How to Safely Make Your Store Dog FriendlySome shoppers will love you for allowing dogs, but take steps to protect your customers and your business.
More stores are allowing canine “customers” inside, a boon for shoppers with four-legged friends who might not otherwise stop in.
In some cases, a cute pet in your shop may actually be a draw. But not every human customer appreciates encountering a pooch where they least expect one. And if you decide to allow dogs in, you’ll need to institute some policies and protocols — and be prepared to do some cleanup on aisle 5.
“Allowing dogs in your store sounds like a great policy,” said pet trends expert Charlotte Reed. But, she added, “The policy has to be extremely well thought out.”
Start by making sure your employees are okay with dogs in the store. “Some people are afraid of dogs or have allergies,” said Reed. “You don’t want people saying ‘I can’t come to work because of dogs.’”
Decide on leash and size rules
If you decide to let customers bring their dogs into your store, consider requiring the dogs to be on a leash. But know that this doesn’t work 100 percent of the time in preventing problems.
“A small dog on a leash may growl at a large dog,” said Reed. “And then if you pick the small dog up, the large dog might jump on you.”
Depending on the size of your store and what you sell, you might choose to allow any dog that’s on a leash, or only small dogs in carriers.
Roll out the welcome mat
If you want to attract more business with your dog-friendly policy, make it apparent. This means keeping a water bowl outside your store along with dog-friendly signage, advised Aaron McDonald, a dog trainer, canine behaviorist and author of “Three Dimensional Dog: A Unified Theory of Canine Behavior.” You can also let people know on social media that you allow dogs.
Inside the store, have some all-natural dog treats on hand to give out. “Some dogs have dietary issues or trouble with the more inexpensive treats that have a lot of filler in them. All natural treats are easier for a wide variety of dogs to have,” said McDonald.
Protect your merchandise
Of course, happy dogs have wagging tails, which can knock merchandise off shelves.
Place merchandise that’s breakable where it can’t easily be toppled. And put merchandise that can’t be cleaned on higher shelves so dogs can’t pee on them — it happens, said McDonald.
Be prepared to step in
Be prepared to deal with dogs that get aggressive. “Dogs bite, let’s face it,” said Reed.
Keep a spray water bottle handy at all times. If dogs start fighting, you or your employee can spray water on their faces to get them to stop, said Reed.
Another way to break up dogfights is to pull on the dogs’ leashes to get them off of each other, McDonald said. Each party needs to grab the leash, walk the other way and pull the dogs with them.
If that doesn’t work, McDonald suggested placing a large object, such as an empty trash can or a chair, between the dogs. “They feel like a large object like a trash can could injure them, but of course it’s harmless,” he said.
Don’t attempt to grab a dog’s collar in a fight because the dog may end up biting you. “Anyone breaking up a dog fight should be cautious about putting their hands into the situation,” said McDonald.
Michael Friedman, a trial and appellate attorney based in Century City, Los Angeles, who handles complex business and catastrophic injury cases, said you should check your business insurance for exclusions regarding animals. You may end up needing additional coverage.
To help protect yourself, Friedman advised posting a sign that says dog owners are responsible for their pets and agree to indemnify the business if the dog causes harm to a person or property.
This would apply in the following scenario: An owner and her dog walk into your store. The dog shows no signs of aggression. Then a second person comes in, and the dog bites him. While the second person could technically sue the store and the dog owner and win, by having that sign up, you’re saying the customer with the aggressive dog would have to pay for your share of any judgment.
When you own a store, you’re legally obligated to protect to your customers because you invited them in, said Friedman. This means you should identify aggressive or nervous dogs as soon as they enter the store, and do your best to make the store a safe environment for everyone. Otherwise, you could run into legal trouble.
If you or your employee brings in a dog
If employees want to bring in their pups, make sure they are “responsible dog owners that have healthy, clean and parasite-free pets that will not cause utter chaos and confusion,” said Reed.
According to Beth Stultz, vice president of marketing and operations at Pet Sitters International, the inventor of Take Your Dog To Work Day, dogs should be bathed to remove any dander buildup. (She noted that usually, people are allergic to dog dander or saliva, and not the dog hair itself.)
Reed recommended keeping the “store dog” behind the register in a comfortable crate or in a bed in the corner with all his toys. A puppy gate is a good idea as well.