Pets Banned in Home Depot after Shih Tzu Accident

By Lisa Spector, Juilliard Graduate, Canine Music Expert and co-founder of Through a Dogís Ear.

On April 19th, a greeter employed by Home Depot in Ottawa, Canada approached an elderly woman’s 12-year-old Shih Tzu dog, Spot, who was in her shopping basket. The employee, Anne Riel,† reportedly leaned over and reached into the basket with her hand to pet the small dog, who then 
jumped up and bit off a part of her nose. Riel was rushed off by ambulance and needed seven stitches to repair her nose.

Because of the incident, Home Depot Canada decided to ban their allowance of all pets into their Canadian stores starting May 16th, however they will continue to allow certified service dogs. Previously their policy allowed all pets into their stores, as long as they were under the owner’s control. A release written by Tiziana Baccega, Home Depot Canada’s manager of public relations says, “Many of us at the Home Depot Canada are pet owners ourselves, and we understand that the majority of pet owners are responsible in how they control their pets, however, we believe this is the best decision for the shopping enjoyment and safety of all customers.”

The dog’s owner, Odette Fournier, has been fined $610, and she was also issued an order to keep Spot muzzled outside her home. Riel said she wanted the dog put down and that she hopes her experience shows the public that it’s not just certain kinds of dogs that can become aggressive. “Please, please understand it’s not only the Pit Bulls and German Shepherds and the big dogs that are nasty,” she said. “The small dogs can be just as nasty and that’s what’s deceiving.”

Next: Was Spot at fault?

Most dogs would feel threatened by a hand of a stranger reaching right towards their face, especially into their kennel, basket, or otherwise safe den they view as their space. The difference is that many tolerate it and donít react by biting, but very few like it. I wasnít at the scene, but in all of the news on this, I didnít read that Riel asked Fournier’s permission to pet Spot before she reached her hand in the basket.

In my opinion, it is NEVER advisable or safe to approach any dog without asking their handler first, no matter what the size or breed. It is no different than a stranger approaching a young child and gushing over them with loud enthusiasm because they are “so cute” and squeezing their cheeks. A child might tolerate this from their grandparents (but rarely like it), but if this were done in public from a stranger…. well, first of all the child’s parents wouldn’t be pleased, and second of all most children would react with some sign of fear (as would the parents, most likely.) In the Home Depot situation, the dog was acting out of fear. His space was threatened. It’s not because he is an aggressive dog that should be put down, as Riel is contesting should happen. Riel has three children and said, “I’m happy it was me and not my little girl. We pet dogs all the time. There will be no more petting dogs we don’t know from here on in.”

A lesson learned the hard way, but also at the cost of Spot, the Shih-Tzu. Personally, I think teaching our children to not approach strange dogs without asking permission is just as important as educating them about approaching humans they don’t know. And teaching them to be afraid of a particular dog breed or size is† no different than teaching them that all people of a certain color or size are threatening. A dog’s body language is much more relevant than their breed or size.

I love taking my dogs to public places and I do this often. But, as responsible dog owners, we also have to realize that when we do this we are asking them to adapt to our human world, with all of it’s smells , sounds, and variety of people and objects. It can be overwhelming for many dogs and not all dogs enjoy this. I happen to have two dogs bred to be guide dogs,† so they were socialized as very young puppies and were allowed into most public places, wearing† green jackets that said “Puppy in Training for Guide Dogs for the Blind.” The socialization started early and involved bringing them first to quiet public environments with less people, gradually working up to stores the size of Home Depot.

Last month, I wrote a blog called “My Dog is Like American Express, I Don’t Leave Home without Him.” It’s about the experience of taking my dog, Sanchez, to public places that welcome dogs. He has been to Apple Stores dozens of times and my local store employees now know him by name. Even so, never once, has any Apple employee ever pet Sanchez without first asking for permission.† My reply is, “Thank you for asking.” If I can’t pay full attention to him though, I usually ask them to wait a moment, while still thanking them for asking permission first. I’m not sure if Apple employees were taught to ask for permission, or they just know better, but it would be a wise idea to educate the employees of stores that accept all dogs in their places of business.

Without knowing anything about Spot’s history, it is impossible to know if the dog bite would have happened if Riel had asked permission from Fournier first. But, it is extremely unlikely that the bite wasn’t provoked and was done without any warning. It just doesn’t mean it was provoked by Riel. The dog was under stress, and that could have been from being in sensory overload from the stimulating environment, it could have been because he wasn’t feeling well, or a huge number of unknown factors. But it definitely doesn’t mean that he’s a “nasty dog,” as Riel stated.

Next: Spot paying for the mistakes

While I believe that both Riehl and Fournier were at fault, what makes me very sad is that Spot is the one who pays the price for their mistakes. He has been ordered to wear a muzzle whenever he is in public. A muzzle at best is only a band-aid, and at worst it teaches him that there are a lot of things out in the human world that he should be afraid of. I am very hesitant to call him aggressive, as his behavior appears to be reactive and/or fearful. Ideally, he and his person would have the opportunity to work with a science-based, positive reinforcement trainer to learn how to calmly, gently, and confidently approach people that he had been afraid of in the past. With a full time muzzle worn in public, he will never be well socialized. Veterinary behaviorist Ian Dunbar states that people need to learn how to proactively teach their dogs what they would like them to do, rather than providing no instruction and then feeling the need to punish their dogs for breaking rules that they didnít even know existed.

Oh, how my heart goes out to Spot.

What is your opinion? Should Spot be euthanized? And should Home Depot Canada and other retail stores (that aren’t pet supply stores) allow pets into their stores? Thanks for clicking comment and posting your opinion.

