what kind of owner the dog has.

Who knows – maybe some hotels start with an all-encompassing pet-friendly policy, and slowly whittle it down following bad experiences. Or maybe some hotels are easing into it, starting small and expanding the policy as good experiences come. But that’s the problem – anecdotal stories don’t necessarily represent whole populations.

Just because someone has a certain experience doesn't mean it speaks to overall trends or facts.

Just because one person has a certain experience doesn’t mean it speaks to overall trends or facts. [Photo:]

But the rules of logic fail many, and those of us travelling with our dogs or taking them out in public – those conscious and conscientious thinkers of us, anyway – are usually hyper aware of this and try to mitigate it. We keep the dogs leashed, we clean up after them, and we keep them under control – because who wants to be the one who ruins it for everyone else?

And because pet owners are improving and evolving as a courteous and educated population, pet-friendly should also grow be just that. Friendly. Welcoming to all.  If you don’t want to allow dogs at all, fine. But once a hotel is willing to open its doors to the 35% of Canadian households that have dogs, size shouldn’t be a randomly-chosen limiting factor.

Sure, there are bad owners who don’t train or socialize or leash their pets (of any size) and who will ruin fun privileges for the rest of us – that will always be the case. But these owners come in all types and so do their dogs. And I like to think they’re part of a shrinking minority.

It’s not objective or accurate to say all dogs of any particular size or breed are particularly well or poorly behaved, so those size restrictions on “pet-friendliness” are mostly ridiculous and irrational, in my opinion.

Besides, Moses and Alma are our travel companions whenever possible, and our money is just as green (and blue, and purple… this is Canada, after all) as everyone else’s.

Moses and Alma at the famed Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC.

Moses and Alma at the famed Empress Hotel in Victoria, BC.

And ranting about things I don’t like or disagree with is exactly what this Soapbox is for.

About ThatJenK
Writing from Calgary, Alberta, Canada. 90% pictures of my dogs; 10% miscellaneous opinions nobody asked for.

32 Responses to Big Dog Discrimination

  1. 2browndawgs says:

    I have always found the size limits silly. Usually when we attend an out of town hunt test there is a hotel or two that the club has made a deal with. Even if they don’t normally allow dogs, they will open up for the weekend of a test because they end up full and since most are kind of out of the way, full is good. But then they specify a weight limit. What? Usually I have to call and speak to the manager or owner and they waive all of that. Silly.

    • thatjenk says:

      That’s a smart business decision to open up when a test is going on! Too bad some don’t come to that realization year-round.
      Though I may have to try your trick of speaking to management in order to find flexibility on these size policies – good tip!

  2. We experience this all the time with Sherman and Leroy. I did lie once and said that I had 2 dogs under 100lbs staying with us, but the night before we were set to stay in the hotel I called and confessed and they accommodated us for a small fee 🙂 What was odd was that there was a dog staying down the hall (smaller dog) that barked and scratched at the door all night long while my 2 dogs slept quietly on the bathroom floor. .

    • thatjenk says:

      Haha. I didn’t even really mention that part; “Yes, we’re pet-friendly, but it’ll cost you.” This is a fact I accept and do take note when the fee is reasonable. But I’m a sucker. I’ll pay a little extra without much complaint to have Moses and Alma with us on vacation.
      The bathroom floor is also where ours make themselves at home!

  3. snoopys@snoopysdogblog says:

    I’m with you, I think the rule is silly! I only weigh 50lbs, well sometimes I weigh 52 and sometimes 49, so I guess I’m not always allowed to stay when there’s a 50lb limit? Size shouldn’t be the consideration, like you said it should be behavior!

    I’m so happy you found a good hotel – yay for the Marriot! 🙂

    Wags to all,

    Your pal Snoopy 🙂

    • thatjenk says:

      Haha! I wonder what would happen if you were just over! Like Alma hovers around 100lbs, so I’d be tempted to sneak her in when that’s the weight limit, but would worry if they ever wanted to test that!

  4. Kelsey says:

    We face the same problem on a daily basis and also find it very unfair. Cedar weighs in at 40lbs and Kovu 65lbs though everyone thinks he is much bigger. We recently purchased a condo that has a 25lb weight limit as per the builders and are praying we will get a pass once the condo board is formed. Our dogs will rarely be home by themselves (95%of the time they are with us) and are very well trained and respectful. We also will not be letting them do their business any where on the property. Why should we not be able to find a home that suits our young families budget just because I enjoy larger (more stable) dogs? I would love to compete against most of the under 25lb dogs out there in terms of obedience , manners and social behavior……
    Time will tell if we will be able to have our dogs or put our place up for sale and try and find a new home……size discrimination at its best!
    Oh and Kovu is trying out for PALS to become a therapy dog…..then he really can come everywhere with me!

    • thatjenk says:

      Ohh that’s risky with the condo! Fingers crossed you get an exception or a better policy put in place! They can’t get much more courteous dog residents.
      Also, good luck to Kovu with PALS! I’m sure he’ll do great!

  5. The size thing always throws me too. When I was thinking of bringing Sampson to BlogPaws I lied and said he was 85 pounds (they had an 85 lb limit) and prayed that I could help him drop those last 7 pounds. He didn’t end up going, so it didn’t matter.

    When we were traveling to KY for my SIL’s wedding she got a group rate at the Residence Inn and they were pet friendly and they offered dog sitting ‘services.” When I called to inquire about it I was told that they would have a staff member let my dogs out if I requested it. I asked if they were trained to handle dogs and was told no. Sorry Charlie, but I’m not letting some inexperienced staff member attempt to take out my two large dogs in a strange town by someone they don’t know.

