By: Sara Ondrako, Certified Canine Behavior Consultant
Dogs are going to more and more places with pet parents. They frequently tag along on a shopping run to Home Depot, where some workers carry treats in their orange aprons. They can often be spotted hanging out under the picnic table at local breweries or walking the aisles at the local nursery while picking up a perfect (non-toxic) house plant. With dogs becoming a part of the average household's daily family life, more businesses are becoming dog-friendly. It's no surprise that people might consider bringing their dog on a Target run or having lunch at a restaurant with a friend.
Before you grab your RedCard and pop your pup in the car to smell the new Hearth & Home candle line and stock up on Native Pet Omega Oil, be advised that unless your dog is a service dog, they aren't allowed to make that Target run with you. While some dogs are allowed in Target and other department stores, there are important reasons why not all dogs are allowed. For dogs accompanying their persons on shopping trips, there are a few hard and fast rules to help keep that privilege intact.
Some pet parents bring their pups along because their dogs have separation-related problems and easily stress when left alone. If this is the case for your furry friend, seek help from a behavior professional, as separation anxiety is challenging to fix alone. In the meantime, you can ensure that your dog has had adequate physical and mental exercise before leaving them home, confine them safely with a fun enrichment toy as they settle into a natural nap period, and help soothe them to rest with a calming supplement.
How to Know if Dogs are Allowed in a Store
If you are unsure whether a dog is allowed in a store, a good place to start is by asking whether food is served or available for purchase. If the answer is yes, chances are, a dog is not allowed unless they are a service animal. Target not only has Starbucks in most locations where food is prepared and served, they often have a grocery store component. Before you fuss the Target manager ushering you out of the aisles, it's essential to know that it's not Target regulating your dog's entry and exit into the building - it's the Health Department.
The Department of Health and Human Services, specifically the Food and Drug Administration (the FDA), regulates where animals are and are not allowed as one of their many public health tasks. They make these determinations based on what is healthy for the general public. Generally speaking, dog hair, dog noses, or dog paws are not things you want around food items, as they carry many microscopic organisms. These organisms can cause infectious diseases such as intestinal parasites and bacterial infections in humans.
It's always a good idea to call the restaurant or store you'd like to visit to ask if they allow dogs before planning to bring Buddy to brunch. Some openly pet-friendly businesses welcome pet dogs, but most stores do not or cannot. Target stores' pet policy is company-wide, meaning it does not vary throughout individual Target locations. In contrast, other chain establishments may vary from state to state based on their local regulations.
What Kinds of Dogs Are Allowed in Target?
Dogs have a lot of public jobs, but live animals are also a liability. So when it comes to dogs that require public access, only dogs trained for service work for people with a legitimate disability are permitted access to those areas. That's it! In these cases, the dog's breed, size, or training does not matter. What matters is whether or not the dog provides a necessary task for an individual with a disability.
Keep in mind that not all disabilities are visible, like Post Traumatic Stress Disorder (PTSD) which is a disability that affects the brain and often goes unnoticed by others. PTSD is often successfully treated with the help of psychiatric service dogs.
Service Animals? Yep!
Service animals are living, breathing medical devices and provide a specific service (a task) required for their person or handler. Service dogs only service one person, and the handler may only have one service dog working at a time. Many service dogs (also known as assistance dogs) perform an impressive variety of jobs to help their people, such as bringing a veteran out of a frightening flashback and stimming reduction for children with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD). In addition, service dogs help people who are blind navigate streets safely and are known as seeing-eye guide dogs. Hearing dogs act as ears for the deaf and hard of hearing. Some are medical alert dogs for tasks like seizure alert and recovery or forewarning a diabetic owner of blood sugar levels dropping dangerously low.
Service dogs, trainers, and handlers are protected under the Americans with Disabilities Act (ADA) on a federal level. In addition, each state has independent laws regarding public access for service dogs in training and penalties for fraudulently misrepresenting common pet dogs as service dogs.
Therapy Dogs? Not Quite.
Therapy animals service many people. These dogs are certified through an agency after passing a therapy dog test which requires rigorous training. They are not allowed public access and require permission to enter public buildings such as schools, hospitals, and nursing homes on an approved case-by-case basis. An example would be crisis response dogs, therapy dogs trained to help provide comfort after a stressful event such as a house fire or a natural disaster. Target's pet policy does not include access for therapy dogs as there is no reasonable need for their job in retail stores.
