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For a long time, most businesses have had a variation of this sign in the front window: “No Dogs Except Service Dogs Allowed.” There were very few exceptions, and most of those were small, family-owned businesses or, naturally, pet stores.

However, as pet ownership in the U.S. has exploded, businesses have becoming increasingly accommodating to our pets, especially dogs. According to the American Pet Products Association, in 2014 the pet industry overall was a $60 billion business and the number of pets in the country exceeds the number of people by a ratio of 5 to 4.

So it can be to a business’s advantage to cater to dog owners by allowing them to visit along with their humans and, with the exception of many restaurants and grocery stores, you’re more likely than not to be able to take your dog with you.

But with such a privilege comes responsibility, so if you haven’t already, don’t take your dog shopping just yet…

Shopping with dogs

Taking a dog into places with lots of people for the first time can be a scary experience for the dog, and so stressful for the human, for various reasons.

From the dog’s point of view, it’s a place full of lots of strangers and activity, including new smells, distracting sights, and unfamiliar noises. And, of course, a lot of people love to walk right up to strange dogs to greet them, which can just add to the dog’s fearfulness and uncertainty, although you can buy a vest that says, “Do Not Pet” or something similar. These are commonly used when training service and therapy dogs or rehabilitating rescues.

Another thing about stores that can be confusing to dogs that we don’t even think about is that their view is often obstructed by the store shelves. Walking a dog down a store aisle, to them, is just like walking through a narrow tunnel and, if the shelves are wire or mesh, the dog can still partially see people moving around on the other side of them.

Since dogs have no concept of what retail businesses are, all of these factors can add up and put them in one of the canine avoidance modes: fight, flight, or surrender.

Our responsibility in taking a dog into a business is to make sure that they are calm and well-behaved, and always on a leash. So how do we prepare our dog for a potentially scary experience?

Preparing your dog

As with any new experience for a dog, it’s best to start small and work your way up, so they can gradually become used to things. Before taking your dog into a business, find an outdoor mall or other area with a lot of pedestrian traffic and go for a walk together there. If your dog seems to be stressed out, find a quiet bench and sit with her, getting her to sit as well, and just observe.

This will get her used to being around strange people without the complications of being inside or constricted by store shelves. Once she’s gotten used to staying calm and by your side among the crowds, then it’s time to move inside.

At this point, visit an indoor mall with your dog, but don’t go into any stores yet. Walk with him up and down the mall, again letting him get used to the smells and activity. Many malls nowadays welcome dogs, and Pet Friendly Travel has a searchable list of locations.

This part of the process will acclimate your dog to being around all the excitement while indoors, which not only smells different than outside, but it sounds and feels different as well.

When you and your dog are finally ready to go inside, start with a pet store. The smells here will be familiar and friendly — treats, toys, food — and you may meet other dogs as well. At the same time, you will be introducing your dog to those unfamiliar store shelves and aisles. Try to time your visits at first for when it’s not busy — later in the evening before closing or during a weekday morning, if possible.

Once your dog is able to come into the pet store with you and remain calm, it’s time to expand the experience.

Where to shop

Quite a number of big retailers have dog-friendly policies, but be sure to call the specific store before your first visit to verify. Sometimes, the policies are chain-wide, but they can often be left up to the discretion of the individual managers.

Policies can also change. For example, Lowe’s hardware used to be dog-friendly, but within the last several years they changed back to a service dog-only policy because of incidents with unruly or unleashed dogs.

Following is a partial list of major dog-friendly businesses.

Some of these stores even keep dog treats on hand for visiting pets, as one Banana Republic employee confirmed, as well as offer pet services. For pet stores, that’s obvious, but Tractor Supply Co., for example, also offers vaccinations through their in-store PetVet Clincs.

Other companies, like LUSH Cosmetics, extend their pet-friendly attitude even further — they do not use any animal products in their cosmetics, and strongly oppose animal testing.

Also be aware if there are places in the store where your dog can’t go, such as department store cafeterias. In the case of Barnes & Noble, dogs are not allowed in in-store coffee shops, nor are they allowed in the in-store restaurants at Bass Pro Shops. (Yes, Bass Pro Shops have restaurants inside.)

As more and more places become dog-friendly, it can be easier to bring your dog along. Online, you can search for businesses and attractions that welcome our four-legged friends at Bring Fido and Pet Friendly Travel, and it never hurts to ask at local businesses as well.

Shopping with your dog can be a bonding experience, and it can help socialize your dog while boosting her confidence. A well-behaved dog in a store can also be a great ambassador for their species or breed.

Are there businesses in your area that allow dogs? Let us know about them in the comments!

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