Paws for thought: should we allow dogs in retail spaces?

A shopping centre in Glasgow divided opinion when it ended its dog-friendly trial, but other businesses have kept their doors open to canines


  • Kieran Dhunna Halliwell

29 April 2024

Five different breeds of dog around the border of the image, looking into the centre at a no to dogs sign

Dogs have long been allowed in shopping centres and other commercial property if they are working dogs – animals that support their owner to navigate the world safely.

In recent years there is a global trend toward support dogs helping their owners with challenges such as anxiety, trauma, loneliness and social support. Taking note of this, retail venues have begun to trial dog-friendly policies and encourage owners to bring their dogs with them on shopping trips.

“The demand from customers and the general public for more dog-friendly environments has grown significantly,” says Paul Bagust, head of property standards at RICS. “For some it is now a deciding factor in where they will go for leisure activities.

“This presents a challenge to the real estate sector. While this demand may be relatively simple to accommodate in some environments, such as cafes with outdoor spaces, it will not work for all.”

It presents a dilemma for retailers. Some argue they should let dogs in to be more appealing to their owners, but others insist that it cultivates conditions for chaos and actively harms the peaceful shopping experience of those not so enamoured by canine companions.

Shoppers visiting a supermarket for groceries might have allergies to pet dander or a serious fear of dogs, making their trip stressful or even impossible. Conversely, dog owners might feel excluded or unwelcome if they're unable to bring their dogs along.

Dog trials

One shopping centre that has ventured into the world of welcoming dogs is Glasgow Silverburn. It went dog-friendly in October 2022, responding to demand from shoppers and retailers – with over 80% of customers keen on the concept, it looked to be a clever move.

Within the policy, dogs could enter the main shopping centre and stores that had signed up to participate in the trial (denoted by a paw sticker at the entrance), provided their owners kept their pets on a lead and both behaved responsibly.

However, just a few months later, the trial stopped abruptly with Silverburn citing low uptake and complaints about dog mess as the reasons for ending the scheme. Shoppers reportedly saw excrement in the food hall and urine on items in a clothing shop.

“There are a variety of practical considerations, from safety and hygiene to cultural factors,” says Bagust. “Some dogs can be unpredictable and some owners irresponsible, and this makes the challenge even greater.”

The Silverburn trial demonstrates the difficulty of adopting a dog-friendly policy. For retailers to be both welcoming and accessible to dogs, there needs to be a certain provision of services and sundries available, not least an adequate amount of waste bins so that owners can clean up after their pets.

Additionally, the time taken and extra budget needed to manage dog-friendly policies in commercial environments may prove to be too much. Installing bins so owners can clean up after their pets is one thing, but somebody needs to empty those bins and the provision of this service uses funds that may be needed elsewhere.

“I was walking a casino floor with a business contact in Las Vegas, and he had a dog. Everyone came over to stroke it, dogs make people happy!” David Harper FRICS, Newmark

Two red paw prints
French bulldog holding a red shopping bag, in front of a dogs allowed sign
Three red paw prints

“The demand from customers and the general public for more dog-friendly environments has grown significantly” Paul Bagust, RICS

Good dogs allowed

Spare a thought for dog-lovers in the Cornish town of Callington, where dogs aren’t even allowed in the parks, despite the rest of Cornwall allowing them into hotels, cafes, beaches and tourist attractions. Callington councillors made the decision on the basis it presents a risk to public health and could pass on an unnecessary cost to residents – a similar problem to that facing shopping centres.

While inviting dogs to share what are traditionally functional human spaces may offer benefits to some, it brings not only the risk of unsanitary environments but also risks posed by bad behaviour.

Dog policies specify the rules for dogs on premises and this is good for setting boundaries. Many use the term 'well-behaved dogs' though, a term that creates a grey area and leaves the judgement up to individual feeling. 

David Harper FRICS is vice chairman of real estate services firm Newmark. He says making commercial properties dog-friendly is likely to affect the cost of insurance because of the possibility, however slight, of dog attacks.

The risk of a bite or a snap can be mitigated by 'need my space' dog jackets but some people will choose to ignore the warning. Who is responsible if a dog bites another customer in a unit that presents itself as welcoming to dogs? Vendors may have some concern around validity of insurance should there be an incident on their premises.

Despite the increased costs it creates through higher insurance premiums or extra facilities needed, Harper is in favour of more businesses being dog-friendly. “I was walking a casino floor with a business contact in Las Vegas, and he had a dog,” he says. “It was a show stealer – everyone came over to stroke it. Dogs make people happy!”

Increased revenue from dog owners

Some retailers have found allowing dogs into their venues to be a positive experience. The recently opened Battersea Shopping Centre has certainly embraced it. Given its proximity to the famous Battersea pet rehoming centre, it's perhaps no surprise this shopping centre is a beacon of dog-friendly standards. Not only does it have a welcoming dog-policy, but its marketing actively encourages owners to bring dogs.

Retailers have bought into being open and accessible to dogs, with Poke House introducing a dog walking club and a 'pup-poke bowl' to its menu and Boom Cycle offering dog-sitting during spinning classes. As Battersea Shopping Centre points out, bringing a dog onto the premises means owners don't need to worry about leaving early to get back to them – therefore, dog-friendliness may keep people on site for longer and lead to greater revenue.

In Australia, hardware store Bunnings reiterated its dog-friendly status, saying the feedback they receive is largely supportive of the policy. In their view, many pets (and owners) are well-behaved, with the pros outweighing the cons. They found inviting dogs in to be so successful that they expanded their business to include a pet-focused range of products as well.

Although there are benefits to pet owners being able to take their dogs everywhere with them, this is one aspect of the retail experience that will continue to provoke debate for some time yet.

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