There’s a lot to think about when you’re considering relocation, especially if you’re a dog owner.
You’ll not only have to think about all of the typical stuff, like employment and the cost of living, but you’ll also have to consider how your pup will feel about your new home.
We’ll try to help you make a good choice below as we discuss the best cities for dogs!
We’ll also talk about the things you’ll want to consider when moving with your pooch and explain the most important things to seek from your pet’s point of view.
Dog owners obviously come in all flavors, and some want different things from a dog-friendly city than others. But there are a few characteristics that most dog owners will appreciate when comparing different cities.
Parks and other natural areas are a necessity for many dogs.
They not only serve as places in which dogs can enjoy some exercise and mental stimulation, but they also give your pet a place to go to the bathroom – a particularly important consideration for those living in concrete-covered urban areas (just be sure to pick up after your pet).
Regular parks are important and valuable components of dog-friendly cities, but dedicated dog parks are even better!
Dog parks give your pooch a place to socialize, and they’re also one of the few places that you can safely unhook your pet’s leash and let him run around freely, as most dog parks are completely fenced.
Just make sure to read our guide about how to prepare for your first visit to a dog park, if you’ve never been to one before or just need a refresher!
Going out for a snack or adult beverage with your dog is a pretty good way to spend an afternoon, and many dog-friendly cities offer plenty of chances to do so.
Even cities that are not usually considered very pet-friendly often have a few bars or dog-friendly restaurants that welcome four-footers, but really pet-friendly cities are full of these types of establishments. The more places Fido is welcome to join you, the better!
A city’s temperature plays a big role in its suitability for dogs.
You can probably find ways to help your dog remain comfortable in any city in the lower 48, but most dogs will appreciate moderate temperatures.
Additionally, some dogs are just not cut out for certain locations due to their breeds or coat. Dallas is not an ideal home for long-haired huskies; Buffalo isn’t a great location for Chihuahuas.
Cities that are designed with pedestrians in mind often make great places for dog-lovers to live.
Walkable cities usually offer more and better dog-walking opportunities than car-centered cities, a fact that you’ll probably appreciate every time you have to grab your pup’s leash and take her out to tinkle. Not to mention it’ll be easier to find a Wag or Rover walker in a pedestrian-friendly area.
It is also wise to look for cities with plenty of other dog owners.
Cities that are home to a big population of other dog owners will not only give you more chances to socialize your pup, they’re also more likely to have walking groups, social clubs, dog competitions, and other canine-networking opportunities.
There’s likely some type of advanced analytical formula that can quantitatively determine the best cities for dogs, but we’ve relied instead on a combination of dog-owner accounts and anecdotes, our own personal experiences, the five characteristics described above, and a bit of gut instinct.
This surely means we’ve left off a really awesome dog city or two, and the residents of some cities that we did include may disagree with our assessment.
So, be sure to share your thoughts and experiences in the comment section – we’d love to hear as many perspectives on the issue as possible.
Austin may be the very best city for dogs and their owners in the U.S. While there are a few other cities that are probably in the same league with this Texas town, it’s pretty hard to argue against Austin topping the list (and I know from experience that you should definitely not try to convince an editor with ties to the city otherwise).
Editor’s Note: That’s right, I’ve spent a handful of years on and off in Austin and I’ve never encountered such a dog-friendly city. This is partly due to the abundance of outdoor establishments and seating areas made possible by Austin’s warm climate. It’s rare to find a restaurant or bar that doesn’t have a few dogs chilling with their owners outside.
Dog culture is huge there – you’ll even find modern dog parks where owners can order a glass of beer or a margarita while staff manages dog playtime so you can relax.
Add into the mix Ladybird Lake (where you’ll frequently see paddleboarders and kayakers with their dogs beside them) and the hiking trails of the Greenbelt which are often frequented by four-footers, and you get a truly dog-friendly city!
Tito’s Vodka, which is headquartered in Austin, even calls themselves “the vodka for dog people”. Yup, it’s pretty tough to be a dog hater in Austin!
