When my family and I traveled in the Before Times, our dog—a shih tzu named Agnes—usually didn’t come with us when we left our home in Brooklyn: Instead of flying to India or the Azores, Agnes would vacation at my in-laws in New Jersey (a yard!), take the subway to my friend’s in Manhattan (Madison Square Park!), or stay home with my cousin who lived with roommates and would gladly post up at our apartment and give Agnes more attention than she’d gotten from us since our son was born.
Last summer, when I was tentatively ready to leave the pandemic cocoon of my Brooklyn apartment, my husband and I decided to take our son to a vacation home rental on Shelter Island and then a few weeks later, to an Airbnb in the upper Hudson Valley. We had taken Agnes with us to Airbnbs a handful of times, but suddenly, it felt more urgent: My cousin moved back to Portland, my friend was camped out at her dad’s in Maryland, and New Jersey felt very far away. Plus, we’d gotten closer than ever to Agnes, and she was used to us being around all the time while we quarantined together. So we narrowed our search to “Pets allowed,” and selected our vacation homes with Agnes in mind.
We weren’t the only ones: An Airbnb report from February 2021 found that searches made with the “allows pets” filter have increased 65 percent since the beginning of January 2021 compared to the same time period last year.
Over the last year, in my quest for finding pet-friendly properties, I have learned a few things. Read on the best tips for finding and staying at pet-friendly Airbnbs or vacation rentals.
1. Factor in the fees
Most pet-friendly vacation home rentals include pet fees in addition to their regular cleaning fees, so be sure to factor that into your budget. They typically range from around $25 to $150 per stay. Some rentals may also require a damage deposit that you will get back if no damage occurs.
2. Be transparent with your host
It may be tempting to not disclose you’re bringing Fido along, since you may not see your host during your stay. But it’s not a good idea to omit this information in order to sneak your dog into a rental that doesn’t allow pets or to skip paying the additional pet fee at a rental that does allow them. You may need to contact the owner if something at the house isn’t working properly, or if you leave your pet alone in the house they may bark and alert the owner to their presence if the host lives nearby. Plus, if they know a pet is coming, some hosts will leave special treats or toys, just like hotels.
3. If your search isn’t turning up results, widen it and start messaging owners
It’s a good place to start your search, but selecting the “Pets allowed” filter on Airbnb or other vacation rental sites can instantly make your prospects dwindle. When you can’t find anything that explicitly says it allows pets, consider removing the filter, picking out your dream rental, and contacting the owner to ask if dogs are allowed.
Unless there’s a note in the rules or description emphatically saying that no pets are allowed, I’ve found many owners are agreeable to making an exception, especially if your pet is small and well trained. I like to play up how Agnes doesn’t shed, has never chewed on furniture, and basically sleeps a majority of the day (all true). If you have good reviews from previous stays with your pets, this will also help. Offer to pay a pet cleaning fee and a damage deposit, like pet-friendly rentals typically require, and you’ll have a decent shot.
4. Look for fenced yards, dog-friendly beaches, or wide-open spaces
When you search for your vacation rental, keep your pet’s comfort in mind. If your dog is prone to running away, consider a place with a fenced yard—we learned that the hard way when Agnes escaped from the backyard of our Shelter Island rental and I got a call from the island police station that someone had turned her in. (Another tip: make sure your pet has a collar and is chipped with your up-to-date information.) Shelter Island also has certain beaches that allow dogs during specific hours, which we all enjoyed.
If your rental does have a body of water nearby or a pool, watch your pet near it, just as you would a child. “All dogs should be supervised when swimming, and some of our less talented athletes may require a canine life jacket to help them enjoy the water safely,” says Dr. Kate Bruce, a Brisbane, Australia-based veterinarian.
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5. Ask about other animals
If your pet doesn’t get along with other animals, be sure to ask your host if there are any living on neighboring properties. Sometimes the owner lives in an adjacent home on the same land with pets, and if it’s a farm stay, there may be a whole range of other animals nearby.
6. Pack all the gear
Once everything is booked, you’ll also want to be sure the trip goes smoothly for your pet after you check in. While it’s tempting to share whatever you’re eating with your dog, Dr. Bruce cautions to “be careful offering unfamiliar foods to your pets. It’s best to pack some of their tasty treats from home, and stick to their regular diet to avoid nasty stomach upsets on holiday.”
We love bringing our collapsible dog bowls, which are especially good for long car rides or hikes and then also usable once you arrive. If your dog is particular about their bed, be sure to bring it along, says Dr. Bruce, “and remember to give them something familiar and comforting that smells like home.” Bringing a dog bed also helps keep your pet off the furniture, which some houses may stipulate in their rules. We also like bringing a long, retractable leash when we travel to give Agnes room to roam.
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7. Try not to leave your pet alone
When planning your trip, check the surrounding area for places where you can bring your dog—look for outdoor activities and restaurants and shops that allow dogs: While your dog may be fine for hours on end alone at your home, they may be anxious in a new place. (Even the most well-behaved pets can howl or be destructive if left alone in unfamiliar surroundings.) It’s probably not a great idea to take your dog on a museum-focused trip, for example, where they won’t be allowed to come with you.
8. Clean up
You’ll always want to clean up after yourself at a vacation rental whether you have a pet with you or not, but be especially cognizant when your dog has stayed with you. Leave the house as close to how it was when you arrived and be sure to properly dispose of any of your dog’s waste left in the yard or surrounding area. It also doesn’t hurt to bring a lint roller along to brush off any fur left on furniture.
9. If all else fails, consider a hotel
Even though you may have had your heart set on a pet-friendly Airbnb, keep in mind that many hotels welcome animals. I’ve found that more hotels than not allow pets these days, with many rolling out the red carpet for our furry friends.
Last December, we took a road trip from New York to South Carolina and stayed in four hotels plus a vacation rental, and Agnes was allowed at all of them. (Bonus: Sometimes the hotel pet fee was less than it would be at a vacation home rental, and sometimes there wasn’t one at all.)
At Montage Palmetto Bluff in Bluffton, South Carolina, she frolicked across the vast green spaces and got a treat from every staff member we encountered, and when we arrived late at night at 21c Durham, two plates of cookies awaited—one for us humans and one for Agnes. On a recent trip to the Point in the Adirondack Mountains of New York, Agnes was almost treated better than I was: a large basket full of toys, treats, and other goodies awaited her, plus they gave us an adorable little tepee for her to sleep in (which she largely ignored).