    I agree with you, size should not matter, it is how well behaved, how well trained and how astute the owners are. I like this soap box. 🙂

    • thatjenk says:

      Yikes! I would also decline those pet sitting services! Seems like a big risk for all involved – dog owners, hotel, and hotel staff. I’d be inclined to stay there, but just put up the DND sign if leaving the pups behind for dinner or something.

      • Hotels are probably worried about taking in larger dogs, especially in cases where the owners are not responsible or have not trained the dogs and the hotel knows their staff are not trained to handle this sort of situations. It would be the day when pet owners can pick how pet friendly a hotel is based on the ability of staff to manage “animal emergencies and situations” – I think that will be truly human and pet-friendly, rather than picking a hotel just by whether it allows a dog in the first place.

        Looking at the hotel lobby picture, it seems Moses is a little bit bigger than Alma. Not so obvious in the other pictures 😛

  6. Kristin says:

    Moses and Alma are gorgeous posing in the lobby and in front of the Empress Hotel. I have very small dogs, and had no idea about this size discrimination by hotels. It should be behavior and not size.

    • thatjenk says:

      Thanks! Your pups are probably small enough to smuggle in* regardless of pet friendly or not!

      *I am NOT recommending anyone actually try this.

      • Kristin says:

        They are small enough to smuggle in, but somehow little kids are always very observant and squeal, “Puppies!” haha Years ago we smuggled a 14 pound dog into a hotel. The fire alarm went off and we were busted in the stairwell while evacuating. Everyone was forgiving, but definitely not something anyone should risk today.

  7. Clowie says:

    We find the size limits strange. Even when they just say that dogs are welcome, we make a point of asking about the size. Really large dogs don’t tend to get taken to a hotel unless they can behave – it would be too much like hard work!

  8. Donna says:

    I totally agree that the rule is discriminatory, and like any other breed legislation, it should be punish the deed, not the breed (or size of the breed). People run into this with pet friendly housing as well. So sad.

    I do like your idea of having people get the Good Citizen certs for their dogs in both instances, although even that would rule out some dogs that might be a little fearful, yet otherwise perfectly good citizens as far as being housebroken, not biting, and being quiet neighbors.

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  10. Thanks for bringing this up. It’s a frustration for us too. 1st – I recently learned that pet-friendly isn’t really pet friendly. It’s just a catch term. I also learned that our dogs are considered big dogs. To me, they’re my babies. Yes, I have 200# of dogs, but they’re well behaved, clean, and nondestructive. Why do people assume that because of their size, they’re aggressive and will destroy a hotel room or house?

    • thatjenk says:

      Exactly! It’s one of those things where you knew if they could meet the dogs, there wouldn’t be a problem, but that’s pretty hard to do in advance when travelling!

  11. Wonderful Post. As a great dane mom, I get this a lot. We recently drove from Texas to Alabama and decided just to go straight though, because we could not find a place who was pet friendly enough.

  12. Doreen says:

    We stay at the Marriott alot and they do have a good pet policy. The one we stay at charges 50 dollars, even if you only stay one night, which I though was a little nuts. My dog is a therapy dog though so they waive the fee.

    • thatjenk says:

      Yikes! That’s expensive! The one we were at was $20/night (not per dog, per room) to a max of $100/week. Some of the more reasonable fees we’ve seen, for sure. It varies a lot based on location, which makes sense, but is hard to keep track of.

  13. Thanks for bringing this up. We don’t travel much with our dogs – mainly because we just don’t travel very much, but we used to and having Labs they were usually over those silly size limits. I know it’s just anecdotal (love your image BTW), but I think little dogs have a tendency to bark more than bigger dogs – small dog lovers, don’t beat me up, as I said it’s just anecdotal. So why the size limit? It just doesn’t make sense. Maybe someone in the hotel business can explain it to us.

    • thatjenk says:

      I would also love more information behind the rationale (I bet it’s anecdotal), but even more I would like to know how hotels come to the decision between 20 and 25 pounds or 50 and 80 pounds in these policies.

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  15. That is so true. My sapiens sometimes gets told even at the entrance of pet friendly stores..dogs are long as you can carry them. UM…I may be too heavy to carry in my purse, but I’m more well behaved than some of the little ones that enter the store! So very well written!

  16. Garth Riley says:

    We could not agree more. As a 60-pound lab who frequently travels with his parents, I’ve been amazed at the 15 pound, 25 pound, and 35 pound weight limits imposed by some hotels. Weight is irrelevant – what matters is whether the dog’s parents are responsible and considerate of other guests, and whether the dog has basic training and manners. A 15 pound dog that barks incessantly is far more disturbing to other guests than a 180 pound dog who is quiet. And we’ve found there is a HUGE difference between hotels that tolerate dogs and hotels that truly welcome dogs. The ones that welcome dogs get our repeat business.

    When our only option is a hotel with a weight limit that excludes 60-pound dogs, mom has contacted the hotel manager and asked for then to make an exception to the weight limit for me, since I’m an AKC Canine Good Citizen and I’ve had a lot of training, I travel frequently with my parents, and we’ve never had any problems with me disturbing other guests or damaging property. Usually the managers agree, but we’d like to see weight limits abolished entirely. Some hotels, such as Kimpton in the U.S., have NO weight limits and no dog fee. We wish all hotels would be like Kimpton.

  17. Ryan says:

    15 pounds?! My tiny pug mix would barely get in under than limit!

    This sort of issue has primarily been a problem for me when finding housing. Most rentals have a 25lb limit, which has prevented me from getting my “dream dog”, a German Shepherd. I took care of a GSD for a few weeks, and that dog was MUCH better behaved than my little pug mix (working on training him, but he’s got an awful lot of attitude to work on!). I’d much rather see a pair of Newfoundlands at a hotel I was staying at instead of a pair of Yorkies or another “yappy dog” breed.

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