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Your Store Dog Bites a Customer’s Dog. What Would You Do?

In this Real Deal scenario, readers are split on the level of accountability they would take.




SAMANTHA DID ONE more walk-through to face all products in her store and make sure all shelves were full. Once she was ready to open, Samantha called for Toby, her dog, so she could get eyes on him. He was famous for stealing natural chews from the chew bar, and today was no exception. Toby popped his head around the corner and wiggled his butt as he walked toward Samantha. He dropped a stolen duck foot at her feet. She gave him a pat on the head, picked up the duck foot and placed it in her pocket for later.


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.


NANCY GUINN is founder and president of Dog
Krazy Inc., an award-winning pet supply store in Virginia with six locations. Also a clinical pet nutritionist, she consults with veterinarians and pet parents alike. Nancy shares her life with business partner and husband Chris, and their pets Sushi, Pork Wonton, Stirfry Fatguy, Tala, Jimmy Dean and Max.

Samantha walked to the front, unlocked the door and flipped the sign to “Open.” Toby happily followed along, as he loved greeting customers when they walked into the store.

A few minutes later, a new customer came in with her Chihuahua on leash. When she saw that Toby was walking around off leash in the store, the customer bent over and unleashed her dog, allowing him to make his way toward Toby.

Samantha made eye contact with the customer, smiled at her and asked how she was doing. Before the woman could answer, Samantha heard a growl and a snap, and the customer screamed, “Oh my God, your dog bit my dog!” Samantha rushed toward them and saw that the Chihuahua had a small cut on his face from where Toby had supposedly nipped the dog. The customer looked at Samantha and said, “Why would you let your dog run free in the store if he’s going to bite dogs who come in? I’d heard wonderful things about this store, but now I need to get my dog to a vet as your dog bit him in the face!”


Samantha was taken aback and informed the customer that nothing like that had ever happened before. Toby was loose in the store every day and had been for years. She asked the customer if anything had happened to provoke Toby to bite her dog. The customer looked at her and said, “How dare you blame my precious baby for your mean dog biting him.”

Samantha was at a loss for words. Toby had never reacted to any dog in the years her store had been open. She knew something must have happened for him to bite another dog. But she wasn’t paying close attention and didn’t have a leg to stand on.

The Big Questions

  • Should Samantha insist the customer take her dog to the vet at Samantha’s expense?
  • Apologize to the customer, but stand her ground and tell her that something must have happened for Toby to react the way he did? Both dogs were off leash, so both owners should take the blame.
  • Use this as a learning experience and not allow her dog to be off leash in her store?
Diana F.

I would certainly offer to pay the vet bill and apologize. Whether her dog provoked the bite response or not, arguing with a customer whose animal was hurt by my dog (even though a minor nip) is a losing proposition. It’s why my dogs are never loose in the store. Even my most mellow dog might snap if provoked, so I’m not going to risk it. If the customer pushed it, my dog might end up being quarantined, considered a future bite risk and required to wear a muzzle. Also, my insurance could be either canceled or raised, so overall not worth it.

Colter U.

I would firmly explain that Toby has been a store dog for years and has had no previous instances of being aggressive and that something happened to provoke him. As the owner of the dog and store, it’s my decision to 1) allow dogs in my store, 2) bring in my own pets, and 3) decide who shops at my store. If the woman continued to be aggressive, I would ask her to leave.

Chace B.

Samantha should pay the vet bill. She can stand her ground that something provoked her dog, but it doesn’t take away from the fact that the risk is there anytime Samantha lets her dog roam free — especially having admitted not having an eye on him. Lesson learned the hard way.

Cyndi S.

No dogs should be off leash on premises. Not all dogs react the same way, and all owners don’t react the same way. Far too many do not accept responsibility for their dog’s poor behavior. Samantha should pay the vet bill without question. Neither she nor the customer had control of or eyes on the dogs, and the other dog was bleeding. It’s a life lesson — and a valuable business lesson. The unfortunate part will be that no matter what Samantha does, the customer will probably trash her on social media. Immediately post a sign at the door: “All Pets Must Be on Leash.”

Anna W.

