Training To Win
Busy pet owners opt for innovative tools designed to speed up the training process.
The old saying “good things come to those who wait” might no longer be true for today’s on-the-go consumers who are clutching mobile devices and using Google for every shopping and service need. Indeed, even when it comes to training and socializing their dogs, more pet owners are favoring effective products that work faster and smarter to stop incessant barking, halt wayward tugging or soothe anxious pups.
Sue Coppola, an independent dog trainer who works in affiliation with Two Paws Up!, a retailer in Frederick, Md., said what’s popular now is the new generation of electronic training collars designed to help dogs learn desirable behaviors very quickly.
“E-collar technology is an awesome tool as it has become so refined that you can use low stimulation to get the right behavior,” she said. “In addition to saving time, people want humane collars, high value nutritional training treats and positive reinforcement. Again, it’s all about the humanization of pets, so it’s key to make training a fun and safe bonding experience.”
By spotlighting the newest in training-related products that do the job quickly, retailers can boost sales in the sector, manufacturers agreed.
“The leading trend is that people want shortcuts to traditional training solutions,” said Sean McElherron, managing director of The Canny Co., a Stafford, England, manufacturer of training leads and collars. “Years ago people were happy to spend two hours a week for 10 weeks teaching their dogs to walk politely on a leash. Now people want their dogs to walk well within 10 minutes.”
Transformative Tech and Gentle Collars
To meet demand for faster training and the convenience of smartphone compatibility, High Tech Pet Products Inc., a manufacturer in Ventura, Calif., recently introduced Bluefang, a smartphone-app-controlled e-collar, president Nick Bonge said.
“Designed with a range of stimulus and vibration generators embedded in the collar, training signals can be sent to a dog via a cell phone app from a distance of up to 400 feet,” Bonge said.
Bluefang can teach a dog basic commands such as sitting, coming or staying on command, and the collar includes an advanced bark control algorithm that distinguishes between nuisance barking and the more urgent intruder and alarm type of barking, he said.
Coppola said that in her experience, dogs respond quickly to stimulation through a collar and that people increasingly prefer this type of safe, effective training.
“It’s not about delivering a shock anymore, and most people don’t want a prong or pinch collar,” she said.
Another training collar that recently hit the market is Coastal Pet Product’s Adjustable Check Training Collar With Buckle, said Diane Thomas, marketing manager for the Alliance, Ohio, company.
“The collar features a limited closure and rust-proof chain that quickly corrects a dog’s behavior in a way that maximizes control for the owner and is comfortable for the dog,” Thomas said. “The chain will not mat long-haired coats or cause excessive loss of neck hair.”
Thomas said that style is another trend in training collars.
“Our new No! Slip Adjustable Martingale Collar with Buckle is designed to be worn continuously and comfortably and comes in a variety of playful patterns and colors,” she said. “Trainers are increasingly looking for fun, fashionable colors to express a bit of personality.”
At Green Pet, a store in Dallas, co-owner Leslie McKay said her customers love martingale collars, especially for dogs that have thin necks, such as Italian greyhounds.
“It’s important to spend time with the customer to discover just what type of training collar will work best on a breed,” McKay said. “For example, it’s important to show a customer how to fit and introduce [the PetSafe] Gentle Leader collar so the dog has a positive first experience with it.”
Training treats that sell well are smaller in size, deliver natural nutrition and have taste appeal for dogs, retailers reported.
“Pet parents want a high-value treat as opposed to anything with artificial ingredients,” said Erika Veverka, store manager at Two Bostons, which has stores in Illinois. “Treats that are chewy and small or can be crumbled easily are great options.”
Once only available in the U.K., Coachies, a training treat made by The Company of Animals in Bridgeport, Conn., is now available for U.S. pet stores.
Another new product helpful to training because it keeps treats within easy reach is EzyDog’s SnakPak Treat Bag.
“The bag has a magnetic closure, easy to clean liner plus an accessory pouch with a waterproof zipper,” said Katie Wood, sales and marketing coordinator for the Sandpoint, Idaho, company.
Further, she said there are two ways to attach the bag around a trainer’s waist, using an adjustable strap or twin belt hooks.
People increasingly are seeking help for a pet’s fear reactions to loud noises, separation anxiety and other stress triggers.
Coppola related an experience she had training a Labrador bomb-detecting service dog that was terrified of thunder.
“This particular dog did very well with a Thundershirt,” she said. “It really helped chill him out. But for some dogs, this type of solution doesn’t work. You just have to try a variety of things before you find the right fix.”
Recently, to ensure a better fit for its Anxiety Wrap—a lightweight garment that hugs a dog from head to tail and maintains gentle pressure to relieve anxiety—The Company of Animals made the garment more adjustable so fewer sizes would be necessary. It streamlined the product from 11 available sizes down to seven, which simplifies retailers’ inventory-ordering process, the company reported.
The manufacturer also updated its packaging to show more detailed benefits and instructions.
With a host of products available for stressed pets, including soothing music, essential oils and supplements, manufacturers reported that retailers should stock a variety and ask questions to help pet owners select the best option.
“Retailers can be instrumental in educating customers about easy-to-use and innovative training tools that will help everyone enjoy time spent with their pets even more,” said EzyDog’s Wood.
The number of dog owners surveyed that use a training device has increased from 49 percent in 2002 to 71 percent in 2012.
Source: 2013-2014 APPA National Pet Owners Survey
How can retailers boost training product sales?
“We do a lot of one-on-one education in the store to make sure customers understand products. We also like when people bring their dogs with them. For example, when you fit a dog for a Thundershirt, you may immediately see a reduction in anxiety. It’s amazing. For other dogs, if it doesn’t make a difference, you know to move on to other options such as supplements.”—Leslie McKay, co-owner of Green Pet in Dallas
“Retailers can use a flat screen to feature a product in a DVD loop so people can visually see how it works. And, because dog training can get expensive, do a display featuring products according to price range. This way, your customers can have a tier of choices. Another idea is when you get a case of one training product, put six in a display or on a shelf, and stack the other six in a pyramid (drawing the customer’s eye up) by the front counter near the cash register.”—Sean Klein, owner of Klein Brands in Hollywood, Fla.
“I think more communicating between retailer and manufacturer would help develop point of purchase materials that work for all concerned. Online social media groups on LinkedIn and Facebook help with the logistics of pulling these two groups further together, but perhaps additionally a dedicated pet-training website or forum aimed at heightening discussion and new marketing ideas.”—Sean McElherron, managing director of The Canny Co. in Stafford, England
“By providing training product information to customers, either in printed materials at the store or online, retailers can give customers the opportunity to research prior to purchase.”—Emily Benson, marketing director at Starmark Pet Products Inc. in Hutto, Texas
“If you’re selling soothing music CDs, offer a display of sounds that can be heard by people and their dogs right in the store.”—O’Neal Scott, owner of Angel Dog Inc. in Asheville, N.C.