DARIEN — Jennifer Scott takes a familial approach to running her business. Any time during the day, you can walk into her Post Road shop and be greeted by dogs browsing the stacks of food, trying out new toys or indulging in complimentary treats.

“I consider most of my customers my family,” Scott said recently from the back porch of the Pawprint Market, the store she has owned and operated since 2002.

Scott encourages customers to bring their pets to the store. She is proud of her ability to advise customers on the problems — and rewards — of pet ownership.

In a recent interview, Scott talked about her love of animals, the proper steps to take before owning a pet, and why she doesn’t consider her store a boutiqe.

Q: When did your love of animals begin?

A: I fell in love with Rin-Tin-Tin, and from the time I was about 5, I wanted a German shepherd. Eventually, when I was 10, we got one. I also had a horse, and I had hamsters and we had cats. That’s how it started. I probably should have gone to veterinary school, but at the time it didn’t enter my mind. My parents had my future planned. I was going to go and become a nurse, because that’s what my mother was, and my father was a doctor and my grandmother was a pharmacist. So they said, ‘You’re going to go to school to be a nurse,’ and I said no.

Q: When did you begin working in pet stores?

A: I came over to Darien and ran a store called Whiz Kid Pet Store in 1992. And the rest is history. Finally, in 2003 after working in New Canaan and Darien for different variations of the stores, I said, ‘I’ve got to do this on my own.’ And so I took a second mortgage out on my condo and opened up my own store.

I was extremely lucky because I already had a clientele. They knew me, so I still had my customer base. I have some very long-term customers that I’ve known since 1992 that I’ve known through several dogs, several cats.

Q: When you first opened were stores like Petco and PetSmart as prevalent as they are today?

A: No. In fact, when I opened, I was one of the first, definitely one of the first, in this area. There was a spattering across the country where owners said, ‘Pet stores don’t have to smell bad, and you don’t have to have crap everywhere and linoleum floors and industrial type shelving. We can do it nicer than that.’ So that’s where it stemmed from.

Q: Do you consider the store a boutique?

A: I don’t consider myself a boutique. I picture a boutique in New York City, or Chicago, or wherever, and it’s over the top — bows and dresses and all that stuff. It’s a little bit trendier, it’s a little more decadent. I think it appeals to a different pet owner. I’ve always wanted to be kind of a general store for dogs and cats because that’s what I know about.

My original plan was that I would have an area of books so that people could come in and read. Unfortunately, I don’t think anybody was really interested in that. They wanted me to do the reading, which I do. So I still have my bookcases behind the counter, but I go to them instead of the clients. It’s my life. And I hope that’s what sets me apart.

Q: How selective should people be when buying food for their pets?

A: There’s a whole aspect of good health that really and truly depends on nutrition. I don’t want to make my own dog food, I just want to educate people about what’s available.

First and foremost I try to be honest with my customers.It’s a no-brainer that unprocessed food is better than processed. That’s true for you, true for me. It’s true for the animal. Balanced, but unprocessed. However, if the dog doesn’t eat it, it doesn’t matter how good it is. They need to eat to live. If you can’t afford to feed it, then there’s got to be another option. So that’s how I approach it with most of my customers.

Q: What advice can you give future dog owners?

A: The approach is really about doing your due diligence, no matter what breed you’re getting and making sure the breeder you’re dealing with is reputable.

The first thing I would tell you to do is go to the American Kennel Club. Go to the AKC website, read about whatever breed you’re looking for. It’ll tell you the basics: what their coat is supposed to be like, how many different color variations there are in the breed, the appropriate size, weight. Bigger is not better. And smaller is not better. If you’re looking for a particular breed, don’t buy the mini version and don’t buy the super version. That’s why there’s a breed standard.

It’ll also tell you about any of the health problems they’re predisposed to. It’ll list how much grooming is involved, how they are with people, how they are with kids. There’s a wealth of information out there.

It’s like anything in life: all you can do is educate yourself. Find out as much as you possibly can and then make a decision.

Q: What are your thoughts on breed stereotypes that lead people to believe that certain dogs are predisposed to be more aggressive?

A: I think pretty much any puppy has the potential to be problematic. Apply common sense: If the breed that you’re going to get is going to be upwards of 40 pounds, they’re going to have serious teeth, they’re going to have some strength. But strong doesn’t equal aggressive.

If you take a doberman and you lock it in a closet and it doesn’t go out and it doesn’t get socialized, how well do you think that dog is going to do when you take it around people?

Same thing is going to happen with a pit bull, same thing is going to happen with a chihuahua. But there’s a big difference between a pitbull that’s not doing well in a crowd and a chihuahua that’s not doing well in a crowd.

justin.papp@scni.com; dariennewsonline.com