Consumer spending on dog training and behavior aids is going up, according to pet specialty retailers nationwide, with anxiety and leash-pulling ranking as the top challenges dog owners seek to tackle with their pets.
Not long ago, people focused more on basic behaviors, such as potty training and barking, said Megan Trombley, manager of Urban Tails Pet Supply in Minneapolis. Now customers are looking to address anxiety, especially in relation to separation and socialization, she said.
Tony de Vos, president and CEO of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., reported "a greater emphasis on eliminating canine antisocial and fear-based behaviors," based on the fact that people are involving their pets in more activities today.
"At one time, if your dog was fearful of crowds, you just left him home," he said. "But today, people want to take their dogs with them everywhere. To do this, they must train their pets to be well behaved, properly socialized and unafraid of new environments."
Dr. Nick Hill, founder and managing director of Sure Petcare in Clearwater, Fla., said that as people "are spending more time with their pets, owners are identifying [issues], such as a lack of enrichment or environmental factors, that can change the dog’s behavior and where they need further attention."
As a result, there has been a distinctive "rise in accessibility and demand for training products," according to Bianca Rossi, a marketing executive with The Company of Animals in Broomfield, Colo.
Today’s owners are proactive about addressing behaviors and training their dogs to join them in all aspects of life.
"I see a lot more preemptive training these days," said John Thomas, manager of Bark N’ Scratch Outpost in Milwaukee. "In the past, a lot of people waited until a dog’s problem behavior became unbearable before considering significant training efforts. Now, we often see people address excessive barking, anxiety, aggression, pulling, etc., right away."
Many of the newest product launches address these trending pet owner concerns.
"Cannabidiol (CBD) products have come to the rescue with anxiety issues, among a whole host of other ailments," said Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer at Bend Pet Express, which has two locations in Bend, Ore.
After seeing "firsthand the benefits and efficacy of hemp oil," John Headley, co-founder of Presidio Natural Pet Co. in San Rafael, Calif., said the company decided to "make a line of premium hemp oil that worked as well for pet owners as it does for pets."
The company introduced Blossom, a full-spectrum hemp oil, at Global Pet Expo in Orlando, Fla., in March.
No-pull harnesses are also popular customer requests. The Company of Animals launched the Halti No-Pull Harness and the Halti Double-Ended Lead at Global Pet Expo last month. The harness comes in small, medium and large sizes, and it is designed to help prevent dogs from pulling on the lead. The lead features dual attachment points to help prevent dogs from pulling and comes in four colors and three adjustable lengths.
Training trends continue to focus on reward-based positive reinforcement, in which treats often play an active role, according to industry insiders. Coupling consumer demand for low-calorie treats and organic fare, Cardinal Pet Care offers Crazy Dog Organic Train-Me! Training Rewards. The certified organic treats contain real beef or chicken as the No. 1 ingredient and come in a mini size that contains 1.7 calories per treat in a 4-ounce package and a regular size at 3 calories per treat in a 16-ounce package.
Tech Meets Training/Behavior Aids
In an increasingly connected world, technology is showing up in all areas, including the pet industry. Though industry insiders reported limited requests for digital or electronic pet products, "smart" options continue to emerge.
In December 2018, Sure Petcare unveiled Animo, an activity and behavior monitor designed to "learn and accurately interpret the unique behavior and activity patterns of a dog." The 22-gram waterproof device is worn on a dog’s collar and comes in three attachment band sizes to fit dogs of all sizes.
"Animo delivers insights into a dog’s activity and sleep, as well as problem behaviors such as shaking, scratching and barking," said Dr. Nick Hill, founder and managing director of the Clearwater, Fla.-based company. "Used with the Sure Petcare—Animo app via Bluetooth Low Energy (BLE), owners can set and monitor daily activity goals for their pet, as well as view their pet’s activity and behavior reports by day, week, month or year."
