es because life gets in the way, vacations happen, kids
happen,” she says. “It’s about trying to do the right thing
for the dog and the pet parent, and making sure it’s
Hepner, Klusman and Jaffe serve as coaches, along
with associate instructors and trainers who help main-
tain a busy schedule at each location. Hepner noted that
serving in this capacity offers its own rewards.
“The magical moment is seeing the proud smile on a
dog’s face when praised for doing a good job through the
weaves, for example,” she says. “The dogs are happy, and
that’s the win.”
The workout ends with a little ball play.
“We move all the stations and just throw the ball; it
leaves the workout on a good note,” she says. “A dog
might be worn out after the exercise, but they remember
that they played ball and had a good time.”
When it comes time for a little serene enlightenment, a
yoga instructor and dog trainer teach the Yoga Zen Dog
classes in tandem. Pet owners learn to relax their dogs
through massage and other techniques.
A certified dog trainer is also available to assist pet
owners with behavior challenges or with a new puppy.
“It’s another way to make a difference in the life of a
dog,” Hepner says.
In this way, the Puppy Concierge Program allows a
pet owner to take advantage of the services of an expert in
the privacy of their own home. Guidance includes puppy
proofing the home, suitable toy recommendations, assistance with crate training, and mentally stimulating game
selections and coaching in their use.
“If a pet parent is not happy with their dog or pup-
py’s behavior, we want to help,” she says. “At the end
of the day, if we don’t, that dog might go back to the
Along these lines, puppy socialization classes, held
in-store, expose youngsters to new people and novel
surroundings as they play, mingle with their
peers and take part in exploration activities.
Promoting good behavior through mental
and physical stimulation is the foundation of
the Cool Dog Gear credo.
“We are really big into mentally stimulating games, such as puzzles, that people don’t
normally see,” Hepner says.
As a result, veterinarian and trainer referrals are common, as is finding those same
dog trainers shopping for items not normally
Customer requests for products are honored willingly.
“It’s as simple as asking us,” she says. “If
it’s realistic for us to bring it in, we will.”
“We carry a lot of treats made in Penn-
sylvania,” Hepner says. “But we take it one
step further and try to shake out independent
manufacturers that actually source and make
their product in Pennsylvania.”
These items are displayed in a special
“The more local, the better,” she says. “Our customers
Cool Dog Gear customers are celebrated at the All
About You event, which takes place in early November.
Shoppers enjoy pre-season discounts, snacks, games,
prizes and a good time.
“It’s like a pre-Christmas party,” Hepner says.
The holiday spirit continues during Pet Night, where
festive animal celebrants pose with St. Nick.
“We keep the store open after the mall closes,” she
says. “Our customers come in and dress their dog up for
a photo with Santa.”
PEOPLE MAKE THE DIFFERENCE
Education is fundamental to the Cool Dog Gear experience, and staff members are considered resident experts.
“Education is huge,” she says. “Our customers are
pretty comfortable with our staff and readily seek them
An outgoing personality paired with a passion for pets
are sought-after characteristics in an associate. New hires
learn the ropes by shadowing more-experienced employ-
ees and studying the product mix.
“We go through all the information, let them digest it
and then go through it again,” Hepner says. “It’s a lot to
Once product familiarity is acquired, staff members
take part in scavenger hunts. A list of questions might
send an associate to USA-made toys or to treats address-
ing specific benefits.
“They go looking for a product and read the packag-
ing to identify it and the light bulb goes off,” she says.
“We want them to see it, touch it, feel it and be comfort-
able with it.”
Supporting pet rescue and adoption efforts is central
to Cool Dog Gear’s philosophy.
“We help support several local pet rescues, as well as
shelters down south where the rescues pull their pups,”
she says. “Our mall locations make it a little difficult to
host adoption days; however, we set up our tent at several
rescue events, with a portion of the proceeds donated to
the sponsoring rescue.”
In addition, gift certificates and raffle baskets are con-
tributed to pet rescues, as well as organizations such as lo-
cal schools, scouting troops, churches and area hospitals.
As a cancer survivor, aiding area hospitals is near and
dear to Hepner’s heart.
Cool Dog Gear participates in an annual sale held at
Thomas Jefferson University hospital. Participating vendors set up booths, with a percentage of the proceeds
tagged to support underfunded hospital programs.
“I did my treatments there, so it’s our chance to give
back,” Hepner says. “We come together twice a year, in
spring and before Thanksgiving.”
The sale also benefits the hospital’s canine therapy
program. Besides funding, Cool Dog Gear provides tools
and ideas to facilitate the dog’s role in patient care.
“For instance, a patient undergoing hand therapy
might mix a batch of dog ice cream and then feed it to
the therapy dog,” she says. “The power of having a dog
involved is just amazing.”
A HEARTFELT ENDEAVOR
Denise Machinia met Sue Hepner while both were on staff at a
local big-box pet store.
At the time, Machinia was the proud owner of two rescue dogs,
Pyrrah, a Bernese mountain dog, and Buster, a black Labrador.
When Hepner left the big box to open Cool Dog Gear, her
former co-worker was impressed with the unique product mix
presented at the new endeavor.
“I was her first customer,” she says. “The second the store
opened, I was there.”
Machinia remained a loyal shopper. She appreciated finding
products that were not offered elsewhere and provided unique
benefits that met the needs of both Pyrrah and Buster.
“I absolutely loved finding items not available at a big-box
store,” she says. “For instance, as my dogs aged, I was able to
purchase a support sling at Cool Dog Gear.”
The assortment of healthful, USA-made treats proved another
draw, along with a selection of indestructible chew toys.
“Buster was a real chewer, and some of those toys lasted his
entire life,” she says.
Buster and Pyrrah have since passed, but Machinia still patronizes Cool Dog Gear, purchasing treats and supplies for her
eight adopted feral cats.
“The store carries some great toys for my cats, along with
treats, trees, scratchers and other supplies,” she says. “It’s a nice
assortment of cat products displayed in a separate section.”
Since those early big-box days, Machinia has opened her own
store, Arts and Carafes Painting Party in Southampton, Pa. The
entrepreneur often refers her guests to Cool Dog Gear.
“We offer a Paint My Pet class, so I am always hearing stories about people’s pets,” she says. “I send everyone there for
the personalized attention. Cool Dog Gear absolutely has the best
interest of the pet and pet parent at heart.”
Top: The store’s WODS offering is a total-body fitness
program that allows dogs and their owners to exercise and
play together in a fun, supportive environment.
Bottom: A canine customer at Cool Dog Gear participates in
the store’s exercise classes.