Where Do the Happiest Dogs Live? The Answer Might Just Be Marin County
Find out why Marin County could be the closest thing to dog heaven.
Dogs in Marin have it good. Very good. In fact, more money may be spent on the average pooch in Marin than the average salary a human earns in Nepal ($730) from puppyhood to the tail end. After extensive research into the pampered lives of our county's most beloved companions, from where they lounge, dine on organic, paleo fare, and get their shopping done, we can safely report that Marin is truly the best place to be a canine anywhere. Don't believe us? Read on about the dog life in Marin.
If you need ideas for your pet's next excursion, you'll be sure to pick up some great travel, food, clinic, and other recommendations to increase your pooch's happiness points.
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Here's how Marinites make sure their dogs are living their best life. Let's get into it!
Puppies to Yuppies: Where They're Born
We start from the beginning. Marin puppies are not merely born, they’re bred. A purebred Akita is a status symbol as much as an Aston Martin, a Tibetan Mastiff as treasured as a Tesla. Purchased from pet stores and breeders, these pups can cost as much as a car. But it costs only $250 for a rescue puppy—vaccinated, neutered and micro-chipped—at the Marin Humane Society.
“We have all kinds of dogs at the shelter, even purebreds,” says Marin Humane’s Lisa Bloch. “It’s an easy process, and we offer a lot of support, including training classes.” They’re so successful in placing all dogs with homes that many are transferred from overcrowded shelters statewide.
Drool School: Where They Go to Learn
Well-educated Marin dog owners want the same for their dogs, which is why private dog schools like Corte Madera’s Camp K-9 and San Rafael’s Bark Busters exist. Dogs are taught to behave well around other dogs, follow leash commands, and more. “I actually spend more time training owners than their dogs,” says DogOvation (Mill Valley) owner Lisa Caper, a former clinical social worker for humans.
“I show them how to establish the correct relationship with their dogs so they can take over the training. The biggest problem is that too many owners don’t take the time to train their dogs. But people in Marin do love their dogs.”
Bowwow Chow: What They Eat
We care as much about our dogs’ nutrition as our own diets, so there are just as many Woodlands Pet Food & Treats stores as Whole Foods stores in Marin. Dog owners can buy costly kibble at Whole Foods, but many prefer the larger selection of specialty pet food stores like Woodlands, where dog food accounts for about half of all sales. “Our team takes the time to get to know each dog—and their human—so we can make recommendations that make the most sense,” says Woodlands founding owner Rob Hansen. Its best-selling dog food is Zignature Lamb Formula that costs $3.59 per can. The priciest is The Honest Kitchen Fish & Coconut Recipe, a six-ingredient “minimalist” dog food (think paleo for pooches) that costs $120 for a 10-pound box.
Bark Parks: Where They Play
The dog park is the town square of dogs and their owners. Sometimes there’s barking, some of it human (“Keep that eff-ing dog away from mine!”), but most of the time there’s peaceful mingling, sniffing and chasing. Some dog parks are reputed pickup scenes, and we don’t mean picking up after your dog. Marin’s largest parks include Sausalito Dog Park, Civic Center’s Field of Dogs, Remington Dog Park, San Anselmo’s Red Hill Dog Park, Larkspur’s Canine Commons and Novato’s Dogbone Meadow. But Mill Valley Dog Park in Bayfront Park may be the best.
“There’s a lot of room for them to run around,” said Brandon Hemley on a recent afternoon while watching “mutts” Bandit and Ricco scamper about. The soccer-sized field is encircled by fences and a Richardson Bay inlet, and features a canine playground of sorts with tunnels and hurdles made of scrap wood. “These two wouldn’t know what to do there,” Hemley laughed.
Hike with Spike: How They Keep Trim
Marinites are deservedly proud of the county’s immense number of trails and beaches that can be explored, from the Golden Gate to Dillon Beach. Many take their dogs along, though some spots are more dog-friendly than others. “For a long hike, I love the Wolf Ridge loop in the Marin Headlands because dogs can be off-leash, it’s uncrowded and the views are amazing,” says Paw Trekkers’ Jessica Bay, who takes busy people’s dogs for “group” hikes. “For short hikes I head to the Camino Alto fire road above Mill Valley, an off-leash hotspot for dog walking that winds through a redwood grove. And my favorite off-leash beach is Rodeo Beach. Dogs that hike are happier, healthier and better behaved.” She is also among the legions of professional dog walkers who take to Marin’s streets and recreation paths daily with their multi-leashed herds of hounds in tow.
