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.

In Defence of Big Dogs

In Defence of Big Dogs
Are you “sizist”?

As many of us dog owners are aware, travelling anywhere with your dog always means an advance and thorough check through the fine print in the policies of any “pet friendly” establishment on the agenda.  Unfortunately, it is not enough to simply make a note of whether dogs are allowed because “pet friendly” is actually a misleading term.  Many popular hotels tout themselves as “pet friendly”, but as soon as you make a detailed inquiry, you find out this only applies to dogs who weigh under 100, 50 or even 20 pounds.  While this means your average Chihuahua is free to roam the country at will with its owners, that leaves a lot of dogs and their owners out in the cold.  I have personally had encounters in “pet friendly” stores telling me that while yes, they do allow dogs, they do not allow dogs as big as mine. 

First, let’s look at some numbers.  According to a Canadian Animal Health Institute 2007 release, approximately 35% of Canadian households have at least one pet dog, and the dog population in Canada is estimated to be upwards of 5.9 million in the country.  Below the border, they estimate that there are 61 million pet dogs in the United States, with approximately 36% of households owning at least one dog.

There are about 15 breeds of dogs generally considered to be “giant breed”, which is often determined by weight: an average “giant” dog weighs 100 pounds or more, (for both male and female).  The list often includes, but is not limited to, breeds such as the Leonberger, Greater Swiss Mountain Dog, Irish Wolfhound, Great Dane, Newfoundland, and English Mastiff.

In addition, there are upwards of 57 breeds considered to be “large breed” dogs, with the weight standard generally sitting at 50-100 pounds.  Large breed dogs include the Malamute, Akita, Old English Sheepdog, Airedale Terrier, Bloodhound, Vizsla, Bernese Mountain Dog, German Shepherd, Chow Chow, Boxer, Rottweiler, and most retrievers, including the Labrador Retriever, Golden Retriever and Flat Coat Retriever.

Noting that the Canadian Kennel Club currently recognises 175 different dog breeds, this means that large or giant breed dogs account for about 41% of registered dog breeds.  How that number translates to the overall dog population, frankly I don’t know, but also take into account that, according to Canada’s Guide to Dogs, the “large breed” Labrador Retriever is the most popular dog by ownership in Canada.  Similar reports come from the United States, with the American Kennel Club stating that there are over twice as many Labrador Retrievers registered in the US as the next most popular breed by ownership.

Secondly, and before moving on, I stress I am not writing to argue that dogs should be allowed to go everywhere people are.  While that would be nice, there are some places where dogs shouldn’t be or aren’t allowed to be (food establishments, places selling prescription drugs), and any place that has a “No Dogs” sign posted should be respected.  I also acknowledge that not all dogs are trained and some dog owners are dunces.  These people and their dogs are the folks who ruin dog-accompanied shopping and travel privileges for the rest of us and it will always be that way.  And for those of us heading out with our average, non-service canine companions, we should be respectable to those around us, setting a good example and making a good impression.  Don’t take your dog into a store if he is excessively wet, muddy, or possibly drooly – doing so makes you one of the aforementioned dunces, I’m afraid.  Ensuring your dog can behave itself should go without saying.  And always remember that even though it is hard to believe, some people are afraid of dogs, or actually just don’t like them, so yours should be able to keep to its own personal space while accompanying you out in public.

That aside, I am writing to address size-based discrimination found amongst the various “dog friendly” environments already in place, whether it be a resort, hotel, condominium complex, retail store, or public park or other attraction.  Small dogs often find themselves with access privileges that their larger counterparts are denied.

But why is this?  Is there something fundamentally unruly about the large and giant breed dogs?  Certainly not.  A quick look into the disposition of any large breed, from a Great Dane to a Mastiff, will no doubt result in most of them making a claim to the title “Gentle Giant”.  In fact, the larger breeds such as Newfoundlands, Saint Bernards, and the aforementioned are generally known for their low-energy, calm dispositions.  Of course, each individual dog is different, and size and breed assumptions are kind of what got us in the mess in the first place.  Sure, you absolutely can come across an exuberant Great Dane, even though he weighs over 120 pounds.  Size does not guarantee lethargy, but on the whole, the giant breeds at least seem to exert less energy than your average small dog (think terriers, Chihuahuas, Pomeranians, Beagles, etc.).

