5 Stores With Private Shopping for Reactive Dogs · The Wildest

Skip to main content

Have a Reactive Dog? These 5 Pet Stores Offer Shopping Experiences Made Just for Them

Every pup can benefit from a little retail therapy—and you deserve to feel at ease, too.

by Sean Zucker
May 20, 2024
A Young Man and His Pup at the Pet Shop.
Nastasic / iStock

As someone with a reactive pup, I can confirm dogs burdened with behavioral issues miss out on a ton. If they’re animal-reactive like mine, they’ll struggle or be wholly unable to make other canine friends. Of course, dog parks are completely out of the question — though that might be for the best. Family activities are also heavily restricted. Hiking and other outdoor adventuring must be done on off-hours, when foot traffic is minimal, or not at all.

Air travel is c ompletely off the table, and any vacations must be limited to secluded cabins in the woods best suited for Stephen King inspo. Even daily routines, like going for a walk, can be stressful endeavors for these poor animals, especially in more highly populated areas.

For pet parents with reactive dogs, seeing a sign that says “dog friendly” outside of a coffee shop or store doesn’t evoke the same level of excitement as it might for others. If anything, it only induces feelings of guilt and sadness. Whenever I read about a cool new pet-friendly restaurant in town or see dogs roaming the aisles of Home Depot, I grieve the exploration my dog will never enjoy.

But we reactive pet parents must remember we are not alone in these challenges. It’s a comfort reinforced by the budding trend of pet stores offering private shopping sessions for dogs who would otherwise never be able to step foot into such an establishment.

To be clear, the animals are not to blame.

“It would always break my heart when someone would say, ‘Oh, I could never bring my dog into a store like this,’” remembers Cait Cassagne, owner and CEO of Spoiled Bitch Dog Boutique in Nesconset, New York. Inspired by pet parents who came into the shop without their dogs, Cassagne started offering private shopping sprees in-store for pups with behavioral issues. Above all, however, she wants to remind people that reactive dogs are good dogs, too. In fact, it’s sort of the store’s slogan.

“Be patient and be kind with every dog and handler you see out there. If a dog is reacting just remember, they aren’t giving their handler a hard time, they are just having a hard time,” Cassagne adds.

Madison, Wisconsin’s bad dog frida has a similar program, and it’s rooted in the same belief that reactive dogs deserve better understanding. “They are often lacking confidence and are scared. So, positive experiences can help build that confidence. They are not bad dogs, they just need a different type of experience keeping within their comfort level,” says the store’s owner, Noel Johnson. 

It’s a sentiment shared by behavior professionals, as well. Leigh Siegfried, founder of Opportunity Barks Behavior Training, agrees that these dogs are merely the product of their circumstances and environment. “Traditionally, a dog that’s reactive is a dog that’s struggling with contrast and change in environments and that can be due to any number of things,” she explains.

Siegfried notes that reactivity is often a response to being overly adrenalized, which could be from increased tension or even excitement. Not to mention, the factors of poor socialization early on or prior bad experiences. But overall, a reactive dog is usually a fearful dog. The point is, it’s certainly not something that should be held against them as they’re clearly not the ones responsible.

What can be gained from these dogs going shopping?

I understand that opinions on retail therapy are generally mixed. Sure, you probably shouldn’t have to spend money to feel better, but you also can’t put a price on happiness (or those perfect new jeans). Now, most dogs won’t comprehend the mental boost provided by indulging in a little American consumerism. They will, though, enjoy exploring new places, especially with their favorite people. When this is done in a controlled setting, like a closed store, it can be an invaluable confidence booster for reactive pups.

“The benefits of letting dogs roam around Spoiled Bitch Dog Boutique privately create confidence in the dog and the owner. It’s very stress-free, calming, and relaxing for both the dog and the handler,” Cassagne says.

Her declaration will come as a relief for reactive pet parents who stress over bringing their pup anywhere for fear of an incident. Anyone with a reactive dog knows the routine anxieties that develop when bringing their dog along pretty much anywhere. You worry about other dogs or people being around and whether your pet will bark or lunge at them.

Per Siegfried, this angst can often create a bit of a vicious cycle where the dog senses your fear, which in turn, makes them more afraid. “It’s like a feedback loop where they’re stressed, the dog’s stressed, and it just sort of compounds and keeps happening,” she explains. 

For Johnson, these sessions offer reactive dogs a rare opportunity for mental peace and security in a public setting. Speaking of the dogs she says, “They don’t get these experiences very often. It’s another type of mental stimulation that’s so important to their mental health. And a relief for the parents to not have to worry that another dog might come into the store.”

What can you expect from a private shopping session?

I get it. As a reactive pet parent, the prospect of bringing my dog into a new space is always daunting no matter the possible benefits. Thankfully, these stores go out of their way to prepare for dogs with various precautions in place. Bad dog frida only hosts their private shopping before official open hours begin.

