Dog owners are seeking an array of product attributes when shopping for collars, leashes and harnesses, from colorful designs and patterns to safety features and durable materials, industry experts report.
While some shoppers are focused on function, others prioritize style, according to Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design, an Indian Trail, N.C.-based manufacturer of collars, leashes and harnesses.
"[Some customers] are looking for more interesting collars," Navarro said. "They are looking for a pattern that speaks to them on some level—reminds them of something they love, something quirky or funny about their dog, or something they are interested in."
Locally made or at least USA-made items are especially in demand, said Mark Robokoff, owner of AK Bark, a pet boutique in Anchorage, Alaska. He and other retailers reported a rise in harness sales and flat to downward sales of collars.
"I partially attribute this [downturn] to the customer opting for more durable products that last longer," said Benjamin Pratt, store manager for Lucky Dog Barkery in Dallas. "There is less need for replacement."
Pet owners are looking for products that will hold up over time and will keep their dogs safe, said Donna Bodell, vice president of Up Country, an East Providence, R.I.-based manufacturer of collars, leads and harnesses.
"Buyers are looking for fun, stylish products with high-quality materials to guarantee safety," she said. "Strength and reliability are, ultimately, the most important attributes for our customers."
Because safety remains critical in this category, retailers reported rising sales of car safety devices and lighted collars and leads.
"My reoccurring theme is safety, for both partners," said Tara Belzer, owner of Pet in the City, a pet supply store in Charlotte, N.C. "Controlling the dog from pulling and having a good experience together is key."
Owners also want their canine companions to look good during that experience.
"Our customers want something functional, yet fashionable—a statement piece—especially when purchasing a collar," Pratt said.
Daria Tsepkova, press manager for Collar Co., the Chernihiv, Ukraine-based manufacturer of the Waudog brand of collars and leashes, agreed.
"Of course, the owners want the accessories to be practical, easy to use and comfortable for their pets," she said, "but also they want to see collars, leashes and harnesses that match their lifestyle and tastes, so the design is no less important than materials or construction."
Make Your Questions Count
The function of collars, leashes and harnesses varies greatly, so pet specialty retailers and manufacturers said they put a lot of focus on educating shoppers. Many manufacturers offer their own form of education, which can be a boon for retailers. Most of the educational tools provided by manufacturers come in the form of videos, brochures and social media, while retailers take a hands-on approach with consumers.
"Consumer education is most important for us when distinguishing the difference in the function of a collar and leash over a harness and leash," said Benjamin Pratt, store manager for Lucky Dog Barkery in Dallas. "Our preferred practice is to encourage the customer to purchase collars for the ‘look’ and to hold identification and vaccination tags, but to purchase a harness for walking."
Asking relevant questions is essential for retailers looking to help dog owners choose the right products for their pets.
"Each situation is different, so store employees should find out as much as possible about the age, size, breed, etc., of each pet," said Donna Bodell, vice president of Up Country, an East Providence, R.I.-based manufacturer of collars, leads and harnesses. "Does their dog pull? Try a harness to avoid tracheal injuries. Is their dog under 10 pounds? Suggest a small-breed product specially proportioned for them. There is an optimal product for each pet, and the only way to find the best fit is to get as much information as possible."
Tara Belzer, owner of Pet in the City, a pet supply store in Charlotte, N.C., said education is what they do best, and they take a hands-on approach.
"[We] will fit any dog that comes in and needs a harness, and we will make sure the pet parent is comfortable with the product," she said. "I believe in the products I pick for my customers, and I want them to know that they can trust us."
In Belzer’s experience, education is key in all aspects of the store, not just with collars, leashes and harnesses.
"We are here to build confidence and to help the bond between pet and owner," she said. "I will do what it takes to make people feel that way."
Bright Colors and Seasonal Patterns Shine
The collars, leashes and harnesses that manufacturers have launched this year largely incorporate the safety, durability and style that dog owners demand.
In spring, Collar Co., the Chernihiv, Ukraine-based manufacturer of the Waudog brand of collars and leashes, introduced several bright and affordable accessories in a wide variety of designs.
Waudog Nylon series collars and leashes feature wear-resistant nylon with durable plastic and metal hardware and come in fashionable, bright patterns and glow-in-the-dark options. Waudog Classic is made of genuine leather and features four popular, vivid colors.
Because of the continued humanization of pets, and more owners calling themselves "pet parents," the company released the Waudog Printed Family Look series of matching genuine leather bracelets for owners featuring the same designs as their pooches.
Aimed to provide a transition between colorful summer patterns and holiday-themed designs, Up Country launched its fall collection at SuperZoo in Las Vegas in August. The East Providence, R.I.-based company’s fall launch was three collar, leash and harness designs: Harvest Time, Brown Stripe and Brown Pink Dot. The ribbon line is made from high-tensile nylon webbing with sewn-on polyester/nylon ribbons and features cast brass hardware.
The newest patterns from 2 Hounds Design in Indian Trail, N.C., are Mid-century Leaves and Snowdog. Each appears on 1-inch-wide collars in martingale or side-release (buckle) styles and matching 5-foot leashes.
Innovation, Trends & Projections
Designers Borrow from Pop Culture
Trends in the collar, leash and harness category center on safety, innovation and fun. Many manufacturers pull from trends in fashion, social media and pop culture.
"Doughnuts are trending in memes? Here come doughnut collars," said Alisha Navarro, president of 2 Hounds Design, an Indian Trail, N.C.-based manufacturer of collars, leashes and harnesses. "New superhero movies are out? Here comes the superhero collar!"
Donna Bodell, vice president of Up Country, an East Providence, R.I.-based manufacturer of collars, harnesses and leads, agreed.
"The trends that perform best for us are seen throughout pop culture," she said. "When you see pineapples appearing on everything from clothing to housewares, it’s a good bet people will want to put them on their pet."
At AK Bark, a pet boutique in Anchorage, Alaska, customers are moving away from plain collars to more of a fashion statement for their dogs, said owner Mark Robokoff.
"Our best-selling collars are locally made with beautiful Alaskan themes," he said, adding that he has noticed a shift away from collars and toward harnesses. "We encourage this because of the number of dogs that get lacerated tracheas from pulling on the leash while wearing thin collars. We carry harnesses that train dogs not to pull and ones that are made for pulling for ski-joring or bike-joring."
Other retailers reported seeing dog owners gravitating to harnesses over collars as well. Reasons include concerns about neck safety as well as the demand for products that offer safety features for both dog and owner, said Tara Belzer, owner of Pet in the City, a pet supply store in Charlotte, N.C
Benjamin Pratt, store manager for Lucky Dog Barkery in Dallas, said his customers are trending away from nylon toward leather or rope collars, which are considered more durable and long-lasting.
"In terms of function, many of our customers have moved away from collars for walking, opting for a harness instead," he added.
On the innovation front, Pratt said customers enjoy the accessories—such as interchangeable bows and bow ties or bandanas—they can combine with collars and leashes.
"To many customers, it makes more sense to purchase a simpler leather collar that will last longer, and then spice it up with an accessory that can be changed seasonally or according to whatever holiday we may be nearing," he said.
More manufacturers are producing products with safety in mind, Robokoff said.
"[For example], an escape-proof harness for ‘Houdini’ dogs who are able to slip out of most harnesses," he said. "Many harnesses also are specifically designed for safety while riding in cars."