So why do proprietors discriminate on size alone?  Sure, big dogs are, well, bigger.  They eat more and therefore poop more.  They have more fur, so if they’re a shedding type of dog, they will shed more.  But these should be concerns of potential dog owners who are going to have the dog living in their homes every day, because they have to clean up after it.  These things aren’t pressing issues for the fifteen minute store visit, or even for a brief overnight stay at a hotel.  And as far as size restrictions go for residential buildings, those concerns remain nil if you have a responsible and hygienic tenant who cleans up after his or her dog.  Speaking from personal experience as a landlord, dogs of all sizes are equally hard on a residence and are actually no worse than cats.

Additionally, hotels often have their own remedies for these kinds of cleaning and repair concerns.  Most “pet friendly” accommodations have designated pet-rooms or put those travelling with pets in smoking rooms.  And nearly every hotel with a “pet friendly” policy also has an extra cost associated with it, whether it be a one-time charge or a per-night fee, with said cost ranging from $10-30 night or $50+ per stay.  There are also policies in place so guests do not leave dogs in the rooms unsupervised, ideally allowing for minimal canine-related destruction or disruption.  Yet, even with these stipulations and cautionary measures, size restrictions are still present and common.

Is it that big dogs are more destructive?  Well, not necessarily.  Any untrained, under-exercised dog is going to be destructive, regardless of size.  If you want to guarantee the condition of your property, an exercise and training requirement for all dogs is more appropriate.  Yes, there are many excellent small dog owners out there, but there are many awful ones, too.  Those are the folks who think they don’t need to train their small dog because they can just “pick him up” when he’s being bad, and figure that because they’re small, they don’t need to be exercised properly.  And why do these owners still get the full privileges of the “pet friendly” establishments, but those of us with well-mannered large dogs remain left out?

Or better yet, let’s use the example of a hotel that has a 50lb weight limit in its pet policy.  How is it that my dog, when he was a puppy and met that criteria, but was also not yet fully housebroken, would have been allowed to stay there, but now that he is a mature adult dog, albeit much larger, he’s banned?  Does that make sense to anyone?

Moses, when he qualified as a "medium sized dog".

I understand that hotels and stores and other “pet friendly” locations want to ensure the dogs they allow are well-mannered and not a nuisance to other guests.  But size is no way to determine that and size restrictions, just like breed-specific restrictions, miss the point entirely.  Judging a dog based on its size or breed is no way to determine temperament or level of training or socialization.

Instead, I call for a complete revocation of these ridiculous size-related restrictions.  And no, this won’t mean your next shopping trip or out of town stay is going to be a doggy circus; there still needs to be some standard or form or regulation, and effective policies are already often in place.  Requiring all dogs to be supervised and on-leash when out in public is completely reasonable.  Continue charging your extra fees, if it means that much to you, and make no qualms about asking an unruly or noisy dog to leave.  Hold owners completely responsible for the behaviour of their dogs.  Perhaps offer incentives for trained dogs, asking for accreditations such as Canine Good Neighbour / Good Citizen, which can only serve to encourage people to seek formal training when they normally may not.

And when looking at the size of the population of dog owners, and the population of big dog owners specifically, it doesn’t make much sense to exclude these folks and their beloved pets from travel or activities.  Businesses who open their doors to dogs of all sizes gain a market that will remain loyal and recommend their friends.

Sure, it’s natural to have preferences.  Owners of big dogs likely prefer them – guilty as charged.  And owners of small dogs probably feel that a small dog is the best choice for them, if not a better choice in general.  But my complaint arises when restrictions are put in place based on these arbitrary preferences.  It is actually like disregarding the contents of a book because you don’t like the colour of the cover, and I believe long ago we were all told not to do that.  Not to mention, often size discriminations are a way to mask breed-specific discriminations, but for more on that I invite you to read my post “To Ban the Breed?

Is this a cause you can get behind?  If so, visit:

Travelling with your dog? Here are some great websites to help you locate pet friendly accommodations and attractions.
If within Canada visit: or
If travelling below the border, check out:

Regardless of size, a dog is a dog.