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Do You Allow Retractable Leashes in Your Pet Store?

In the Mar-Apr Real Deal, readers share how they would respond to two Golden Retrievers arriving on unlocked retractable leashes, causing chaos and damages.




SUE WAS STANDING toward the back of her pet store, looking for restocking opportunities during a customer lull. The front-door chimed and in walked two Golden Retrievers on unlocked retractable leashes. One headed directly for her treat table, topped with in-house baked goods, while the other dog walked to a freestanding natural-chew rack. The owner had paused at the door to look at his phone, letting the leashes reach their end.


Real Deal is a fictional scenario designed to read like real-life business events. The businesses and people mentioned in this story should not be confused with actual pet businesses and people.


JENNIFER MOORE BAKER has been the owner of the Grateful Dog Bakery in North Ridgeville, OH, since 2012. Prior to that, she was a Critical Care and Emergency Room Nurse for 25 years. She shares her life with husband Karl, Standard Poodles Dash and Sylvia, and Golden Retrievers Magic and Raine. Jennifer and her dogs compete in Obedience and Rally

As Sue rushed toward the dogs in an attempt to prevent any mishaps, the first pulled a large basket of peanut butter bones to the floor, scattering the treats, which the second dog saw and joined him to help devour — after looping his leash around the chew rack, overturning it and bringing the rack with him. The owner finally looked up from his phone and began yelling at the dogs as he joined them in the store, but because of the length of the now tangled leashes, was not able to get control of either.

Sue watched in horror as both dogs helped themselves to the treats on the floor. They were standing still at that point, so at least she and the owner could untangle, shorten and lock the leashes, getting them under control.

As Sue was surveying the damage, dozens of treats on the floor near the rack, now on its side, the door chimed again. A new customer entered with her dog, who immediately began pulling toward the other dogs and goodies on the floor. Sue grabbed a bully stick and used it to lead the new dog and customer to the back, away from the others and the mess they had made. The last thing she wanted was a dog fight in her store.


The door chimed a third time, and Sue watched as the owner led his two Golden Retrievers outside. She quickly followed, but he was already loading them into his car. Shouting to be heard, Sue asked the customer to return and pay for the damaged and eaten treats. He ignored her, got into his car and drove away. All she could do was make a note of his license plate number.

Back in her store, Sue explained the situation to the new customer and let her know she needed to close to clean up. Sue locked the front door and thought about whether or not to call the police. She stared at the mess and tried to remember the deductions on her insurance. Between product loss and lost sales, it was going to be an expensive morning.

The Big Questions

  • What changes can Sue make to prevent this from happening again in her store?
  • Should she call the police to file a report?
  • What other advice would you offer Sue in this situation?


Brian Rapp

This is not a “call the police” situation. Some customers are simply more considerate than others. Securing the displays might help — anticipating chaos. Possibly a “one pet per owner” rule and sign. The in-store experience is key to differentiating from online retailers, so dealing with high-energy dogs with a smile is the “real deal.”

Julie Sterling

This is a tough one! Stolen bulk goodies or accidental damage is part of business; it happens. However, a total disregard for the actions of his dogs adds a new meaning to “accidental” damage. I have a sign on my entrance door stating that all retractable leashes must be locked at 6 feet, as well as one saying that well-behaved dogs are allowed. In this instance, the leashes weren’t locked and the dogs’ owner was the ill-behaved one. Fleeing the store tells me he knew he should be liable for the products. I don’t know that I would call the police, but if this was a known customer, I would be sending an email advising of the damage amount and requesting payment. I would also send video footage, if available, and explain that while I understand he panicked and bolted, his refusal to pay would constitute theft.

Barbara R. Clemmens

I would file a police report. If the damage was so extensive that she had to close the store to clean it up, it could constitute vandalism. She should take lots of photos! The best way to have it not happen again might be to remove all loose treats and chews from doggie reach. Still, two dogs on retractable leashes can take down any display. Those leashes should be set short before entering the store. Some kind of written policy might be helpful, but in my experience anyone coming in the store with any dog on any leash needs to be watched and corrected if they are not in control of their dogs. Accidents can happen fast.

George Beebe

Things pretty similar have happened in my store. After getting over being angry, I chalk them up to a funny memory. The customer who left isn’t interested in paying for the damage, and it’s not worth my time, energy or money to pursue it.

Brett Foreman

There are no great answers to what she can change or do to prevent this other than signage and potentially stationing an employee or cash register by the door to stop the situation before it happens. I’ve had it happen. A mess was made, but no product was damaged or eaten. I’ve asked for customers to use a 6-foot or shorter nonretractable leash from that point forward. She could appeal to her audience through social media, explaining the potential dangers and damage that could be caused by even one dog on a retractable leash. I wouldn’t file a report unless the damage was several hundred dollars or more.