Oh boy! No matter what, she should apologize immediately and reiterate that it’s never been an issue before or the dog would not be allowed loose. I would for sure cover the vet bill. Apologize again and ask her if there’s anything else I could help with, like calling the vet for her. Then I would hustle the dog to the back pronto! Having a dog loose is always a risk. I have one but keep a super-close eye on him because this can happen in a flash and not all dogs get along. Reading your dog’s body language is critical for off leash in the store.

Christine D.

Our store cat Lily was a stray we adopted. We learned that some dogs trigger her, and she becomes confrontational and territorial — total fight mode. After two incidents where very friendly dogs were smacked around by Lily, we now confine her to the back office anytime a customer brings in their dog. However, we always instruct customers to keep their dogs on leash. Samantha was complacent because there had never been an issue. She should have instructed the customer to keep her dog on leash until temperament could be assessed under supervision, especially since the customer was new. Chihuahuas can be very nippy and provoke other dogs, so being more aware of breed-specific behaviors can help prevent this type of situation. It’s like Big Brother: “Always expect the unexpected,” but with animals.

Diane B.

I have my dogs at the store from time to time. I keep them either crated where they can see people and they can see them, or I have them on a lead I keep tied to my desk. That way, I have total control at all times, and only if customers ask do I allow them to pet my dogs. I allow dogs in my store, but they must always be on leads! Because Samantha didn’t know if the Chihuahua already had a cut on his face, she has no way to verify that it didn’t occur in her store. She could apologize, offer store credit to appease the customer, and use this as a (sad) learning experience to keep her dog and others on leads at all times. Having a sign posted upon entry that “All dogs MUST be leashed while here!” takes away some of the liability.

Tasha H.

Samantha should definitely pay the vet bill, apologize, maybe offer a coupon or free something as well as not allow her own dog off leash anymore. This is so tough but I definitely would not be blaming the customer’s dog, as the store dog should have better tolerance/bite inhibition. We’ve had dogs hang out in our store, but if there are issues, they have to be contained or they can’t be in the store.

Sheena K.

Samantha should take full responsibility for the situation. Her dog was free in the store and is the one who bit. She should absolutely offer to pay for vet expenses. Samantha didn’t say anything to the customer when she let her dog off leash either. In the future, Samantha’s dog shouldn’t be free roaming the store. Our store mascot, Felicity, is kept behind the counter and only comes out to greet people, not dogs. This allows all dogs and humans to feel comfortable entering our store. Not all dogs get along, so I don’t encourage meet-and-greets in the store.

Kathy D.

This one is a no-win, but it can be salvaged. First, Samantha must calm the customer as best she can. Then, close the shop and accompany the client to Samantha’s vet, assuring her she will pay the charges. By accompanying her, hopefully, she can minimize the flack! She also shows the client that she is important, as Samantha is willing to close the store to take care of her and her Chihuahua. By going to her vet, Samantha can take charge of the narrative and keep it calm for everyone. After the vet visit, which will be calm and collected, Samantha can offer to get them both a coffee/tea and snack at Starbucks (or wherever) and exhale. By going the extra mile at every step, Samantha can turn this into a teaching moment. She can tell the client she will be instituting clear-cut guidelines for expectations on all sides. Plus, she will have Toby vet checked for any issues that could have caused the incident. Staying calm and in control is key.

Chip B.

There is rarely a situation where it is appropriate to have an off-leash dog in a retail store. Samantha put herself in this predicament and must bend over backward to appease the customer, even if that means paying a vet bill for an insignificant bite. It wouldn’t hurt to add a basket of treats and toys and a sincerely written apology card. A shop dog must have an incredibly “long fuse” and shouldn’t be off-leash, nor should customers’ dogs. A percentage of dogs who come into any store will bite another if they feel threatened, and having a free-roaming dog is a recipe for that to happen. It’s also asking for the customer to let go of their own leash. I’m not a fan of too much instructional signage, but “Please hold onto your dog’s leash while inside the store” is on my entry door and plastered on every aisle. If everyone does so, it eliminates the vast majority of dog aggression problems.

Jodi E.

Samantha should offer to pay vet expenses for the injury to the customer’s dog regardless of whether Toby was provoked or not. A customer’s dog was bitten by
the shop dog. Her store’s reputation is at stake here. To avoid the situation in the future, only leashed dogs (no retractables unless locked) should be allowed in the store. Any staff dogs should also be contained behind the counter/safe area, or be on leash if visiting with customers. Our current location has many four-footed visitors. These rules are for the safety of everyone. In the past, I allowed my personal dogs to be greeters. Customers did love it. It’s fun, but it’s not good practice unless you’re open to a lawsuit.

