Training principles and techniques have changed over the years, which is reflected in the products that are now available for working with dogs and cats.
"Thought leaders within the pet training community and training techniques seem to be shifting into two camps: reward-based training and discipline-based training," said Kevin Dixon, founder and CEO of Clawguard in Charlotte, N.C.
These training principles are mirrored in human psychology and in child rearing, said Benjamin Garson, a canine behavioral specialist at Dogology, which has two locations in Connecticut.
Both industry insiders said discipline-based training uses more force, such as choke chains, shock collars, a jerk of the leash or scolding. Reward-based training focuses on reinforcing positive behaviors and is reminiscent of Pavlov’s classical conditioning, they said.
"My personal training philosophy is pulling for both," Garson said. "Some old methods can be harsh and not safe or effective, and the positive-only is flawed as dogs need clear boundaries and clear correction."
Pet owners are increasingly seeking training and behavior products, which are, fortunately, becoming more accessible, said Bianca Rossi, head of marketing, Americas, for The Company of Animals in Davenport, Fla.
"Being able to watch online videos, review product specifications and access size guides, all from the comfort of your computer, tablet or phone, has made training and behavior products more available than ever before to more audiences than ever before," she said.
Shoppers’ expectations concerning product quality and performance in the category are rising, insiders said.
"Pet owners are becoming more discerning when it comes to the products they choose for their pets as new information regarding health and safety is constantly emerging," said Bryant Baxter, marketing sales coordinator at EzyDog in Sandpoint, Idaho. "Because of this, training products are being developed with less harmful methods in mind that are proven to render better, more positive results."
Pet owners are also gravitating toward products that fulfill more than one need at once, such as leashes that can be used in different ways depending on the needs of the user at any given time, according to insiders.
"People are really drawn to the value proposition of products that have multiple functions," said Krista Nixon, category manager of toys and behavior at Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp., maker of the PetSafe brand. "They love the ease of having integrated features that allow them to seamlessly transition throughout the day with their pet."
For cats, harnesses are a big trend, along with products that calm or entertain to curb boredom, insiders said.
"People want to take their cats outdoors and on more walks outside, so harnesses are more popular," said Eran Konorty, founder and CEO of Angel Pet Supplies in Toronto. "We’re seeing more smart toys and mobile app toys for cats. Functionality and ease is key with cats."
Take Ownership of Educating Clients
With so many training methods available and a vast array of solutions on the market, it’s essential that pet specialty retailers take the time to educate pet owners and help them find the right products for their situation.
"Without a doubt, education is one of the most important factors when it comes to choosing the best training and behavior products as a pet parent," said Bianca Rossi, head of marketing, Americas, for The Company of Animals in Davenport, Fla. "By understanding product features and their benefits, it allows pet parents to have complete control in their purchase decisions."
At Just Dog People in Garner, N.C., owner Jason Ast said he takes time to work with customers and find solutions for them.
Because the training process is not one-size-fits-all, pet owners must understand their pets’ unique needs and cater to them, said Ryan Hubbard, category manager of training and bark at Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp., maker of the PetSafe brand.
"Each pet reacts differently to different training methods," he said. "It is very important to understand the temperament of each pet before selecting a training device."
Many owners head online for this education, said Kim Sykes, CPDT-KA, vice president of K9 Manners & More in Broken Arrow, Okla. But not all the information is correct or appropriate for each pet’s case, she added.
At Dogology, which has two locations in Connecticut, sales associates avoid selling certain training products to clients who are not working with a trainer.
"You can hurt your dog or use products in ineffective ways if you aren’t learning how to use it appropriately," said Benjamin Garson, canine behavioral specialist at Dogology. "Anything that goes on the throat—a slip lead, a [PetSafe] Gentle Leader, a prong collar—we recommend consulting first."
Because shoppers are inundated with products, store associates really need to step in and help, said Eran Konorty, founder and CEO of Angel Pet Supplies in Toronto.
"It’s fundamental on the store level," he said. "Education of the retailer/staff is paramount to help customers."
Comfort and Functionality Rise Above the Rest
Since spring, the market has been flush with new pet training and behavior product releases, with an emphasis on products designed to produce more controlled walks. Here’s a look at what manufacturers have introduced in the category:
Sandpoint, Idaho-based EzyDog launched its Command Clicker in two colors: red and black. It incorporates a hands-free design to leave trainers with more mobility and offers a universal fit with a silicone clasp designed to expand or contract to all finger sizes. It has an adjustable wrist lanyard.
