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Make the Right Training Product Suggestions

Posted: Jan. 26, 2012, 7:55 p.m. EST

Offering recommendations can be difficult, but this guide will help retailers offer up product ideas to customers.
By Steven Appelbaum

While the holiday season is the busiest time of year for most retailers, dog and cat trainers typically see their greatest volume of business from January to March.

Here is a list of products you can suggest for new puppy and kitten owners, based on my three decades’ worth of experience as a trainer, as well as from the feedback of some trainers I know and respect. Armed with this information, you can assist new dog and cat owners in making relevant and smart purchases.

1. An Exercise Pen (aka, X pen) or Crate. Which one a customer may ultimately need is a matter of budget and personal choice. Petmate manufactures Vari-Kennel, as well as the less expensive Kennel Cab. Vari-Kennels are practically indestructible and are approved for air travel. The company also manufactures X pens, as do other companies, such as Mid-West Homes for Pets, Precision Pet Products and General Cage.


All of this equipment can be used to give the dog or cat a safe place or sanctuary in which to go. Puppy-owning customers will find these products invaluable for housetraining, and owners of older dogs have used them in dealing with everything from boredom to separation anxiety, which retailers should keep in mind when recommending these products.

2. Proper Toys. Kittens and puppies are in a natural exploratory period that often lasts six months or longer. As such, it is critical to teach them to chew and play with the right things, as this will make them less likely to chew and damage customers’ property.
For puppies, suggest a Kruuse Buster Cube, which can keep a puppy busy for hours, or Premier’s Pet Busy Buddy Jack Dog Toy, which is actually a combination chew and play toy. Trainers’ recommendations vary, and many have suggestions as to what may work best.

“I’m a big fan of Kongs,” said Teoti Anderson, owner of Pawsitive Results LLC and a trainer with 16 years’ experience. “I stuff—that is, fill the hollow part of them—with a layer of peanut butter, a layer of kibble, some treats and another layer of peanut butter. This keeps them occupied for a very long time. For power chewers, I also recommend Nylabone’s Galileo bone.”

Avoid suggesting products with small pieces, buttons, bells or anything else puppies can tear off and swallow.

Kittens are less likely to tear and swallow small pieces, but caution is still a good idea. I suggest catnip toys by Fat Cat (a Petmate brand), of which the Tail-Chaser is noteworthy. I also recommend synthetic mice, such as the type made by Ethical Pets.

In addition, retailers can instruct owners to switch or rotate toys, as this prevents their pets from becoming bored.

3. Food and Water Bowls. It is surprising to me how many pet owners overlook this and, instead of purchasing hard plastic or metal dishes, opt for glass or porcelain, which can shatter and cause injury. I like well-made products such as those by Grreat Choice because, aside from being durable, they have non-skid pads at the bottom and are reasonably priced with many sizes to choose from. The company also makes cat bowls.

Food bowls that are too light can be easily knocked over by playful puppies and kittens, so be sure to suggest ones that are weighted or have non-skid pads. Metal food bowls are probably the most sanitary, as stainless steel is completely non-porous. This means bacteria can’t permeate the cracks as it might with plastic or ceramic. Some veterinarians and trainers suggest only using stainless-steel bowls for this reason.

For puppies that eat too quickly, suggest an “eat slow” or “slow feeder” bowl. These are bowls with raised bumps in the dish that the dog is forced to eat around. Good examples of these products include bowls by Greedy Pup and Brake-Fast; a stainless-steel one is made by Durapet.

4. High-quality Diet. This article is not about nutrition. However, suffice it to say, your staff should know the differences between puppy and adult food for both dogs and cats. They should also understand why premium food sold at stores such as yours is a better choice than what is sold in grocery stores.

Remind your staff about making sure they check what the dog or cat is currently being fed. This is a very critical point. Often times, a client comes into a store and is convinced to change from a substandard food to a premium one without gradually switching over. This can cause loose stools, which can lead to a whole host of challenges, including the customer blaming you for the suggestion.

To avoid this, make sure that all dietary suggestions contain two warnings. First, the client should check with their veterinarian before changing any diet. Second, they need to continue feeding whatever they are currently giving their pet, while slowly adding the new food for about two weeks.

5. Collar and Name Tag. A decent quality flat or rolled collar with a name tag that contains viable contact information can be a priceless suggestion. For dogs, also remember to recommend customers purchase a good-quality leash.

6. Scratching Post. Kitten owners will need a scratching post or similar item to help keep the cat from clawing up the furniture. One good product to suggest is the Kong Naturals Cat Scratcher. Ware Mfg., Petmate and Hagen ’s Catit line also offer a range of scratching items.

7. Litterbox and Litter. New cat owners will also require a sturdy plastic litterbox and a decent cat litter. Miriam Fields-Babineau, author of numerous cat training books and the owner of Training Unlimited Animal Training and Animal Actors Inc., said she likes Elsey’s Cat Attract Litter by Precious Cat’s, and added that this will ensure kittens are highly attracted to and will use the litterbox.

This is not a complete list, but hopefully it will help you and your staff in assisting new puppy and kitten owners with the often bewildering array of products and choices.

Steven Appelbaum

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.



The Education Series: Training & Behavior Modification column is brought to you in part by Farnam.


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