Heel Time: Where They Take Their Human
It seems that every coffeehouse, restaurant, and bar in Marin is dog-friendly in some way, even if it’s only a filled water bowl set outside the entrance. Health regulations keep non-service dogs from coming inside, but they’re welcome at outdoor tables accessible from the outside at countless establishments. One that stands out for its proximity to dog-friendly trails is the Dipsea Café, where you can relish a creekside brunch on the side deck with your best buddy before walking him on the Mill Valley-Sausalito multi-use path to the Mill Valley Dog Park. Mt. Tam’s trails are also nearby. Another tail-wagger is the Panama Hotel & Restaurant with its spacious outdoor seating and “Yappy Hour” (Tuesday to Friday, 4:00-5:30), which includes free organic dog biscuits along with discounted drinks and food for dog owners.
Where They Shop Re-tail
Marin pet shops and even supermarkets sell dog toys and treats, but most are more functional than fancy. Dogville, a boutique shop in downtown San Anselmo, does fancy. Greeting customers as they walk in—if Zeus, the shop’s 155-pound Great Dane, doesn’t first—is the sight of scores of colorful collars, harnesses and leashes ($20-$50) draped from one wall like Burberry ties.
“I don’t know of any shops with a bigger selection, and they’re made by designers from all over the country,” says owner Staysea Colteaux. Also popular are the shop’s ceramic dog bowls, fleece dog sweaters, Pendleton dog beds and assorted natural dog bones—from petite chicken feet to massive cow femurs.
Grooming is Booming: Where They Clean Up
Even if a dog is educated, exercised and well-fed, it has to look good, right? Max or Bella may not care, but their owners who do may spend more at hound hair salons than at their own. The $65 to $150 price tag for a bath, haircut and nail trim at Unleashed Grooming in Larkspur is typical. And it’s mostly hair, not fur, that owner Teri Granados cuts. “Most of my customers are poodle mixes, and they’re more hair than fur,” she explains. “That’s why they’re so popular—I call them the BMWs of Marin dogs—because the hair makes them hypoallergenic.” It also makes these mixes, which include labradoodles and cockapoos, frequent customers, because their dense coats of hair grow faster than fur.
Pup Boarding: Where They Go for Holidays
Sometimes a pup needs a place to board when the family boards one of those silver tubes that Spot spies in the sky. Marin residents are avid travelers, so dog boarding is a big business. House sitters and dog sitters who stop by to feed and walk dogs are the alternatives. “We try to match a dog’s routine as much as we can, so if there’s a favorite toy or treat, we include those in their routine,” says Chris Tice, owner of San Rafael’s Canine & Company. Boarded pups enjoy supervised play groups all day, then retire to private, climate-controlled bedrooms ($45/day) or suites ($55/day). A TV and memory-foam bed are provided in each suite. “We also offer daycare [$32 a day], with some owners leaving their dogs five days a week when they’re at work.”
Heel Thyself: Where They Get Check-Ups
Many Marin dog owners who wouldn’t think of skipping Scout’s annual checkup routinely postpone medical checkups for themselves. No wonder there are so many vet clinics, such as San Marin Animal Hospital where Jeff Williams, DVM, carries the leash. “The combination of an educated, affluent population and abundant open space in Marin makes this a wonderful place to be a dog, a dog owner or a veterinary care provider,” says Williams. “People in Marin are able and willing to pursue excellent care and I think there’s a very high level of compassion and responsibility among dog owners.” He practices Western veterinary medicine, but notes that Marin is at the forefront of offering alternative/holistic options such as acupuncture and herbal medicine for dogs—just as it is for humans.
Where They Drift to Hound Heaven
Sadly, vets can only extend dogs’ lives so far. At some point they must let sleeping dogs lie. There are no pet cemeteries in Marin; the closest is My Pet’s Cemetery in Petaluma, tucked inside the boundaries of a human cemetery, Cypress Hill Memorial Park. The choices are a burial (starting at $825, not including a headstone) or a cremation (starting at $165, not including an urn).
“The relationship between families and their pets is very strong,” says general manager Carolyn Fulton. “Pets are often able to provide comfort when a human family doesn’t, so losing them becomes quite a significant loss. Dogs are seen as family members and friends.”
They are indeed, perhaps even more so in Marin. Fortunately, the spirituality of many Marinites leads some to believe in reincarnation for Rover while others take comfort in the title of the 1989 movie, “All Dogs Go to Heaven.”