I have spent some time recently dog-sitting for a friend who lives in the historic center of Rome, and I can tell you that after 8+ years of living in Rome dog-less, walking around the city with a dog is a completely different experience than walking around the city on your own.
We do receive on occasion (maybe once every couple months) an email from somebody who is traveling with a dog and wants to know if we have any properties that will accept pets (in fact, we just got an email about that this week). Usually they live in other parts of Italy or Europe and are traveling by car; their trips tend to be a little longer and not just a “city break” for a few days in a European capital. So here are a few things you should know if you plan on traveling with your dog (sorry cat lovers, we just haven’t received any requests to bring cats!).
1. Only bring your dog if you have to and/or feel it would be in its best interest. If you have somebody reliable at home who can pet-sit, that’s probably the best bet. Traveling with a pet can make things more expensive, complicated, and tiring. (It’s your vacation! Wouldn’t you rather sleep in, instead of getting up at 7am because your furry friend needs his morning wee?) For some dogs, traveling could also be traumatizing– spending long periods of time in a car, overstimulation from too many new things, crowds of people, new smells, bits of food on the ground… you are taking your dog out of its comfort zone when you travel!
2. Only bring your dog if it’s well-behaved. If he is aggressive with strangers or other animals, bites or snaps, barks a lot, has potty-training problems, jumps on everybody in sight (even if he’s just trying to be friendly!), or is out of control, please DO NOT bring your dog with you. This will just cause grief for you, the people around you, and your dog himself.
3. Yes, we do have properties that will accept dogs. Most don’t, but some do. Owners usually take it on a case-by-case basis and decide if they want to accept a dog or not (sometimes it might depend on the size of the dog — understandably, there is more acceptance to smaller dogs — or they might need reassurance from you that the dog is not going to destroy the place). Generally speaking, multiple-room B&Bs or guesthouses will not accept pets, because there will be other guests staying who might be allergic to or otherwise bothered by them. Private apartment owners tend to be more flexible. Of course, if we do find a place that will accept your dog, keep in mind that any damage done by your dog will be paid for by you! That means if he chews something up, or pees on something, you will be paying for the replacement or repair of that item.
4. It would be a good idea to book a place nearby a park or other green area where you can walk your dog. That’s actually not too hard in Rome. Rome has quite a few big parks (Villa Borghese, Villa Pamphili, Villa Celimontana, Parco della Caffarella, etc) and there are also lots of tiny little parks in most neighborhoods which will at least give them a patch of grass to do their business on, sniff at, and play in. Staying somewhere near the Tiber river (which is most of the historic center, really) is another great option as you can take your dog down the steps to the riverbank and walk them there, where there are few people around and plenty of space.
5. Keep your dog on a leash. This is very important in a city like Rome. You don’t want your dog taking off and running across a busy road or getting lost in a strange place. And you don’t want him getting away from you and doing something naughty (say, jumping up and licking a tourist’s ice cream cone… or worse?). Follow the rules — I have seen signs in parks specifically saying to keep dogs on a leash, only to see dogs galore running around leash-less. Don’t do this: play it safe and you’ll avoid a fine, or a confrontation.
6. Scoop the poop and watch where your dog pees. Sadly, you’ll see dog poo all over the place here, especially in residential neighborhoods. But don’t do as the Romans do in this case: clean up after your dog. It’s against the law not to, it’s common courtesy, and remember: you could be the one accidentally stepping in it on your way back. Storefronts pose a special problem for those not used to walking their dog in a big city; especially the storefronts in the historic center. There are many, many stores in the winding streets of the historic center, mostly open-front or with doors open, and here they will often display items outside, sometimes on the ground or at dog-level (say, shoes or books). Male dogs especially will want to stop and mark everything in sight. Be vigilant about where they lift their legs: walls are OK; storefronts or front doors of apartment buildings are not!
7. Rome is a dirty city with a serious litter problem, and your dog will be eating random garbage off the ground. There’s not really a way to avoid this (unless you have a rare dog who’s not food-crazy). Bits of vegetables on the ground left over from the outdoor markets; gelato cups tossed on the street with a few last licks of melting ice cream in them; pieces of bread meant for pigeons; garbage bags with old food sitting on the side of the street waiting to be picked up — your dog will try to eat all this and more. Be prepared to watch with an eagle eye and drag your dog away from whatever delizia he smells if necessary; even then, he’ll still manage to eat stuff you don’t want him to.
8. Now on to the good stuff… a lot of businesses are more dog-friendly than they would be elsewhere. Of course you should always ask first, but many coffee bars will gladly welcome your dog in with you while you stop for a cappuccino or a sandwich, provided he behaves himself, of course. (Sanitary regulations just aren’t as strictly observed as they are in many other countries!) There is one coffee bar in my area that happily greets all their furry visitors and brings them a bowl of milk to slurp on. Obviously you won’t bring your dog into a supermarket or an indoor restaurant, but in Rome many restaurants and bars have outdoor seating and your dog will be welcome there.
9. You will meet a lot more people than you normally would if you’re walking around with a dog. In a week of dog-sitting, I probably ended up stopping and talking to more random people on the street than I would in a year dog-less. Somebody talking on a cell phone actually ended his conversation to pet the dog and ask me his name and breed. Walking on the Isola Tiberina (the pedestrian island in the river near Trastevere), I met five rough-and-tough Romanian fishermen who wanted to play with the dog and give him one of the fish they’d caught. Late on a Saturday night, a rowdy group of drunk Roman teenagers around Campo de’ Fiori stopped to fuss over the dog and scratch his ears. The point is, most people like dogs. I have seen even the grumpiest-looking face melt into a smile and stop to give the dog a pat on his head. This is great if you want to feel part of the culture, stop and talk to locals, and practice (or pick up!) some Italian.