By Cindy Dampier
WWR Article Summary (tl;dr) Purse-sized dogs paved the way, of course, but more and more medium and even large dogs are showing up in stores. It’s a new, doggier normal.
“I see a big dog,” the little girl said. She looked about 3, her pudgy legs swinging in the shopping-cart seat. Her feet were within easy sniffing range. But sniffing, we had agreed, was not allowed.
“Hmm,” her dad said, not turning around.
“He’s right behind you,” she offered. Her dad looked at his phone.
“I wonder,” she said to herself, “what he wants.”
Gus and I, standing behind them in line at The Container Store, exchanged glances. Obviously, little girl, he wants to purchase spiffy-yet-probably-overpriced organizational supplies. Why else would he be in line?
Like most dogs who find themselves shopping, Gus’ trip to The Container Store was less about what he wanted (treats, petting, a spot on the rug, a good stretch) than about what his human companion (that would be me) wanted. And dog-loving humans want to take our dogs with us. Everywhere.
According to a 2015 Harris poll, 95 percent of pet owners consider their pets members of the family. So much so, that it’s almost as easy to imagine strolling the aisles of a department store with your dog in tow as it is with your child in tow. And retail stores, spotting an opportunity (pet owners spent more than $69 billion on their animals in 2017, so they must have discretionary cash) are largely enabling the urge, allowing shoppers with dogs to get comfortable enough to hang out, and hopefully buy something.
Shopping dogs, who used to get an occasional welcome at more rough-and-tumble establishments like hardware stores, are now shopping for sofas at Pottery Barn and checking the shoes at Banana Republic (where savvy salespeople sometimes have a stash of dog treats waiting). Home Depot has gained an underground reputation as a spot for people to train their dogs for better socialization. Even Ikea, which does not allow pet dogs (though we’d argue that there’s no shopping experience more in need of emotional support) has nodded to dog owners with “dog parking” in some stores.
“It’s definitely a trend on the rise,” says Erin Ballinger of BringFido.com, a website that helps dog owners identify hotels, restaurants and other places where their pets will be welcome. “More and more businesses are opening up to pets.”
Purse-sized dogs paved the way, of course, but more and more medium and even large dogs are showing up in stores.
It’s a new, doggier normal.
Like most new normals, it’s not good for everyone. A cursory Google search reveals plenty of internet rage over dogs in places like grocery stores. Dogs sticking their noses in where they aren’t welcome (they can’t help it, it’s just who they are.) And a lot of justifiable anger over folks masquerading their dogs as service animals. You don’t have to look very far to realize an uncomfortable truth: The people responsible for the dog backlash are dog owners themselves.
“You have to be conscientious about your neighbors and environment,” says Ballinger. “I have witnessed people whose dogs are really testing the limits. These are the type of pet parents who aren’t taking care of the situation and give pet owners a bad name.”
These are the same people who smilingly let unruly toddlers rampage unchecked to the detriment of everyone around them. The people who unapologetically spread their bags across the seats of public transit. The few, the oblivious, the entitled, you know these people. Dogs are just the middlemen-of-the-moment in the irritations these people inflict on the rest of the world.
Honestly, we’re not sure those dog owners will ever be fully housebroken. But, in the spirit of “there are no bad dogs,” Ballinger offered tips for Gus’ shopping trips, which might come in handy for anyone planning dog-assisted shopping:
-Do some recon: Even if you have reason to believe dogs are allowed in a business, a quick call doesn’t hurt. Major retail chains like Nordstrom and Home Depot, known for dog-friendliness, deal with potential dog difficulties by leaving their policies open-ended. “We always welcome service animals,” says Matt Harrigan of Home Depot, “but otherwise, we leave it up to the individual store managers.” That allows a store to refuse dogs or to ask you to remove yours at any time.
-Practice extreme courtesy: In smaller stores, poking your head in to ask if it’s OK to come in with your dog is a must. In a store, keep your dog close to you at all times, and give fellow shoppers a wide berth. Move out of their way, not vice versa.
-Be prepared: It’s important to understand your dog’s limits _ if he is unaccustomed to being around strangers or can’t walk on a leash and follow commands while distracted, he is not ready for places like boutiques or department stores. “I recommend starting at a pet store like Petco,” says Ballinger. Go at a low-traffic time. Work your way up to Home Depot, then aim for more challenging stores. Ballinger also suggests a brisk, 10-minute walk before you enter stores, to take the edge off your dog’s friskiness. And, she adds, “bring a water bottle or collapsible bowl” and never, ever forget to bring poop cleanup bags. “If your dog has an accident, be the one to clean it up. Do not alert someone who works in the establishment and expect them to clean it up.”
-Follow the rules: “Pet policies are there for a reason,” Ballinger says. “We never recommend that you try to get around those rules.”
Gus (who’s a medium-sized labradoodle) and I might be tempted to break a few rules, ask him what he knows about a whole rotisserie chicken ending up on the floor, but, as a canine-human shopping unit, we were determined to mind our manners.
We practiced at Home Depot, picked out some treats at Petco and were reassured at West Elm, “He’s not the biggest dog we’ve had in here.” (We looked for sheets, then cruised the clearance section.) We got fawned over by a dog-loving salesperson at Pottery Barn. (“Thanks for bringing him in!”) We felt pretty confident by the time we hit The Container Store and bumped into the small child with her big question.
What does Gus want, I wondered? Is he content to be my shopping sidekick from now on? The next time I was headed for the stores, I asked him.
“Do you want to go?” I reached for the keys.
He jumped up and licked me, right on the nose. I’m taking that as a yes.