Posted: June 4, 2012, 3:10 p.m. EDT
Teaching customers to cater to their pets’ travel needs and anticipate behavioral issues can boost business.
By Steven Appelbaum
As the summer months roll around, pet owners across the country are starting to plan their vacations. In conjunction, you can start teaching your staff some basic training methods to suggest to customers who will be traveling with their pets. This also provides great opportunities for product sales.
Stores that effectively capitalize on these opportunities use a variety of methods to let their customers know that expert advice is available. These include using bag stuffers and placing signs by the register or near travel-related products. Making periodic announcements over the PA system during high-traffic hours to let shoppers know that store associates can provide travel tips to can make life on the road with a pet much easier and safer are also worthwhile. Posting tips on your website and offering printouts of those tips to in-store customers is equally effective.
Tips to suggest to customers include:
1. Visit a veterinarian prior to a trip to ensure pets are healthy and caught up on vaccinations. Add that they should be on the safe side and make sure to bring a copy of these records with them when they travel with pets
2. Get ID tags. ID tags are typically either the old-style metal- or plastic-style, or digital ones. The advantage of digital is that they can be updated without having to replace the tag. The disadvantage is price. The best thing to do is ask if the customer’s dog has a current ID tag.
3. Remember to pack their dog’s food, meal and water dishes, treats, blankets, dog bed, leash, grooming supplies and toys. Let customers know that providing familiarity can assure the physical and mental comfort of a dog. Also, remind them to bring a container of drinking water for the vehicle and a first aid kit.
There are a number of handy collapsible bowls that you can suggest to your customers; these include but are not limited to Outward Hound bowls by Kyjen, others by Bison and one that I like by Ruff Wear. Ruff Wear’s product is particularly good because it has a draw string that when tightened turns it into a food container, thus eliminating the need for an extra one. Your customers will also need bags to clean up dog waste. Other people will appreciate it and in most communities it is the law that dog owners clean up after their pets.
4. Know “dog friendly” accommodations. This allows your customers to inquire in advance as to which hotels or motels allow pets. There are numerous resources available to help clients find the best places. Suggest guides such as those published by www.dogfriendly.com or websites such as www.officialpethotels.com.
5. Check out the destination’s climate. If your customer is going some place really warm, suggest they have the dog groomed prior to departure. If somewhere cold, a sweater or extra blanket can make a big difference in the dog’s comfort level.
6. Travel safely in the car. Make sure customers use a harness or a crate to keep their dogs in place. There are basically two types of harnesses. The first prevents the dog from moving around in the vehicle. However, that doesn’t mean it has been crash tested and thus likely to protect the dog in case of an accident. The topic of seatbelts will be covered in future column. Suffice it to say, if your customer isn’t going to use a crate when driving, he or she really ought to have a harness.
A crate is an excellent way to keep dogs safe in the car, and is required for airline travel. Tell your customers to buckle the crate to the seatbelt for real protection. A crate can also keep a pet from getting into trouble in a hotel or at a host’s home. Advise customers to stock the crate with a comfortable mat, the dog’s favorite toy and a water bottle.
Dogs and cats that don’t like traveling in a crate will need some counter conditioning in order to associate positive things with the experience. Have owners facing this challenge start teaching their dogs weeks in advance their vacation. This can be accomplished by feeding the dog in the crate, taking short trips with the dog in the crate and making sure that the these trips end with something positive, such as a walk at the park or a delectable treat.
For cats, Feliway can be used effectively when teaching them to love or at least like crates, especially if the product is used in conjunction with other training protocols such as those mentioned above.
Obedience training is also a valuable skill that can be very important for customers traveling with pets. Dogs that walk well on a leash are much easier and safer to take in public, which is critical in unfamiliar locations. The same thing applies to cues such as recall and stay. An understanding of these concepts and the ability to consistently listen to them regardless of distractions is what most owners should strive for. If your store offers obedience classes, this is a great opening to suggest enrollment.
Steven Appelbaum is the president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational institution devoted to helping animal lovers succeed in animal careers. Appelbaum has been a professional animal trainer for 30 years. He is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training,” and is a freelance writer, lecturer and consultant.
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