They keep all doors locked and place a sign out front indicating that a private shopping experience is in session. Not to mention, Johnson assures me that the staff who run these sessions have ample experience with reactive dogs and some even work with these types of animals during their off hours.

At Spoiled Bitch Dog Boutique, pet parents are asked a series of questions before signing up for a session. This is to ensure that Cassagne and her employees are well-informed about the dog and their specific needs. Upon arriving for the shopping spree, dogs are brought through the back door where there is less traffic. If they’re people-reactive, Cassagne and her employees will not be seen during the session.

More than anything, Cassagne just wants pet parents to know that Spoiled Bitch Dog Boutique is a safe space for them and their loved ones. “They should know that they can feel comfortable coming in to shop with their dog knowing that all the doors are locked, windows are closed, and no other dogs and/or people are coming into the store while they are shopping,” she confirms.

With that safety in mind, let’s rundown a few places across the country that offer these programs.

U.S. stores offering private shopping for reactive dogs 

Paws N’ Play

Let's start on the West Coast in Sacramento, California, with Paws N’ Play, which sees itself as a one-stop shop for all things dog. In addition to selling pet products at their retail boutique, the 3,300 square foot space doubles as a canine community center.

With dog wash stations, play areas, and training services available, Paws N’ Play brings the pet parents of Northern California together. Recently, the store introduced its Bark and Browse program allowing pet parents and their reactive dogs the opportunity to shop privately. This is on top of the reactive dog training sessions they host most Saturdays.


The second Tuesday of every month at Wagz is considered their “ Reactive Dog Days,” during which pet parents in the Fort Collins, Colorado area have the option to shop privately with their pup. The store offers 15-minute windows for animals to browse aisles unbothered by the presence of other animals. They can run around sniffing toys and treats without feeling stressed or fearful, and just focus on being dogs for a bit, something Siegfried notes reactive pups often miss.

“I’d say a challenge of any reactive dog parent is being able to find a space where their dog can be a dog in a way that actually really supports their needs,” she explains. That said, shopping sessions at Wagz are only meant for animal-reactive dogs. While no other dogs will be allowed in, staff members and pet-less customers may still be present.

Dog Supplies Warehouse

As we continue our reactive dog-friendly loop around the States, we head to Huntersville, North Carolina, home to Dog Supplies Warehouse. Earlier this year, the store started offering 30-minute solo shopping sessions for reactive or anxious dogs. Similar to the other stores on this list, pups are free to browse the store and guilt their parents into getting them more treats than they probably need.

Outside of these sessions, Dog Supplies Warehouse also hosts pup socializing and adoption events, as well as free nail trims. I’d argue it’s the most exciting thing to come out of North Carolina since Michael Jordan won the National Championship as a freshman.

Spoiled Bitch Dog Boutique

Long Island’s Spoiled Bitch Dog Boutique represents one of the area’s most admirable qualities: patience for those who, er, struggle with containing their emotions. For locals losing their minds in traffic or at another wasted Islanders, having a store that at least appreciates their pet’s behavioral issues is a welcomed luxury.

“Responses have been overwhelmingly beautiful. I have had such kind words spoken about my store and myself which makes this experience so rewarding,” Cassagne says. 

She specifically points to the awareness that these sessions have brought to reactive dogs and everything they go through. “Before doing these sessions, a lot of people didn’t even know what a reactive dog was. Now they are educated which is the main goal,” she adds. After making an appointment for a private session at Spoiled Bitch Dog Boutique, pets will be faced with a vast layout of exciting products. From Grateful Dead-inspired chew toys to cozy apparel, there’s something for dogs of all unique interests. 

bad dog frida

And finally, we land back at bad dog frida in Madison, which offers private sessions by appointment on weekend mornings before the store opens. While these are only open to animal-reactive dogs at the moment, Johnson promises a positive experience for all involved. “It has been so fun to give these dogs tons of love, treats, and attention during the private shopping time and so rewarding for everyone involved,” she says. 

Giving back to the community and supporting animal adoption is at the heart of bad dog frida. Outside of private shopping appointments, the store hosts plenty of other great events for rescues, including a weekly meet and greet with adoptable dogs. Johnson hopes these programs and their additional initiatives will help combat the problems, from puppy mills to irresponsible breeders, that have created pet overpopulation and caused strains on local rescues.

“We also support The Humane Society of the U.S. and the legislation they push to try and discourage puppy mill breeding and enforce stricter punishments for animal abusers,” she adds. 

Sean Zucker

Sean Zucker

Sean Zucker is a writer whose work has been featured in Points In Case, The Daily Drunk, Posty, and WellWell. He has an adopted Pit Bull named Banshee whose work has been featured on the kitchen floor and whose behavioral issues rival his own.

Related articles