For starters, you’ll never have to look very hard to find a dog-friendly restaurant or bar – there are at least 77 establishments in the city that will welcome your four-footer. Austin also has a number of great dog parks where you can let your dog run free. Several parks – such as the fantastically named Barkin’ Springs — even include creeks or lakes for your dog to enjoy.
But Austin is not perfect for all pups. It is absurdly hot, and you need to be cognizant of how the climate affects your canine. A canine cooling vest may be a necessity for long-haired dogs, and you’ll need to let your dog drink plenty of water while you’re out and about.
Austin isn’t the most walkable city in the country either, but some portions of the town will allow you to get around pretty effectively on foot.
The first of several West Coast cities we’ll mention, San Francisco is a wonderful place for dogs and their owners to live.
San Francisco has plenty of restaurants that are welcome towards pets, and it also offers dog owners plenty of outdoor spaces to walk and play with their pet. Even the city’s most famous park – Golden Gate Park – offers four different off-leash areas for your pooch.
San Francisco is a supremely walkable city – it is ranked as the second most walkable city by some authorities. But if your intended destination lies outside of walking distance, you needn’t grab your car keys; you can just jump on board the cable car with your pooch if you need to get around – four footers are welcome aboard.
San Francisco’s climate is also pretty awesome for dogs. The summers remain relatively cool compared to many of California’s other big cities, while the winters rarely require you to wear more than a windbreaker or sweater. Accordingly, most dogs will find the climate pretty comfy (and the constant wind blowing through their fur is a welcome bonus).
Denver appears on nearly every “top dog-friendly cities” article ever written, and it’s pretty easy to see why.
There are tons of restaurants in the area that allow dogs to hang out on the porch or patio, and several local bars also welcome dogs.
And don’t worry if you prefer caffeinated beverages to the alcoholic variety, as several of the local coffee shops are dog-friendly too.
Denver also has a good number of dog-friendly parks. You’ll need to keep Fido leashed at some of them, but others allow dogs to run around off-leash.
Denver isn’t one of the most walkable cities in the country, and you’ll obviously have to contend with cold temperatures and snow for several months each year. This makes it slightly more appropriate for malamutes and huskies than it is for wiener dogs, Dalmatians, and other lean and short-haired breeds.
However, on balance, the city is clearly a great place for dog lovers and their pets.
Bozeman, Montana could certainly be called the outdoorsy dog lover’s paradise.
This small city has a surprising number of cute coffee shops with lovely outdoor patios. While you can’t use those dog-friendly patios in the winter due to the cold, they’re fantastic for hanging out with your dog in the warmer months.
The breweries and bars also tend to have dog-friendly patios.
Unlike some other really dog-friendly cities, Bozeman isn’t totally overrun with dogs. This can make the experience even more pleasant, since you’re not competing with anyone over the water bowl or the shady patio spot! The extra space makes most dogs feel even more at home than in an ultra-condensed city.
There are a whopping 27 dog friendly restaurants in Bozeman – not bad for a city of just 45,000.
Even better, the city is surrounded with seemingly endless outdoor space. Most of the National Forest trails are dog-friendly, and many allow off-leash dogs. Be sure to bring a solid dog hiking harness, a light, bell, and bear spray!
If your dog isn’t trustworthy around wildlife, keep her on leash. The mountains around Bozeman are full of critters!
Small breeds might not do well in Bozeman thanks to the chilly winters, ample snowfall, and toothy predators. But for an outdoorsy dog, Bozeman is a veritable playground.
San Diego has all of the basic things dog owners want in a city, including plenty of pet-friendly restaurants and dog-friendly parks (the city of San Diego actually maintains a pretty handy list of parks, including on- and off-leash varieties). It also has a few unique attractions that are hard to find in many other cities.
For example, San Diego is perfect for pups (not to mention people) who love the water. There are eight different beaches in the area that welcome pets, and while some of them do require your pet to remain on a leash, a few allow you to unclip your dog and let him run through the surf.
And speaking of surf, nearby Imperial Beach even hosts an annual dog surfing contest for pups that like to hang ten (or would that be “hang twenty”?).
