Dog Friendly Hotels: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly

On the subject of dog friendly hotels, the words 'dog friendly' sometimes cover for a multitude of sins. Learn how to tell the difference.

Dog Friendly Hotels: The Good, the Bad, and the Ugly
Image Credit: Marco Antonio Tessari

In case you don't know me, I am a humble servant to the memory of St Roch and a battle hardened certifier of dog friendliness in the hotel industry. In this article, I want to discuss the difference between a good dog friendly hotel and a bad one because the difference between the two torments me night and day.

Nothing floats my boat like a good dog friendly hotel, and one day I decided to dedicate myself to finding the most canine inclusive hotels on the planet, which sounds like a lovely pastime, but mostly makes me feel like the bad dog friendly hotels and their continual abuse of the words "dog friendly" are mocking me.

Because in my experience, those words hide all manner of sins. 

I founded Roch, the world’s first dog-friendly certification and ranking process for hotels. Over the last six months, my work has led me to certify hundreds of hotels, asking them detailed questions about their dog-friendly policies, services, amenities, facilities, and ancillaries. Each answer the hotels give earns or loses points, and the overall point score is used to calculate their rank, from C to A+.

But I have slowly realized that some of these hotels are so bad that we will have to create a D rank in order to accommodate them. My initial intent was never to be negative about anyone in the hospitality industry, but some of these hotels abuse the words dog friendly so much that I felt I had no other choice.

I think dog owners deserve to know, don't you?

When you have certified hundreds of hotels, the difference between a good dog-friendly hotel and a bad one is painfully clear. When you have stayed at hundreds of dog-friendly hotels in many different countries, only then can you understand my torment and what drives me to turn the tables on my tormentors.

They cannot bribe me to give them a better rank; all they can do is do better.

The Good

Let us begin with the good, and by good, I mean the best!

My A+ rank is reserved for the best dog-friendly hotels on the planet, the exceptional and rare few that are so absurdly dog-friendly that they provide genuinely world-class canine inclusivity, services, amenities, and facilities. To date, I have only awarded two hotels an A+ grade, and believe me, dear reader, when I tell you that they have worked hard to earn that rank.

The Intercontinental Hotel in Miami is currently the best dog-friendly hotel in the world, closely followed by the Hotel Cafe Royal in London. Both hotels have worked incredibly hard to create a genuinely canine-inclusive environment for their guests and offer all the services and amenities a dog owner could ever want.

With my A+ rank, you can expect dog walking services, grooming services, beds, bowls, and dog food to be provided. Your dog is welcome in all areas, including the bars, restaurants, and terraces. These hotels might throw dog-friendly events for their local communities or divert profits to local dog-friendly charities.

My A rank is what I would consider to be the gold standard for dog-friendly hotels, and is reserved for exceptionally dog-friendly hotels like the Staypineapple in Seattle or the Limelight Hotel in Aspen. Hotels with this rank deliver world-class canine inclusivity but might offer fewer of the services and amenities you would expect when staying with their A+ ranking rivals. 

The Bad

Moving onto the bad, my C rank is reserved for technically dog-friendly hotels that make the bare minimum of effort, offer little in the way of services or amenities, allocate barely any of their rooms as dog-friendly, and gouge you with a steep cleaning tax because you dared to bring your dog with you on your trip. 

Hotels like the Ivey’s Hotel in Charlotte or the Ascott Marunouchi Hotel in Tokyo fall into this bracket. They seem to have good intentions when you speak to them, and their certification results indicate that they at least make some sort of effort to be dog-friendly, but they are mostly putting lipstick on a pig.

If canine inclusivity is what you are looking for, these hotels ain’t it, but some refuge can be found in the C+ ranking hotels who tend to do marginally better.

The Ugly

Finally, let’s take a look at the ugly.

Hotels in this category convinced us that we needed to create a new D rank because they are so bad that they make the rest of the C ranking hotels seem worse than they are. Hotels like the Courtyard by Marriot and the Rosen Shingle Creek represent some of our certified dog-friendly hotel directory’s worst hotels.

These dog-friendly hotels scored so few points in their certification process that they should be ashamed to call themselves dog-friendly when the best you can hope for when you stay at these hotels is dog tolerant.

You must bring dog beds, bowls, food, and treats with you because they definitely do not have any of these things if you forget to bring them. You can forget about convenient green spaces or nearby public parks; expect concrete jungle dog walks in unfamiliar urban terrain with no route guidance.

The Guest Experience

If, like me, you continuously stay at many different dog-friendly hotels, you quickly realise how widely the guest experience can vary across hotels, and how annoying things can get when you travel with your dog. Sometimes, you don’t get a room at your dog friendly hotel because they only have two rooms allocated for dogs, and both of them are occupied, or because your small female labrador is somehow far too big for their hotel to handle. If you are really lucky you won't be fleeced by the hotels daily, and often inexplicably high, dog cleaning fees.

Some hotels will happily ruin your trip by forcing you to carry your dog in a carry cage in the public areas of their hotel or forbidding them from using their garden or anywhere except for your room, where they can never be left alone.

The words ‘dog friendly’ hide all manner of sins, and because hotels consistently fail to communicate or even be transparent about these sins unless you ask the right questions, you only find out about them long after you have checked in. 

Strange Contradictions

When reviewing the certification results from hundreds of hotels, you notice some bizarre contradictions. Hotels that might otherwise pride themselves on their service levels, world-class facilities, and amenities can often hilariously fail to be dog friendly to the point of alienating their dog owning customers.

The worst culprits consistently market themselves as dog friendly.

Therein lies the contradiction. 

Most hotels who value their customers’ business want to nurture long-term loyalty and provide memorable experiences for their guests. But while many hotels genuinely make an effort to do just that, they self-sabotage those efforts by shooting themselves in the foot with their dog-friendly policies.

If hotels want to create long-term loyalty, make their guests feel welcome, and create a positive guest experience for their paying customers, why do so many consistently fail to extend this mentality to dog owners and their canine guests?

My guess is that many of them simply pretend to be dog friendly. They probably think that nobody but dog owners will notice, and get so few dogs staying with them that they do not think twice about price gouging those who do.

This is why the Roch Standard is so important: unless we properly certify hotels to verify their dog friendliness, you, as a potential guest, would only know once it was too late. The internet is full of dog-friendly directories, none of which have bothered to check if the hotels they list really are dog-friendly or pretend to be. 

Most of these platforms are either OTA affiliates, partnered with Expedia or Booking, and hunting click-through commissions rather than acting as any kind of guarantor of dog friendliness. Most will happily take a hotel’s money to enable the worst dog-friendly hotels to outshine the best in terms of visibility.

In a marketing world where every other dog-friendly hotel directory has been bought, gamed, or corrupted by the hospitality industry, the Roch Standard and our dog-friendly certification process stand out as a beacon of dog-friendly truth.

Something had to be done, we desperately wanted to be able to tell the difference between the good, the bad, and the ugly when we travelled with our dogs.

The Roch Society works towards creating a more canine-inclusive world and an easier place to travel when we are with our four-legged friends.

I invite you, dear reader, to join us.

If, like me, you want to discover the world’s best dog-friendly hotels, head over to my dog friendly directory, where we regionally rank the hotels we certify or follow us on Facebook, Linkedin, Twitter, or Instagram to see our regular updates.