Emotional Support Animals? Nope.
Emotional Support Animals (most often dogs) help to calm a person suffering from anxiety or another disorder affecting their emotional state. Emotional support animals serve one person only, similar to service dogs, and their person must have a disability to be protected under the Fair Housing Act. The Fair Housing Act protects emotional support animals and their disabled handlers in living quarters such as dorm rooms and apartment complexes that don't allow pets or have breed discrimination policies. Emotional support animals are not allowed public access.
Why Does It Matter if I Bring My Pet Dog to Target?
In addition to respecting the rules of the places you visit, respecting the other people you may encounter is essential. Some people have dog allergies or asthma, which pet hair and dander can exacerbate. Saliva, skin cells, and urine are primarily responsible for allergic reactions, and all of these allergens are found on the fur and paws of all dogs. While some people are less reactive to specific breeds or more reactive to others, there are no genuinely hypoallergenic dog breeds, despite many being advertised and sold as such.
Pet dogs are not typically trained and equipped to handle the environmental challenges and distractions like service dogs are, who spend 12 to 18 months conditioning for their work. Countless persons with disabilities have lost their service dogs to early retirement and even death due to traumatic events caused by pet dogs in public. Aside from the emotional toll it takes for a service dog to be retired early or injured, there's also the substantial financial toll, given that service dogs cost upwards of $30,000.
Pet dogs have been known to cause many problems in places like Costco and Walmart by being out of control, grabbing or eating things they shouldn't, urinating or defecating in the building, growling at people, and even attacking service dogs. These behaviors lead to damaging discrimination against persons with legitimate disabilities that get harassed because of an employee's or business's previous interaction with pet dogs posing as service dogs. This harassment can cause significant trauma to a disabled person.
So, Where Can You Take Your Dog?
Social exposure is so crucial for a well-rounded, confident dog. Here are some go-to dog-friendly places where you can take your pup for social exposure:
- Pet Store chains like Petco and PetSmart reliably allow dogs, and franchised smaller, local stores such as Pet Supermarket and Pet Supplies Plus welcome your canine compadres.
- Home improvement stores such as Lowes, Home Depot, or Tractor Supply.
- Most breweries allow dogs outside; some even welcome your furry friend into the taproom.
- Fun visits to their veterinary hospital are great for reducing stress related to routine or sick veterinary visits. Plus, they get exposure to other people and animals every time they pop in.
- Some outdoor shopping centers and outlet malls.
Tips for Taking Any Dog into Public Establishments
Service dog trainers often frequent Target with their sidekicks-in-training. Even though these trainers are legally allowed in Target with their soon-to-be service dogs, they must be respectful of the facility and employees. If you are a service dog handler or you are bringing your pet dog to a pet-friendly store, here are some tips to continue being welcomed while keeping it a positive experience for your pooch:
- Only approach other dogs after asking their pet parents if it is okay to do so first. No matter how friendly your dog may be, their dog may like being in public with their person but may not enjoy interactions with other dogs. Additionally, being on a leash adds a different element that may cause problems, even between friendly dogs.
- Give your pup a chance to potty before going in. Sometimes dogs have nervous poops and squeeze out an unexpected unbaked loaf in response to the stimulation in a public place. Be sure to clean up after your furry friend right away if they do.
- Keep your dog from placing their nose, mouth, or paws near food, products, or any items not explicitly intended for your dog.
- Only bring your dog to heavily populated areas if they are comfortable around many people or other dogs. Signs that it may be time to get your dog home include pinning their ears down and back, hiding behind you, trying to avoid passing people or dogs, trembling, growling, barking more than usual, or acting "jumpy."
- If you bring your pup to your co-work space, keep them with you at all times, and don't allow them to wander off-leash. Not every person is a dog person (crazy - I know). Some that share your space may be afraid of dogs or have allergies.
Takeaways for Your Next Target Run
Before you roll your eyes at Target's dog policy or get into a barking match with a Target employee, keep in mind, chances are, your dog is not going to enjoy Target nearly as much as you may think they will. They'd probably prefer some one-on-one snuggling while you pick out that new cozy bed on Amazon or buy their tasty Relief Chews online from the comfort of home.
Also, remember that when you comply with a no-pet policy, you are being a responsible pet parent supporting people with disabilities and the safety of their living, breathing medical devices.