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.
her dad said, not turning around.
right behind you," she offered. Her dad looked at
wonder," she said to herself, "what he
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?
most dogs who find themselves shopping, Gusí 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
to a 2015 Harris poll, 95 percent of pet owners consider
their pets members of the family. So much so, that itís
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 ó and hopefully
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 weíd
argue that thereís no shopping experience more in need
of emotional support) has nodded to dog owners with
"dog parking" in some stores.
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."
dogs paved the way, of course, but more and more medium
and even large dogs are showing up in stores. Itís a
new, doggier normal.
most new normals, itís 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 arenít welcome (they canít
help it ó itís just who they are.) And a lot of
justifiable anger over folks masquerading their dogs as
service animals. You donít have to look very far to
realize an uncomfortable truth: The people responsible
for the dog backlash are dog owners themselves.
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 arenít
taking care of the situation and give pet owners a bad
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 ó you know these people. Dogs
are just the middlemen-of-the-moment in the irritations
these people inflict on the rest of the world.
weíre not sure those dog owners will ever be fully
housebroken. But, in the spirit of "there are no
bad dogs," Ballinger offered tips for Gusí
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 doesnít 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
Practice extreme courtesy: In smaller stores, poking
your head in to ask if itís 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: Itís important to understand your dogís
limits ó if he is unaccustomed to being around
strangers or canít 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 dogís
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
Follow the rules: "Pet policies are there for a
reason," Ballinger says. "We never recommend
that you try to get around those rules."
(whoís a medium-sized labradoodle) and I might be
tempted to break a few rules ó ask him what he knows
about a whole rotisserie chicken ending up on the floor
ó 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, "Heís not the biggest dog
weíve 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.
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.
you want to go?" I reached for the keys.
jumped up and licked me, right on the nose. Iím taking
that as a yes.