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By Sharon L. Peters, special for USA TODAY: Alfresco dining is going to the dogs.

From coast to coast, an ever-growing number of eating establishments, many of them high-end, are opening their patios to diners who want to share their eating-out experience with their pets.

"To appreciate food and life is to appreciate animals, too," says Art Smith, owner/chef of the chic Art and Soul restaurant on Capitol Hill in Washington, D.C, which draws scores of Washingtonians to its canine-welcoming patio every week.

Servers offer fresh bowls of water as well as the "puppy patio menu," which includes a 3-ounce steak ($5) and homemade doggie granola treats ($5).

One reason for his dog-friendly policy is the need "to adjust to changes in society," says Smith, a judge for TLC's show BBQ Pitmasters, premiering Aug. 12. But an equal factor is "it's just who I am," he adds. Smith has three dogs.

In canine-crazy Carmel, Calif., many restaurants have pup-friendly patios, including Bahama Billy's Island Steakhouse, where the 16 patio tables are often jam-packed with patrons with pooches.

There are never any outbursts of canine bad behavior, says co-owner Sylvia Sharp. The dogs "seem to view (the patio) as neutral territory, kind of like Switzerland."

Or else, she says, "they're happy they're sitting in a restaurant instead of in a car."

Smith agrees: "We've not had any dogs here that would interfere with the dining experience of people who do not have dogs." 

In fact, says Karen Berndt, owner of the Harbor Fish Market & Grille in Baileys Harbor, Wis., the very presence of the animals at her upscale restaurant cheers vacationers who have arrived sans pet to this resort town. Many request patio seating as soon as they see dogs out there, hoping to steal a little puppy love, she says.

'Check out the sweet chow'

The employees get a boost from the animals, too, she says. "Several times a day an employee will rush in and say, 'You've just got to come check out the sweet chow' or whatever, and I go out and we all smooch up the dog and chat with the people."

The staff has even come up with special canine comestibles, such as scrambled eggs, chicken breast and frozen custard ($2.50 to $3.95). "We treat the dogs like they're children at the tables," Berndt says.

At trendy downtown eatery Nosh in Colorado Springs, the massive patio — in the shadow of Pike's Peak — becomes a veritable playground for dogs and owners every summer Sunday. Plastic kiddie pools are filled with water, tables are arranged to maximize romp-around room, and off-leash dogs frolic dog-park style, sniffing up each other (and the humans), sampling treats from the bags of doggie goodies presented free to each diner accompanied by a dog, and coaxing each other into splash-fests.

A couple of staff people are positioned to be "watchful" of the goings-on, to make sure nothing gets out of hand, says Nosh general manager Tyler Schiedel, but in the two summers that he has given over the patio to dog lovers, there have been no issues.

"A dog has to be pack-friendly," says Schiedel, whose own three dogs are regulars. But most Coloradans tend to incorporate their dogs fully into their lives, so the animals are generally extremely sociable and love this sort of outing, he says. Owners with less collegial pets have self-selected out.

'Very few misbehaving dogs'

"Folks know their dogs and how they'll behave in certain situations," says Chris Lynch of Sonoma County's Mutt Lynch Winery in Healdsburg, Calif., voted the wine country's most dog-friendly winery by the monthly newspaper Bay Woof in San Francisco. "We get very, very few misbehaving dogs" at the private tastings and giant charity functions, where the guests often consist of 300 humans and 100 or more dogs, he says.

It's the rare person who questions the winery's blatant dog-friendliness. "Even people who don't bring their dogs to the winery appreciate animals and enjoy having them around," Lynch says.

And those who don't? "We tell them there are a lot of other very nice wineries around."

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