As co-founder of Through a Dogís Ear, I am offering my Care2 readers a free download from our latest release, Music to Calm your Canine Companion, Vol. 3. Simply click here and enter your email address and a link to the free download will be delivered to your inbox for you and your canine household to enjoy.

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M.N. J.
M.N. J.about a year ago

It sounds as though an ignorant and thoughtless person put her face too close to a strange dog, accused it of being "nasty," tried to have it killed, and succeeded in giving it the lifelong punishment of being muzzled.

At least this "nasty" person will stop allowing her "nasty" children to walk up to strange dogs and pet them without asking first.

Holly S.
Holly S.1 years ago

I know this is an old article but I just have to say this is not the dogs fault. It is the irresponsible person who brought a dog that is not approachable to a store. The article says "Most dogs would feel threatened by a hand of a stranger reaching right towards their face, especially into their kennel, basket, or otherwise safe den they view as their space. The difference is that many tolerate it and don’t react by biting, but very few like it. ....................THIS IS NOT TRUE (although I agree you should ask first) Very few dogs like the attention and simply tolerate it. Have you ever had a dog? Quite contrary actually; most dog love attention and are so sweet and happy go lucky t& excited to see people. If someone has a dog that cannot be approached or has a history of being intolerant of strangers, then this dog should not have been in Home Depot (or any other store) This lady used poor judgement and this choice resulted in someone being injured and her decision almost caused this dog his life!! A good thing was ruined for all the responsible pet parents who enjoy being with their dog as much as possible. It is like going to the dog park and bringing a dog that is a bully and/or not good with all other dogs. I have been to many dog parks and dog beaches where there were 10,15, 20 dogs without a single issue. I have also seen some incidents where a dog has gone after another dog. We often take our dog to stores and restaurants that allow dogs. My pup was

Diane L.
Diane L.1 years ago

Kim W., this is a very old article, but thank you for stating that. I'll admit that I took my Golden puppy on a leash with me into the outdoor portion of the garden department at Home Depot a couple of months ago, and that was after he'd gotten his final shots and I was socializing him as much as possible, but again, only on a leash at my side while walking OUTSIDE thru the tables of annuals and bedding plants. I'd never take him, as much as a lover as he has turned out to be, inside any store except Petco or Petsmart. I love dogs more than most, but I won't assume everyone else does, nor wants to be exposed to my dog's dander or hair. I have complained many times in Walmart about others' dogs, and finally, FINALLY, dogs (except service dogs) are prohibited inside! I also was almost bitten in a Home Depot by some irresponsible person's little FOO FOO dog that was at the end of one of those 25' long retractable leashes. I bent over in the garden dept while picking up an azalea under the shelves and didn't see the little monster cowering down there. He charged out, growling and snarling at me and his idiot owner merely called him back to her. She had ZERO control over him.

Kim Wallis
Kim Wallis1 years ago

Unless it's a bona fide service animal, please DON'T take your pets into a Home Depot or Lowes store. It's a building and construction supply, NOT a pet store. It's hard enough trying to load lumber and other construction supplies without having to maneuver around some idiot and his/her dog. And in a contest between Fido and a forklift, Fido is likely to come out second best. If you want to take your dog into a store, try Petco.....

Laura Rader
Laura Rader1 years ago

I assumed it was common knowledge to never pet a strange animal. The dog in the shopping basket was protecting it's owners posession, the cart, in it's mind, and you never put your face up to a dog's face even if it's your own dog! Of course the dog shouldn't have to wear a muzzle or be put down. As to dogs in stores, I think dogs in warehouse type home remodeling stores and outside patio restaurants, etc are fine. I'd prefer not to have dogs, nor do I feel a need to bring my dog, inside department and grocery stores.

Joe R.
Joe R.3 years ago

Interesting article. Interesting comments!

Stella Nobrega-Garcia

No, only guide dogs for the blind etc.

Ash Ku
Ash Ku4 years ago

I don't think animals should be let in stores, unless if it's a service animal.

Ammy G.
Ammy G.4 years ago

And just for the record, I actually prefer if stores didn't allow pets. Here in Singapore, no store does. And I must say as a result we never get "complications" arising, as illustrated by this incident! So for me, it is interesting to see how store in other countries allow pets, yet have no protocol on how their employees are supposed to handle them (or rather, *not* handle them, in this case!). If you allow something, you need to anticipate what allowing that would mean...

Ammy G.
Ammy G.4 years ago

@Diane: You said, "Are you suggesting that every retail establishment expect all of their employees to be trained in how to deal with dogs and cats?"

No, that is not what I'm suggesting at all. I think you're missing the point here. The point is that the store *allows* pets. And if it allows pets, it had better be prepared to know how to deal with them, as well as all the possible consequences that could result from allowing pets.

That's why I said Home Depot took the easy route out - by banning them. And why is it "over-the-top"? Well, you don't simply change your entire policy because of the actions of ONE person. It's just like saying, Company A will now close all its toilets because ONE person fell inside while using it. Firstly, why would Company A have to close all its toilets? Couldn't it have implemented a different policy to more closely and adequately address the issue of "falling inside toilets" rather than "close all toilets"? Closing all toilets would definitely prevent anyone from falling inside altogether, but it 1) too big an action to take; and 2) does not address the crux of the issue, which is, WHY the person fell inside in the first place.

Using the above analogy in this context, WHY did the employee get bitten? Ans: It was the result of a bad decision on her part. Does it involve anybody else? No. At most, you can say the incident COULD have been avoided had she been instructed beforehand NOT to touch pets.