retail therapy with dogs
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10 Reasons Your Dog Needs to Go to Stores #PetSmartStory

retail therapy with dogs

“I train German police dogs. They send them to me, with all this formal training, they are prepared to defend and protect, but they are clueless when it comes to walking into a pet supply store. So I take them to PetSmart® to start getting them used to everyday life, the feeling of the floor on their paws, and how to socialize with people in the general public.”

Those are the words of an acclaimed nationally known dog trainer, who a few years ago, shared those words with me during an interview on how to properly socialize a dog. There are at least 10 reasons that all dogs need to go to stores like PetSmart, and the aforementioned is but one of them.

Natural Balance at PetSmart

disclaimerThe folks at PetSmart are celebrating the arrival of the complete line of Natural Balance® products in their stores. My dog shops at PetSmart at least weekly (and takes me along to pay the bill), so we headed to our local store for some treat scouting, socializing, and fun with a Mommy and Me day. It is a fun way to bond with your dog, but there are some serious reasons, too, that going to stores like PetSmart is good for your dog in general. How many of these can you relate to?

(1) Getting Acclimated to Car Rides: Few things are more disheartening on a dog-friendly vacation or road trip as when a dog is fearful, has gastric upset, or becomes nervous far from home. Slowly adjusting your dog to how fantastic a car ride can be is the key to success. Never force or make a travel fearful dog to “face their fears.” This will only reinforce fears, can lead to extreme anxiety, panic, and cause an accident. Using Pavlov’s principle, if the only time a dog experiences the car is to see the vet, both vet and ride can become unpleasant experiences.  Slowly increase the amount of time a dog spends in the car. I started with Dexter many years ago by riding to the end of the street and back and then celebrating with treats and play time when he did it. Do the same thing at PetSmart: Upon arrival and once in the store, be happy and make it a positive experience. Take treats with you.

dog ride
“Are we there yet?”

(2) Potty Training on Various Surfaces: Prior to entering any establishment, I make sure my dog does his potty routine and at least does a pee break. By training your dog to urinate on a variety of surfaces, including grass, gravel, rocks, wood chips, and even cement, it really will benefit you and the dog in the long run. Take it from a page in this dog journeywoman’s diary: There is no greater joy than pouring rain, no rest stop in sight, and a slab of concrete readily available ala roadside. My fur-boy and I even have a code word to initiate: go-go-go. When he hears those three magic words, I know the process shall begin and both mama and son can take shelter from the storm or snow.

cocker Dexter
My Dexter

(3) Learn About Treats and Food: By visiting PetSmart, you can ask associates about the various treats and dog foods available to ensure the formulas and ingredients are right for your dog and his or her needs. Case in point: My dog has some food sensitivities, so I appreciate having someone on hand to answer any questions I might have. Dexter tends to pick his own treats out, as you can see below, but he may not always know what he can and can’t eat. In fact, he would sometimes love to just rip into a treat bag right in the store. Uh, clean up: Aisle two?!

Natural Balance at PetSmart
“Hey Mom, those look good!”

(4) Socialize with Other Dogs: The more community and socializing you can do with your dog, the better. Dogs who see other dogs, in a controlled environment, can sniff each other and say hello are more inclined to accept those dogs, not bark at them, not be fearful, and learn to be kind to fellow canines. PetSmart is usually a hub of activity on weekends, so while you stop by for treats and food, walk the aisles and say hello to fellow dog moms and dads.

Natural Balance pet food
“YAY, we’ve arrived, Mom!”

(5) Try Before You Buy: How many toys have you purchased for your dog that end up in the “I no longer play with it pile?!” By taking your dog with you to the store, your dog can give a toy a trial run, so to speak. I squeak toys, rattle them towards my dog, and see if he has a genuine interest in them.