Despite interest in "smart" options, many pet stores consider them cost-prohibitive to carry.
"Our customer base, though interested in technology, has not been asking for those types of products enough to bring them in," said Megan Trombley, manager of Urban Tails Pet Supply in Minneapolis. "They are also high-dollar usually, so it is more of an investment for us as a small company."
Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer at Bend Pet Express, which has two locations in Bend, Ore., agreed, adding that the price points deter her from carrying emerging trends such as babysitting home tech or GPS collars at Bend Pet Express stores, but the store can special order them.
Educating Retail Staff
A Crucial Selling Component
An uneducated staff cannot effectively sell products or help customers find the best solutions for their concerns, according to industry insiders. For many pet specialty retailers, staff education is No. 1.
"If our employees don’t know what they are talking about, genuinely selling something is difficult," said Megan Trombley, manager of Urban Tails Pet Supply in Minneapolis. "If they know how it works and believe in it, it is a piece of cake."
According to Tony de Vos, president and CEO of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif., stores with educated and helpful employees not only make the sale, but also gain customer loyalty and trust.
"If a retailer’s sales staff can recommend a training product and explain how it can be used to help solve the problem, they will create a very loyal customer who will rely on them for advice and keep returning to the store in the future," he said.
Many customers enter the store knowing very little about training and behavior aids available to them, said John Thomas, manager of Bark N’ Scratch Outpost in Milwaukee.
"We like to be sure, first off, that staff know all of the options for a particular issue so that the pet owner can make a decision based on multiple choices," he said. "At the same time, we offer our advice on what might work best for the situation."
Many manufacturers offer solutions to help retail partners with the education they need. Sure Petcare works closely with key retailers to provide training and support on their products, said Dr. Nick Hill, founder and managing director of the Clearwater, Fla.-based company.
John Headley, co-founder of Presidio Natural Pet Co. in San Rafael, Calif., stressed the importance of providing "clear and simple literature on the topic in case a question comes up that a retailer doesn’t know offhand."
There are several ways pet specialty retailers work to ensure their staff is well-trained.
"We do intensive 90-day training and continuing education for our staff," said Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer at Bend Pet Express, which has two locations in Bend, Ore.
Urban Tails conducts monthly trainings about products and store happenings, Trombley said.
"We also provide computer training when companies have videos our employees can watch," she said. "Sometimes we get samples to use with our own pets, so we can see how it works."
5 Key Placements to Help Behavior/Training Aids Stand Out
When customers come in to shop, product placement and merchandising can greatly influence which products they choose to purchase. For canine behavior and training aids, industry insiders offered the following recommendations to help these products stand out to consumers.
1. Front Display
"We keep a lot of our training products in the front of the store," said Megan Trombley, manager of Urban Tails Pet Supply in Minneapolis. "It’s easiest for us to answer questions and help people from when they first walk in."
2. New Puppy Display
"One good merchandising strategy is to create a ‘New Puppy’ display," said Tony de Vos, president and CEO of Cardinal Pet Care in Azusa, Calif. "In addition to displaying training products, the section can be stocked with … all the items needed by people who are welcoming a new puppy into their home."
3. POP for Smaller Items
"With a smaller product like hemp oil, a POP is critical for catching consumers’ eyes," said John Headley, co-founder of Presidio Natural Pet Co. in San Rafael, Calif.
4. Training Section
"We have a section devoted to training, and it is strategically located in between puppy products, leashes/collars/harnesses and potty-training/accident products," said John Thomas, manager of Bark N’ Scratch Outpost in Milwaukee. "This way, it stands alone while also being at the center of the three most common needs when it comes to training."
5. Display Dogs
"Our harness and no-pull items are placed on display dogs so the customer can see what it’s supposed to look like while on their dog," said Kim McCohan, chief happiness officer at Bend Pet Express, which has two locations in Bend, Ore. "They are smaller doggie mannequins so we can move them around easily."