Small businesses are the backbone of communities, and locally owned pet stores are no different. Mom and pop dog stores may not have endless aisles of products and marketing materials like the big chain stores, but what they lack in volume they often make up for with their unique selection of products, discounts, and rewards programs — not to mention, a staff of knowledgeable dog lovers who can answer questions and point you toward the best products for your pup.
Walk into any big pet store, and you'll be overwhelmed by the amount of products for sale. Tens of thousands of shiny dog toys, leashes, collars, treats, and freshly-shipped pallets of dog food line every available inch of store space not already taken up by promos and displays. But you may be surprised to learn that many products sold at big box stores are owned by only a small handful of enormous corporations.
Independent pet stores often work with small and local suppliers to source products you wont find anywhere else. In example, Dog Supplies Outlet in Las Vegas offers homemade treats from local brands like Pooches Munchies, as well as hard-to-find & specialty dog food like Sojos, Acana, Wellness, and Fromm. Most small pet stores today can order anything that the big chains have, and some offer convenient delivery options straight to your doorstep.
Because of the inherently smaller size of local stores, their staff are often knowledgeable, well-trained, and very involved in the dog community. If you're new to being a dog owner or you aren't sure what kind of food your dog needs, head to your local pet store and ask! Pet store employees meet a huge variety of customers and dogs everyday, so they have a lot of real-world experience when it comes to determining which product, food, or service is a good fit for you and your dog. Most independent stores also have much more generous return policie than their big-box cousins. Once, I returned some treats that were damaged and the store not only gave me new ones, they let me keep the damaged ones for free.
The dog industry is small and very connected. If you want to get recommendations for good dog trainers, groomers, and more specialized services (like GPS-tracked dog hiking!) your local pet store should be your first stop. Stores have bulletins and business cards on display from businesses they and their staff have used themselves, so you can know you're getting a trusted recommendation. Many stores also have events on the weekend with cool dog-related organizations and rescues. There's tonnes of new opportunities to volunteer, reccomendations on local dog parks, and even people to practice training with.
My last order from Dog Supplies Outlet was $1.92 and I walked home with more than $300 worth of merchandise. How? Dog Supplies Outlet has a points program that rewards me for shopping there, and these points accumulate— often high enough to make you want to splurge! If you're a multi-dog household, reward programs are a must and many small pet stores offer them, as a competitive edge to the big chains.
Finding a store with a rewards program that actually matches up to your expectations is another matter, and we recommend shopping around. Some independent stores also offer rewards programs that benefit local rescues or charities, so a percentage of your purchase can go toward an important cause. Be sure to ask about this before you check out, as many stores will have to supply a special code or set you up with an account to make sure your purchases are being tracked effectively.
By far, the best part of shopping for your dog is bringing your dog with you. Dogs love to socialize, and local pet stores are often the perfect enviornment to practice new commands or just expose your dog to new experiences. Take it slow and remember that your dog will be under a lot of sensory pressure the moment he walks through the door. Dogs have a far more sophisticated sense of smell than we do, and the smell of all the toys, and the fading smells of other dogs can be very distracting. Even the best trained dogs can struggle to pay attention to you at the store —and that's OK
As with anything, having a good experience with your dog at the pet store is about setting expectations, and practice. Don't expect perfect obedience from a young, inexperienced dog. Get him used to exploring the pet store on a leash and not dragging you down the aisles while you build to more difficult things.
Every dog is different, and while practicing your training in a pet store can be great for some, it can be a nightmare for others. Reactive dogs, and dogs who lunge on leashes can be extremely stressful to take into a pet store, due to the blind turns around aisles where another dog or person could be waiting to trigger your dogs bad behavior. For these dogs, we recommend starting your training at home and working your way up to public visits. For puppies, pet stores can be a nice controlled socialization experience, with the opportunity to bump into lots of new smells, textures, and shapes.
For us, socializing our puppies out at pet stores, or other dog-friendly stores like Home Depot & Bass Pro is an essential part of training. Not only does it desensitize our puppies to the real world while they're young, it gives them a sense of confidence around new people and situations that makes them extremely easygoing when they're older. Local stores typically aren't high pressure sales environments either, so training & socializing your new puppy without always walking out with a new toy is OK, too.