Frank Frattini

There’s no crying over spilled milk … or broken dog treats. This is one of those times when you just chalk it up as the cost of doing business. The best you could do is to try and be even more responsive next time (there most surely will be a “next time,” and you still may not be responsive enough). To involve the police would be an overreaction. To close the store because of this “minor” mishap is at best counterproductive. I would gather and use the rest of the unsaleable treats as samples for dogs when they come in. Hopefully, you will gain new customers with those treats. It’s important that as business owners we understand that sometimes you’re the piñata, and sometimes you’re the stick! This was a piñata moment. Accept it, smile and say, “next!”

Helen Bennett

Just awful. We’ve had experiences like this, and of course dogs peeing on displays and product. We now have a sign that states, “Wild dogs are welcome. They are required to be heeled while in the store.” If someone ignores the sign, we just let them know that it’s for their pup’s safety.

Rebecca Nicholson

Since the customer already left, the best course of action is to ban them from coming back. If they do try to come back in, they must pay for the damaged product. If they don’t pay, they cannot return as a customer. Chasing a customer down for this sort of action could cause some seriously bad PR for the business if the customer wanted to cause a problem. We know that things like this happen in the pet retail business, so you should always have a backup plan such as insurance claims, reaching out to your reps, etc.

Karen Conell

Store owners must have policies and procedures, and this is a prime example of why. We have a strict policy on retractable leashes and aren’t afraid to hand pet owners a traditional leash so their dog can come in. One well mannered dog on a retractable leash may be manageable, but two or more unruly ones is chaos. No need to call the police, simply create a policy to ensure the safety of you and your patrons, and enforce it. Don’t risk your livelihood with a potential injury or damages.

Mary Hardin

Chalk it up as a valuable learning experience and focus on preventative measures. First, I’d put up clear signs around the store and at the entrance, highlighting the need for short leashes and requiring locking retractable leashes. Training staff to politely enforce these rules and asking customers to lock retractable leashes would be key. Reviewing store layout may also be necessary to reorganize certain areas, using sturdier displays for chews instead of freestanding racks, and placing high-value items strategically out of nose reach. Additionally, I’d launch an educational campaign about the risks of retractable leashes and the importance of responsible pet ownership in public. This approach not only educates but also fosters a sense of community around the brand. With these adjustments and a focus on customer education, the likelihood of similar incidents should decrease, making the store a safer, more enjoyable place for all.

Kathryn Mcintosh

I would definitely call the police and make a report. Owners are responsible for their pets, period. I don’t know if changing anything would prevent this. I definitely would have a sign on the building or door stating dogs must be leashed and retractable leashes must be locked. Signs inside also. Unfortunately, even if you take every step possible, something at sometime will happen.

Paula Gorman

We have a sign on the door that states all leashes MUST be 6 feet or shorter and retractables MUST be locked at no more than 6 feet. With that said, we do still have people who don’t read. Sue should call the police — it is theft, and I would take pictures of the car and the mess left behind. There is really not much anyone can do to protect themselves except have signage, but that doesn’t always work either. Maybe cameras so you have video of the incident.

Diane Baum

Best idea: Keep all open treats toward the center of the store. That should help eliminate initial dog-inspired mayhem. She should notify the police. Although the chance of making this person pay is minimal, a paper trail is nice.

Shelly Nicastro
Essex Bird & Pet Supply, Essex, MA

As upsetting as the situation is, I would not call the police over this incident. If it was a repeat offender, perhaps I would or at least ban the dogs, if not the owner, from the store altogether. I would then put a very prominent sign on the front door saying that retractable leashes are strictly prohibited from the store. Hopefully customers would read and actually abide by the rules, but there is no guarantee for that. I would guess that this particular customer would be embarrassed and not come back again, or at least not with the two dogs.

Keela Huotari

Put items up high and have a section for pet parents to take the pets to go pick out a bone in a different section so that is separated. Like a kid’s corner in some stores. Anchoring displays down. Maybe adding Plexiglass lids with hinges and latches to barrels so that they’re visible, but pet parents have to help dogs pick one out. Letting pet parents in with their dogs and us handling dogs is part of our business. If you have more than one employee working in the store, maybe one should always be walking around, not only assisting customers, but it could prevent someone from letting their dogs in wild. The man who left with his dogs was probably really embarrassed and didn’t know what to do. His response was flight. I would’ve tried to calmly talk to him and see if there was something that he came in specifically for and still try to help him. If given the chance, he probably would’ve done the right thing and paid for the damages.

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