A Capital Pleasure: This senior retriever took a walking tour of Washington

Tongue lolling, plumed tail wagging, our 10-year-old Golden Retriever, Duke, trotter toward the ducks in the Reflecting Pool near the Washington Monument. He tentatively tapped the water with his paw, but decided against a swim.

Our capital visit was Duke’s first foray into city life. My husband, Ron, and I worried about how he’d react, but Duke took to the bustling metropolis like a candidate takes to campaign rallies. Tourists stopping to pet Duke repeatedly delayed our walk around the monuments. Duke enjoyed the attention, exchanging an occasional lick for hugs from small children and ear scratches from strangers.

But Duke likes to cover ground, and we did. We visited the Korean War Veterans Memorial and the Washington Monument and then circled past the Jefferson Memorial and the famous cherry trees.

On the way to Jack’s Boathouse at the end of K Street, Duke sniffed the curbs in front of the Georgetown homes of Herman Wouk and Madeleine Albright. At the boathouse, we rented a rowboat for a trip across the Potomac River to Roosevelt Island. Duke had never been on the water, but he hopped into the rowboat like a true water dog and did his best imitation of George Washington crossing the Delaware while Ron rowed.

An oasis of nature, Roosevelt Island lies in the shadow of towering office buildings. Narrow and sometimes muddy trails lead to a small beach, popular for flying-disc tossing, tennis-ball chasing, and canine water sports. Duke doesn’t like sand in his coat any more than he likes to get wet, so he stretched out in the shade and watched.

That evening, Duke made his Washington social debut at the Canine Happy Hour at the Holiday Inn in Old Town Alexandria, Va., where we stayed. On Tuesdays and Thursdays from April through October, about 75 dogs sniff, play, and sample the free dog-biscuit buffet while their human chat at café tables.

On the second day of the trip, Ron and Duke jogged part of the 18-mile trail that stretches from Washington to Mount Vernon. The scenic path skirts the Potomac and includes rest areas with water fountains for both people and dogs.

All that exercise made us hungry, and we learned that “eating out” literally describes the dining scene for dogs in Washington. To eat with Duke, we had to find restaurants with outdoor seating. Nonetheless, they were more than welcoming; often, the staff served Duke a bowl of water before giving us menus. Customers enjoyed the sight of the big guy curled up at our feet, his head rising now and again when waiters carried a particularly fragrant entrée past our table.
The Bistro De Coin in DuPont Circle offered the best reception. This country French restaurant has no outdoor seating, but clips on flower boxes outside huge windows allow owners to restrain – and keep an eye on – their dogs while dining.

Duke didn’t mind the separation. He held court on the sidewalk and regally accepted attention from passersby. This was the capital, after all, and he is the Duke.

Where to stay: Hotel Washington, 515 15th St. NW 202-638-5900
$165 and up per night; All dogs allowed. No charge

Holiday Inn Select Alexandria, 480 King St., 703-549-6080
Well-behaved dogs allowed. No charge

Jack’s Boathouse (canoes, kayaks, rowboats), 3500 K Street 202-337-9642
$10/hour; $30/full day

Old Town Experience (walking tours) 703-836-0694
$10 per person for one-hour tour