(6) Interact With Strangers: Do you want your dog to be wary of people or social and unafraid of new people? Being immersed in the sights, sounds, and hubbub of a retail experience are great ways to get a dog used to strangers.

cute dogs

(7) Train for the Canine Good Citizen (CGC): My dog was awarded Canine Good Citizen status by the AKC  and it happened purely on a whim. He never took a class to train for it, we didn’t practice the specific elements of the test previously, and only on prompting of family and friends did we decide to try it. The fee is $10 to test. Normally there are no distractions in the vicinity when the dog is being tested. However, since the testing occurred at a very busy pet expo, there were a lot of distractions. What better way to get a dog used to passersby, other pets, and noise than at a store like PetSmart?


(8) Bonding Time: I am a dog mom. I like love it when folks call me a dog mom and I never grimace, furrow a brow, or correct them. In fact, a sense of pride swells over me. I am not alone.  Dog moms should celebrate and dog dads, too. Want to bond with your dog? Have a mommy/daddy and me day: Do all the things that make your dog happy. On our recent visit, we picked up a bag of Natural Balance Duck and Potato Limited Ingredient Treats and Dex loved having the goodies! The Wall Street Journal even revealed “PetSmart Thrives Treating Owners Like Pet Parents.” We’re not losing our marbles, we’re being embraced and converted to dollar signs, for wag’s sake! Continue your dog with a romp in the park, a drive-through for a quick burger, a ride around the area, and maybe even a picnic for your dog and his friends.

Natural Balance at PetSmart
“Yum, these look pretty good, Ma!”

(9)Photo Ops: Purely fun, but I admittedly get some of my favorite photos while having a retail therapy time with my dog.  Yes, I take photos with toys and fellow dogs, and when the holidays roll around, I love interacting with the other pet parents. Santa photos last year took a twist and we even got photos in store with a Frozen theme. Plus we picked up this cute snowman costume:

snowman costume dog

(10) Give Back: The fundraising arm of this blog is Wigglebutt Warriors®, and year round we encourage dog lovers to give back. PetSmart registers are equipped with a feature to give back to pets in need. We generally pay for our purchases and then when prompted, give a few extra dollars to pets who are not as fortunate. While in store, there are always folks gathered around the cat adoption area, and friends of ours even adopted a cat from PetSmart. There are some things that money cannot buy, but giving to a pet in need is one of the most feel-good things you can do.

wigglebutt warriors

Do you take your dog to PetSmart for retail therapy? Does he or she get excited on arrival like our dog does? On your next visit, snap a photo, try out some of the Natural Balance line available in store, and share it with us on our Facebook page: We’d love to share your sweetie with our dog-loving followers and fans.




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  1. Great post! I totally agree! When we got Phoenix she was extremely skittish and she had to learn all about the world. We treated her like she was a (mostly) normal dog and took her everywhere that Zoe went. She learned confidence from her new sister and also that cashiers give out cookies. Before she would be skittish of all other humans but me and now she’s dragging me to the checkout (the one instance where pulling is okay!) to get her cookie. It’s so awesome to see a previously fearful dog enjoy life. We love shopping together!

    1. Dexter knows the cookie routine so well, Lauren. I tell you it’s bait to get them to the registers with goodies LOL. In any case, that is fantastic that Phoenix gained confidence in going to PetSmart. I have seen many pet parents bring a dog in the store who might have had fear issues or uncertainty. So glad it worked out!!!

  2. We don’t have a puppy but we have been looking.
    We want to wait a little longer to find the right breed that works for our family.
    PetSmart was always our go to for our fish needs and our cat needs so we know we can trust what they stock.

  3. Those are all great reasons to take your pup shopping and PetSmart is Haley’s favorite pet store because there are always so many other dogs to meet and greet and of course the treat that she gets at the register, haha!

  4. Mom and Bailie spent a ton of time in pet stores including PetSmart when she was in obedience school and then for her CGC test. Great place to go to train, learn, and buy products like Natural Balance that we need.

  5. I took Kilo to PetSmart near us initially until I realised he is anxious/reactive. Now I take him to the parking lot and train, then I take him inside and watch he does not get too close to other people or dogs. I hope it helps. I also pop by alone regularly and shop too.

  6. My dog likes to go with us to PetSmart but was scared to get in the car for a while. We just got him comfortable enough to take a ride. Whew!