The Company of Animals, which has U.S. headquarters in Davenport, Fla., added the Double Ended Lead to its Walking Range line. The multifunction dog lead can be used eight ways, and features three metal rings and two swivel snaps for users to position the lead any way they need.
Toronto-based Angel Pet Supplies launched a Genuine Leather Braided Tab Leash for dogs. Made of top-grain Argentinean cowhide, the short leather leash features a solid brass ring within the handle to attach necessities or secure the dog when entering or exiting a vehicle. It comes in brown and black in a 0.75-inch width.
Blue-9 Pet Products introduced Tab Leashes. Made in the USA, the lightweight leashes weigh 1 ounce and come in five colors. The Tab Leash can be used as a quick-grab handle on supervised dogs, a mini leash to control and guide dogs through crowds, and as a tool to transition dogs to off-leash heeling and obedience, said officials for the Maquoketa, Iowa-based company.
New Colors and Redesigns
The Company of Animals redesigned its Halti Headcollars to improve stability and enhance their non-pull effectiveness. Upgrades to the company’s Baskerville Ultra Muzzle include a new head-strap design with a resistance slider for improved comfort and stability and a new neck strap for quicker fitting, according to company officials.
Clawguard in Charlotte, N.C., now offers its clear Protection Tape in new sizes: 8 inches by 18 inches and 8 inches by 24 inches. Made in the USA, the tape is designed to prevent damage from pets’ scratching and is constructed for use on windowsills, weather stripping, furniture, glass and more, company officials said.
Next spring, Knoxville, Tenn.-based Radio Systems Corp. will expand its PetSafe EasySport harness line with a blaze orange version. The product features a strong top handle for quick control.
Gold Paw Series in Gresham, Ore., unveiled three striped pattern designs for its canine Walking Collection, which includes tools that can offer extra control during walks, such as the Step-in Hybrid Harness and a martingale collar.
To protect the home from dog and cat claws, Clawguard introduced nearly invisible Furniture Shields made of marine-grade vinyl and designed to affix to arm chairs, couches, ottomans, baskets, love seats and more. Customers can choose from four sizes.
In the new year, Clawguard’s Floor Shield will be available to protect flooring from pet scratch marks. Designed for durability, the crystal clear, nonslip floor shields are constructed to protect wood, laminate, tile, bamboo, vinyl composition and linoleum, according to the manufacturer.
3 Key Ways to Keep Displays Lively
Creating an engaging and informative experience for shoppers is paramount to selling pet training and behavior products in brick-and-mortar stores. Below, industry insiders offer three key display techniques to accomplish this goal:
Industry insiders recommend that retailers offer customers demonstrations and allow them to feel the products in order to promote the category.
"People come to retail stores because of the experience and the opportunity to see products of interest firsthand," said Bryant Baxter, marketing sales coordinator at EzyDog in Sandpoint, Idaho. "Allowing them to be hands-on with a product of interest affirms the item is what they’re looking for and more likely leads to a purchase."
While dog models are effective, Jason Ast, owner of Just Dog People in Garner, N.C., said he prefers putting products such as leads and collars on the actual dog if possible.
"The best way to see if the dog will accept it and the owner likes it is to put it on the dog and walk it around the store so the owner can see the difference the product makes," he said.
Kevin Dixon, founder and CEO of Clawguard in Charlotte, N.C., recommended keeping displays clean, crisp and straightforward.
"They’re typically sectioned off by species and have a training section," he said.
Keeping products at eye level eases customer viewing, said Kim Sykes, CPDT-KA, vice president of K9 Manners & More in Broken Arrow, Okla.
"I also keep like things together," she said, "such as food delivery toys and items together, all treats together, and all walking and training products together."
3. Visually Interesting
"The best way to market training products in a retail setting is by creating a display that shows the products in action or helps visually bring them to life," said Rebecca Gadd, CEO of Gold Paw Series in Gresham, Ore.
Sykes said her biggest retail learning curve was to keep moving stock around.
"About once a month, I try to totally rearrange our small retail space," she said. "Simply moving the treats right by the beginner classroom door has increased sales."
Benjamin Garson, canine behavioral specialist at Dogology, which has two locations in Connecticut, said their stores sport a shabby chic look and incorporate repurposed industrial displays.
Looking ahead, Bianca Rossi, head of marketing, Americas, for The Company of Animals in Davenport, Fla., said she is eager to see how advanced technology affects retail displays.
"We excitedly await what the advancement of technologies like augmented reality (AR) and virtual reality (VR) will bring to brick-and-mortar retail and merchandising strategies in terms of product demonstrations and product displays," she said.