Nonnie A.

Apologize to the customer but firmly stand ground that her dog has never bitten anyone in the many years he’s been in the store. I wouldn’t offer to pay for a vet bill, but if the person came back, then we could discuss a bill if it was reasonable and itemized. I definitely wouldn’t change how she has her own dog in her store when it’s never been a problem.

Patty D.

My dog Jersey is also a shop dog. I always have a leash on him. He walks freely inside and out front. However I keep an eye on who is around. If another dog comes in, regardless if he is “friends” with him, I always grab his leash. Not all dogs get along, and even if they do they should not be left alone.

Kathryn M.

Samantha should definitely insist the dog go to the vet, and she should pay for it. If she is going to bring her pet to work and have it free roaming, then she has to take responsibility for that. Dogs are dogs, and even if the Chihuahua provoked her dog, she as the owner allowed that to happen. This is an eventuality in the situation she created.

Paula G.

This is a hard one since no one saw the incident. Of course Samantha should pay the vet bill, and to avoid anything like this happening again could train her dog to go behind the counter while there are other dogs in the store. I would put up a sign stating that there is an unleashed store dog and to please have your dog leashed. We have had store dogs, but as we have gotten busier and more customers are bringing in their own pets (dogs, cats, rabbits, ponies, chickens, ferrets and small animals), it just seems like the smart thing to do is not have a store dog or to have the dog limited as to where they can go.

Tara N.

We had our store cat break a glass piece that was sitting on top of a terrarium. The glass was there to keep the ample-sized boy from crushing the screen tops. A visiting dog got in his face, our cat reacted, the glass shattered, and a few pieces came off. A customer’s dog had a speck of blood on his nose, either from our cat’s claw or the glass. The neurotic owner threw a fit. She called animal control, who is very familiar with us and tried to assure her we were decent people. She insisted I come in and see the damage to her dog. We’re talking about a tiny speck of blood. I set her up with my vet for the next morning. She couldn’t wait and rushed the dog to the very expensive emergency vet. The vet refused to see her because, as they said, “We only see actual emergencies here.” Luckily they were able to assure her that the dog was fine. She called to let me know how happy I should be. I wanted to say but didn’t, “Lady, don’t let your dog shove his face in front of a sleeping cat.”

Kim W.

There are a lot of things we don’t know about this case. Even a friendly dog might defend itself if a dog comes at them aggressively. Likely the injured Chihuahua with only a cut shows that the other dog was not out to kill/harm but to stop the dog. We don’t know the breed of the other dog, but it is bigger than the Chihuahua. Surely a for-real bite would have caused a much worse injury. But even still, leash laws and store protocols might come into play here, be it store policy, signage or city/county codes. Video cameras should be in place for moments like this, and a sign stating all visiting dogs must be on leash, both to minimize unknowns in such situations. To truly eliminate moments like this, it is safe to say no dog/cat/bird in a pet shop should be free roaming. There is always a dog who can create problems, and a good dog can still be provoked to defend itself.

Jordan S.

I would apologize to the customer but stand my ground. I’d offer to pay for the customer’s vet bills to clear my conscience, and going forward I’d keep my dog leashed unless they had met the customer’s dog before. I often keep my pets leashed in the backroom or behind some sort of barrier. When their friends come in, I’ll let them play, but for any stranger, new customer or especially young children, I’d want them secured to prevent this type of situatin from happening. What would we be saying if your dog bit the customer and not the dog?

Paige E.

Unfortunately, I don’t think Samantha has any easy way out of this situation. I would be too nervous to have any dog off leash at the shop because it’s just too easy for accidents to happen and for things to get overwhelming. Samantha should apologize and agree to cover a vet visit to have her dog looked at.

Susan N.

Samantha is obviously responsible for any vet bills. She should not allow off-leash dogs in her store, and if she needs to bring her dog with her to work, she should keep him behind the counter or in the office. I am sure all of this happened fairly quickly, and her dog may have been provoked but in the end it does not really matter.

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