Posted: June 19, 2012, 5:30 p.m. EDT
Helping customers deal with a dog or cat’s car sickness can promote sales and inspire loyalty.
By Steven Appelbaum
Some of your customers are faced with what seems to be a very difficult challenge. How do they take their dog or cat for a ride in the car without their pets becoming sick and uncomfortable?
Failure to address this issue can actually create other problems. For example, I have known people who avoided getting regular veterinary checkups for their pets because of this, and others who have walked miles just to take their dog to the park. Of course, taking the dog for long walks can be a very healthy activity for both dog and owner, but the ability to take the dog or cat for a ride in the car without them becoming sick or distressed is clearly important.
How do you help your customers address this problem? The first step is to get them to understand most pets that get sick from driving are simply stressed about being in the car. This is often caused by the fact that, in almost every case, when the pet is taken for a ride in the car, it is to someplace it doesn’t like going.
Think about this for a second. If the only time you were taken for a ride in a car, it was to get a vaccination or go to a barber that put you in a cage for an hour before tying you to a table as they brushed and cut your hair, would you have a positive association with going for a ride?
This isn’t to suggest that veterinarians or groomers are abusive to their clients. Most whom I have seen are wonderful, caring animal lovers. However, that doesn’t change the reality that for many of customers’ pets, visiting these types of establishments is not a pleasant experience.
The second step is to help owners change the connection their pets have with riding in the car from negative to positive. To accomplish this, have them start by taking the dog to the vehicle and simply sitting and feeding it delectable treats for about five minutes. Let customers know that no driving is necessary in this procedure.
After five minutes, instruct pet owners to end the session. Have them try this two times a day for about seven to 10 days, and most will find their dog is quite eager to get in the car.
Once your customers have accomplished this part of the training, have them start the motor and let it run while they give treats. Some dogs won’t react any differently to this, but, to be on the safe side, have them do this one or two times a day for another week. After that, your customers’ pets should be ready for short trips.
Encourage them to make these trips positive for pets and have them last no longer than three to five minutes, providing treats on each end of the trip. You can instruct your customers to work on a variation of this by having one of their friends feed the dog during the trip. They should give food at a rate of one small piece every 20 seconds.
Have customers do this for a week, and then have them start to lengthen the amount of time of each trip by about three minutes. By the end of a week, this means pet owners will be taking the dog for trips over 20 minutes in duration.
If they are using a friend to feed the dog during the trips, tell them to cut down on the amount of treats given by only treating the dog every 60 seconds after they reach trips 10 minutes or longer in duration. Tell them to stop the car and wait for the dog to calm down if at any time the dog shows signs of stress (i.e., drooling, whining, gasping, etc.). Then, instruct them to cut the trip time by five minutes and start working their way back up again.
Other considerations: Make customers aware of the pressure inside their car. If they have all the windows rolled down just a little bit, some dogs are less inclined to get sick.
Dogs and cats both have better hearing then humans do. While pet owners might not mind their music playing loudly, this might be distressing to the pet, thus causing stress and exacerbating the problem.
Some dogs aren’t all that food motivated. Toys can be used for these dogs. Just make sure customers use special toys that the dog loves and only gets when riding in the car.
Cats typically ride in a carrier, but the same rules for getting them used to the car apply. Just have cat owners feed in the crate, and if food doesn’t work, use toys. They can also use Feliway in situations like this, as proper use of this product can stimulate feelings of calm in felines. This calm feeling is exactly what your customers need when dealing with stress responses.
Some dogs can also benefit from an over-the-counter antihistamine. However, make sure you suggest that all customers check with their veterinarian before giving pets any kind of medication.
Remember that harnesses are vital when traveling with a dog outside of a crate. These products can prevent the dog from moving around the vehicle and, depending on which one you sell, possibly protect the dog from injury in a collision.
Crates are also a good way to travel with pets. If your customers are using one, make sure they use one that can actually be fastened to the seatbelt system in their vehicle.
Although giving customers advice on car sickness might not stimulate a great deal of product sales directly, it will stimulate customer loyalty, which is far more effective in increasing your store’s bottom line.
That being said, this problem does have some products attached to the solution, including various types of treats. I like Charlee Bear, Cardinal’s Train-Me Treats and Stewart’s freeze-dried liver Pro-Treats. Keep the treats very small as these are only supposed to be quick tastes of something delicious that leave a dog wanting more. Cat treats include various choices by Whiskas, Pounce or Friskies, although there are dozens of brands that fit the bill.
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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