Many business owners – from retailers to restauranteurs – have pet-friendly policies that permit dog owners to bring their canines inside while shopping. Or, for eating establishments, provide a pet-friendly patio while their owners eat in their dining areas.

It’s easy to see why: according to data from Statista, there are an estimated 7.9 million dog owners in Canada as of 2022. Business owners are eager to make their commercial spaces a welcoming environment for all, and that includes dog owners and their pooches.

Despite the forward-thinking approach to welcoming customers who have dogs in tow onto your premises, small business owners need to consider the risks of that decision and how to mitigate them. After all, one unfortunate incident involving a customer’s dog in your place of business could escalate to a lawsuit that could cost you thousands of dollars and potentially lead to bankruptcy.

Tips for dog-friendly businesses to reduce liability risks.

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For instance, if one of your customers is attacked by another customer’s dog or a patron in your establishment suffers a severe allergic reaction requiring medical attention because there were dogs inside your shop or eatery, the affected person could sue you for third-party bodily injury damages.

Whether your business has a dog-friendly policy in place now or if you’re thinking of opening the doors to allow our four-legged friends inside your digs, make sure you take these five steps:

1. Advertise your business is pet-friendly

Use signage and publish on your website, social media channels, and the GoDoggo app (formerly PawSwap) that your business permits dog owners to bring their dogs inside provided their vaccinations are up to date. That lets owners know their animal is welcome and can drive more business. It also warns others who may be allergic to dogs or afraid of the animals that they may be nearby. While that may keep some folks away, it’s a better route than not providing fair warning.

2. Opt for hands-free payments

Allowing animals to frequent your business highlights the importance of hygiene. Encouraging patrons to pay for their purchases electronically via hands-free payment options upholds that necessity. 

It also resolves another: Canadians are increasingly paying for goods and services with debit and credit cards or using an e-wallet instead of cash, according to Moneris Solutions. Offering hands-free payments by allowing your customers to order goods in advance online also helps dog owners who prefer to remain outside your store or take advantage of curbside pickup.

3. Educate your employees

If you have employees, you should do a couple of things.

Firstly, ensure none of your staff is allergic to dogs or has an extreme phobia of the animals, and secondly, train them to identify possible signs of stress in a dog and what to do. That includes knowing where the nearest pet hospital or veterinarian clinic is to your business’s location.

4. Establish a dog-friendly area

Pet proof your business to make it safe for dogs and for your patrons who do not own or like dogs. 

Create an environment that’s welcoming for dogs outside your business, and recommend nearby spaces where owners can take their canines to relieve themselves. Try placing a large bowl of water at the main entrance (always appreciated by passersby with dogs), fencing off an area for dogs to sit while your customers shop or dine, and, if applicable, provide dog-themed products or discounts that match the theme of your business. For instance, a café or restaurant could also sell doggie treats. 

If you choose to host dog-owner events or sell more pet-related products including food, let your Zensurance broker know about those plans in advance as you may need to make changes to your business insurance policy.

5. Review your business insurance policy

Speaking of insurance, take an in-depth look at your existing policy and review your coverages, coverage limits, and deductibles. Insurance policies aren’t a lot of fun to read, and they can be confusing, so don’t hesitate to contact a Zensurance broker to review them with you and help you identify where there may be gaps in your coverage. 

The last thing any business owner wants is to file an insurance claim after something bad happens and be told by an insurance provider they aren’t covered for that specific type of loss or damage (therein lies the advantage of working with a broker who can advise you on what types of insurance you need and how much coverage to have).

For example, your establishment should have general liability insurance. It provides you with financial support for claims of third-party bodily injury or property damage that occur on your premises or result from your daily operations. Thus, if one of your customers is bitten by another customer’s dog, needs medical attention, and names you in a lawsuit for damages, your general liability coverage is designed to pay for your legal fees and the injured customer’s medical expenses.

Protecting Your Dog-Friendly Business Is Essential

Making sure your business insurance policy is customized to cover the potential risks your business faces – whether it’s a dog-friendly shop or not – is nothing to bark at (pun intended). 

Furthermore, make it a habit to review your policy annually since your organization is constantly changing. Shopping around when your policy is due for renewal to see if you can get better coverage at a lower cost is a wise move. Zensurance can help you do that quickly and easily.

One last note: maybe your business doesn’t include a brick-and-mortar location like a retail store, but you run an independent dog walking business (or perhaps your store provides this service on the side). That requires insurance for dog walkers to protect yourself, others, and the dogs in your care.

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About the Author: Brandon Bowie

Brandon Bowie is a Team Lead, Professional Lines at Zensurance.