Several San Diego restaurants, hotels, and bars allow dogs to hang out on the patio or deck, and many – such as Hotel Del Coronado — host “Yappy Hour” events (complete with dog-safe appetizers) on a recurring basis.
Unfortunately, San Diego isn’t a terribly walkable city, so you’ll often need to hop in the car first when you try to visit these locations.
In terms of weather, you won’t have to worry much about rain in San Diego, but you will need to keep an eye on long-haired dogs during the height of summer when the temperatures can soar.
Portland is currently considered a pretty hip city by many, but it isn’t only attractive to two-footers; it is also a pretty strong contender for the title of “Best Dog City in America.”
Boasting the highest dog-park-to-person ratio in the country, Portland is home to a whopping 33 dog parks where your pup can run around sans leash. There are also a variety of nature and hiking trails (as well as other outdoor attractions) that are perfect for walking with your pet (although you’ll have to keep your dog leashed in most of these places).
Many restaurants in Portland and the surrounding area allow your dog to accompany you on the patio, and some of the food cart pods are dog-friendly and provide covered seating.
One restaurant – the Tin Shed – is particularly pet-friendly. They not only provide a heated and covered patio for your pup’s comfort, but they also have special promotions that allow your dog to eat with you for free!
If you are on a liquid diet, there are a plethora of local bars (I’m starting to see the appeal of this city) that are pet-friendly too.
Portland is also a relatively walkable city (it ranks in the top 10 U.S. cities in terms of walkability) with a reasonably comfortable climate. Winters are often a bit rainy, and summers can get kind of toasty, but it’s mild enough for most dogs.
Seattle is another West Coast city that embraces dogs with open arms. It is a famously rainy city, which isn’t an ideal characteristic for dog owners, but its temperatures remain pretty mild all year long; summer heat waves and bitter cold snaps are both pretty rare.
There are more than a dozen dog parks within Seattle city limits that allow dogs to run off-leash, and there are almost as many more just outside city limits.
One of these dog parks – Magnuson Park – even provides beach access to dogs. And for those who don’t mind keeping their pet on a leash, Seattle is surrounded by scads of dog-friendly trails you can both enjoy.
Seattle also has its share of pet-friendly establishments that’ll welcome your dog on the patio, and there are even a handful of local restaurants that will allow your dog to sit with you inside. Similarly, many of the city’s shopping districts, such as University Village, welcome dogs.
Seattle is a relatively walkable city – at least portions of it are. It ranks eighth among all U.S. cities in terms of walkability. But even if you live in a part of the Seattle area that isn’t very easy to get around on foot, you can take your dog with you on the bus.
Another small city that’s astonishingly dog-friendly is Victoria, British Columbia.
Nestled along the forested coast of Vancouver Island (a one-hour ferry ride from Vancouver), this city feels like it’s right out of Europe – dog friendliness and all.
While the downtown area is a bit cramped for dog walking thanks to narrow sidewalks, the outskirts (especially near Thetis Lake Park) are fantastically dog-friendly.
It’s not hard to find quiet areas for your dog to enjoy a dip in the ocean or a lake. Even better, Thetis Lake Park has miles and miles of dog-friendly trails that are off-leash friendly and dotted with lakes. The network of trails is a bit confusing, but if you stick to the lakeside it’s generally possible to “stay found.”
There are only 11 dog-friendly restaurants in Victoria, but in my opinion, the beaches and trails more than make up for the lack of dog-friendly dining.
Victoria is pretty chilly in the winter, but isn’t all that much colder than Seattle (it’s not that much further north). There are regular group dog walks on Meetup.com to help keep your spirits up during the winter!
Several New England cities are pet-friendly, but we felt that Boston was most deserving of inclusion on this list.
There are a number of great parks in Boston where your dog can play, and a few even allow dogs to run around off-leash.
You can also bring your dog with you to many of the city’s restaurants (though you’ll have to sit outside with your pooch), and several of the local flea markets also welcome dogs.
Surprisingly, there are a number of aquatic adventures you can enjoy with your pet in Boston. A few of the city’s boat tour operators allow dogs to hop aboard (some even feature heated cabins to keep you and your pup comfy during winter tours), and there are several beaches that welcome dogs (although some prohibit dogs during the summer).