  7. I need to start taking our 200lb St Bernard to PetSmart more often. He loves any opportunity to go for a ride and maybe meet new friends. We just don’t do it enough! Maybe this weekend!

  8. This is a good list. I agree it’s smart to immerse pets in situations with new people to help keep them at ease.

  9. I need to do this more, but to be honest until they are much better I can only take one dog at a time otherwise it’s no fun for me and it’s just 100% management and no play.
    They have done well when DZ Dog dad and myself have taken them in the past though. I’m thinking of making saturday coffee stops at starbucks a habit and taking a dog for coffee to continue working and socializing them around strangers.

  10. We took our kids to Pets Mart weekly for several years. The big problem with PetsMart is not only the employee’s that work there but the customer’s that shop there with their animals. Let me explain.

    The employee’s are trained to come up to your dog in a highly excitable voice and offer your dog treats. Bad move! The highly excitable voice makes the dogs excited and out of control. And then they “reward” the dog for bad behavior. The dog is not in a calm, submissive state. The dog also did not work in order to receive the reward.

    Customer’s come in with their dogs on retractable leashes and the dog is leading it’s owner and the dog is around the corner and the owner is not paying attention to their dog. The customer assumes that everyone and every dog thinks their dog is going to “love” their dog. Wrong. I’ve seen some pretty nasty encounters. Again because of the stupid owners.

    Also, Pets Marts (training program – which is a joke) does not teach ANY discipline. It is a chaotic system that is built around treat rewards and no corrections. They do not address the animals “state of mind, distractions, etc.” While they can do “sit, down, stay” commands; they are not addressing “controlling your dog’s environment.”

    While I think it is an excellent idea to get one’s dog into MANY different social situations – the objective is that one’s dog does not react negatively in those situations and that the dogs attention and focus is on the owner and what the owner wants and expects out of them. That is the job of the pack leader. Which should be you.

    My suggestion would be to take your dog to Pets Mart and every other establishment and venue in which your dog can become acclimated to new situations. That does not mean it is a free for all in face to face encounters; sniffing butts, etc. Rather to have your dog be in a calm situation; in a “down” position and have that dog not become fixated or excited about people or other dogs.

    This is what socialization is about.

    1. Hi Linda – and thanks for your thoughtful feedback. I definitely agree that any public place is not a free for all – it is meant to be a training and experience visit. I have trained many dogs in my life using positive reinforcement techniques. I definitely agree that retractable leashes can be problematic. It is really the pet parent’s responsibility to teach and train with love and guidance. Again, appreciate the input!

  11. Ma and I used to do adoption events at PetSmart. Some of my friends got adopted from there. It was great that PetSmart has so many events for shelters and rescues.
    She always recommends that anyone training a dog to be a service dog to use PetSmart or a Pet friendly place. It upsets her that people want to use a grocery store to train in. When people ask why a pet friendly place , ma replies because of all the distractions that are happening. Just like you said, you used Petsmart for the distraction part and Dexter aced the CGC. I had never been to a training class neither. I had a trainer who talked ma through while she was training me to be a service dog and I also passed the CGC with flying colors. Which was pretty awesome since I had a freakazoid dog hating dog there to do the distraction!
    I love Natural Balance. I love the company and I love that they care about pets.

  12. These are all great benefits of taking your dog to a PetSmart store! Taking our dogs to PetSmart has always been a huge part of their socialization! There is so much to see & sniff and there are always people & other dogs to greet! PetSmart is like a home away from home for my Husky who grew up with PetSmart. From visits a few times a week to all their training classes, day camp, grooming, & boarding, she loves PetSmart & all the staff!

  13. All great reasons, and my last dog was great to take to stores. Max, on the other hand is stressed by lots of people and noise and he pees on everything. No matter how many times he’s already gone, the little guy has reserves! I’ve found it less stressful for us both to let him stay home. He has plenty of other outings

  14. This is very good advice, and I think it’s something that most owners do not even think about.

    Would love to re-post this on my blog, with proper attribution of course 🙂

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