WEB EXCLUSIVE: Training Customers to Train Their Dogs
By Sandy Robins
Owners need to learn to train their dogs in order to gain their dogs' respect.
Every evening Justin Rudd dines with his two English bulldogs, Rosie and Riley, at one of the many pet-friendly restaurants on Second Street in the Belmont Shore neighborhood of Long Beach, Calif. He is not alone. The outdoor areas along the sidewalks are filled with other doggie diners.
“If you’re going to take your dogs with you everywhere including restaurants and coffee shops, you have to be mindful of others at all times,” Rudd says. “It’s particularly important that your dog is very well socialized around both people and other pets. It all boils down to basic training.”
These days, pet boutiques are no longer perceived as just the purveyors of fine pet gear and accessories. They are also playing an enormous role as all-around educators, offering basic training classes and events that allow customers to mingle and socialize their dogs.
From the customer’s viewpoint, turning to the boutique owner for general advice and training is a natural development in his ongoing relationship with the store because most dog owners have far more contact with their local boutiques than they do with their veterinarians.
In the long run, this “one-stop shopping” concept can only boost business and improve merchandise sales because customers who enjoy a great social relationship with their pets tend to spoil their dogs and indulge them on a regular basis.
The Missing Link
“There’s no question that we’re selling a lifestyle that mirrors our own,” says Steven Cohen, owner of The Dogbar in Miami. “Having a well-dressed dog with an expensive leather collar and accessories that pulls on the leash and barks incessantly is the equivalent of a well-dressed person that has no manners in a social setting.
“Many people don’t realize that they will never gain their dogs’ respect if they don’t train them,” he says. “As much as we spoil our pets, we need to flip the spoiling coin and balance things out. By offering customers a variety of pet services such as puppy kindergarten classes and general obedience training, we are doing just that.
“Obedience as the result of proper training is the missing link that stops some people from having wonderful relationships with their dogs,” he says. “There’s nothing wrong with indulging your pet as long as it’s also obedient and respects your commands.”
Dog behaviorist Darlene Arden, author of “Rover! Get Off her Leg,” agrees.
“Sadly, there’s still the perception among a lot of dog owners that buying a snazzy collar and leash is all they have to do to take their dog out in a social environment,” she says. “Naturally, they are disappointed when the dog behaves badly and is nothing more than a general nuisance around people and other dogs.
“A well-socialized dog is one that is perfectly comfortable in all social environments,” she says. “Dogs are generally very social creatures. Not only do they need to respect their owners, but they also need to know how to respect and play with other dogs. It’s the owner’s responsibility to ensure that they are comfortable around other dogs, too. I think retailers who offer a variety of dog-related services—whether it’s grooming, obedience classes or general play dates for dogs—are doing a great service to the dog community in their area.”
Arden suggests that puppy kindergarten classes are a good place to start because so many puppies, especially those born in puppy mills and taken away from their mothers and littermates too young, often struggle to socialize with other dogs because they have not been given a chance to learn pack behaviors.
Training Owners to Train Dogs
- Have clickers for clicker-training classes made up with your store’s name on them.
- Package special treats and toys to be used as treats during class.
- Hold graduation parties so that owners and their dogs can socialize and get to know each other.
- Plan regular play date get-togethers to allow owners and their dogs the opportunity to keep these friendships going.
- Consider holding freestyle dancing classes and competitions on a regular basis. There’s nothing like music to keep people and their pets happy.
Cohen says he has found customers receptive to his canine culture classes.
“The media attention and focus on shows such as ‘The Dog Whisperer’ are beginning to make people aware that they need to get a handle on their dogs,” he says. “Where before they would come into the store saying ‘My dog is crazy,’ now they are beginning to accept that it’s probably their fault.
“I think dog owners who come to a general training class are going to benefit far more than if they got a trainer come to them at home,” Cohen says. “It’s important that the dog learns to respect its owner and not the trainer. I tell customers who attend our classes that they are going to get trained first and then they are going to train their dogs themselves.”
Arden says that it’s important that boutiques sign on with trainers who work with the latest positive re-enforcement or clicker-training techniques.
“You can teach a lot in six sessions,” she says. “I suggest that owners come to the first session alone to learn all about the necessity of building a respectful relationship with their dog and to understand the commitment of being a dog owner.
“Next, I would suggest introducing the clicker and a default behavior in the second session,” Arden says. “The default behavior is the thing you choose that you want the dog to do when he doesn’t know what to do. I like ‘sit’ as a default behavior. If you have a dog that will sit on command and wait for the next instruction, you’re off to a good start.”
“There’s no question that there’s a positive spin-off to offering in-store obedience training,” Cohen says. “I’ve seen dogs and owners arrive at the first class falling all over each other. The owners want to try and socialize but they can’t. But then after a few sessions, their dogs are trained to sit and give their owners time to converse with each other. It definitely builds a better community.”
Arden says it’s a good idea to go beyond basic training and offer classes to teach dogs basic tricks, whether it’s rolling over on command or learning to play a kid’s piano.
“It instills great pride in the owner if they can show off their pet’s skills to their family and friends,” she says. “Further, the owner who has pride in his pet is definitely going to buy more stuff for the dog. This opens the door for the store owner to a tremendous market because the truly bonded owner and dog will be out and about a lot more and undeniably make frequent shopping trips to stock up on treats and basics as well as toys and various items of clothing.” <HOME>
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