Boston can be pretty cold, so you’ll definitely want to make sure your Yorkie or Chihuahua stays warm during winter walks. In fact, Boston gets coated in about 44 inches of snow a year, but this may be a good thing in some cases, as some dogs love to play around in fresh powder.
Despite the challenges posed by Old Man Winter, Boston is an extremely walkable city, so you’ll have plenty of chances to take your pup with you while you’re running errands.
Despite being one of the most densely populated and concrete-coated cities in the world, New York is actually a pretty dog-friendly town.
It may not offer as many wide-open spaces as some other cities do, but there are several dog-friendly parks (including the most famous park in the world) that you and your pet can enjoy. In fact, many of the public parks allow dogs to run off-leash between 9:00 PM and 9:00 AM.
New York is one of the most walkable cities in the world, and an increasing number of retail establishments and restaurants are beginning to welcome dogs.
At last count, the city is home to 514 pet-friendly restaurants and bars. So, you’ll likely find many opportunities to allow your pup to tag along when you leave home.
Also, because New York is a bit of a laboratory for innovation and cultural change, there are a number of neat amenities available. For example, Dog Parker – a Brooklyn-based startup – maintains a series of climate-controlled “lockers” in which your pet can hang out while you shop in places that don’t allow pets.
New York is pretty chilly in the winter and the summers are surprisingly warm, so you may need to bundle up small breeds when the winter winds howl and be careful to keep long-haired dogs cool and comfortable in the summer.
The West Coast seems to dominate our list, but Chicago proves that Midwestern cities can compete with those bordering the Pacific.
Chicago has a number of dedicated dog parks, and each contains a “dog-friendly area” (DFA), in which your dog can run around leash-free (note that you’ll have to obtain a DFA tag and permit before letting your dog run off leash, but it’s only five bucks).
Some of these parks even feature pools so your pooch can swim and splash with other dogs.
A ton of Chicago-area retail establishments – including department stores and clothing retailers – welcome leashed dogs with open arms. You can even check out the Navy Pier with your pup (the pier has implemented a new policy since the most recent renovations). There are even canine-friendly boat tours of Lake Michigan you can enjoy with your pet.
Chicago is one of the coldest cities on our list, so you may need to invest in some cozy canine boots and a warm winter-proof dog coat for your four-footer, particularly if your pooch is on the small side (small dogs tend to become chilled more quickly than large dogs).
However, Chicago certainly provides plenty of walking opportunities, as it is rated as the sixth most walkable city in the U.S.
My hometown of Atlanta hasn’t been historically recognized as a particularly pet-friendly city, but that’s starting to change.
Known as the “City of Trees,” Atlanta is full of natural areas and parks, including several that are specifically set up for dogs.
Residents – even those living in the relatively urban midtown or downtown neighborhoods — rarely have to travel far with their dogs to reach a green space.
My pooch and I have our choice of three different parks within two miles of home for our daily outing, and I’d guess most people living in the area can say the same. However, while some intown locations are relatively walkable, most of the city and surrounding suburbs do fall short in this respect.
A growing number of establishments are starting to welcome dogs and a few have been doing so for years. Two of the city’s professional sports franchises have even embraced the dog-owning demographic!
Hotlanta’s summer temperatures do border on the sweltering. My Rottie seems to handle the high temperatures relatively well, but I make sure to give her copious amounts of water when it’s hot, and we definitely try to get to the park early in the morning during the summer.
On the flip-side, the local winter temperatures are pretty mild. We do get a fair bit of rain, but we only deal with snow once a year or so.
Obviously, these aren’t the only cities you and your dog may enjoy, but they’re clearly among the best options. Just be sure to keep your dog’s specific needs in mind when you make your choice.
We’d love to hear your thoughts – which cities are best for dogs? Share your opinions in the comments!
Ben is a proud dog owner and lifelong environmental educator who writes about animals, outdoor recreation, science, and environmental issues. He lives with his beautiful wife and spoiled-rotten Rottweiler JB in Atlanta, Georgia. Read more by Ben at FootstepsInTheForest.com.