Whether it’s a stroll around the park, a mountain hike or grinning into the spray of a speeding boat, dogs are joining in on family adventures. More and more, canines are accepted as travelers in their own right, and pet owners are seeking—and manufacturers are providing—products that will enhance each foray with convenience, safety and fashion.
The growing acceptance of service animals has led the way to companion pets being welcomed into many more public places, according to Stephen Frolich, COO of Baydog, a manufacturer of products that aim to make dogs’ adventures better.
"Baydog is based in a very dog-friendly town, Annapolis, Md.," he said. "Every day, we see dogs accompanying their owners into shops, outdoor restaurants and a variety of public places."
The widespread inclusion of dogs in the public realm has increasingly opened many opportunities for pet product manufacturers, according to Ashley Kajcienski, marketing manager for ZippyPaws, a Chino, Calif.-based manufacturer of dog accessories and toys.
"Consumers are looking for products that will make it easier, and more fun, to bring their pets along on their adventures," she said.
This has led to the development of products that specifically meet the needs of on-the-go dog owners who prefer to take their dog along with them, including items such as highly functional treat pouches, leashes, cozy coats and even life vests for the seafaring hound, according to industry insiders.
"It’s wonderful to see that so many more public places are dog friendly now," said Jessica Knight, co-founder/director of DOOG (Dog Owners Outdoor Gear), an Australia-based company that offers products for dog adventures. "Since we launched the DOOG Walkie Belt over 12 years ago, the category has grown enormously."
And with that growth comes evolution, manufacturers report.
"Pet owners are more attuned to comfort, functionality and fashion, and demand products that have a better fit and come in more varieties," Frolich said.
They are also bringing their dogs along on more outings, whether it’s camping or a road trip, according to Susan Strible, director of marketing for Bend, Ore.-based Ruffwear, a manufacturer of outdoor gear for dogs.
Patti Boden, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va., noted the same outdoorsy trend.
"We are so lucky here to have access to many country trails and national parks, like the Blue Ridge Parkway and Skyline Drive, and hiking is a big deal, especially with dogs," she said. "We regularly stock backpacks for dogs, small packs for humans, water bottles and snack packs for adventures."
In addition, products such as paw balm are helpful, especially in the winter or very dry summer months, Boden said.
"We have travel sizes of tick products. We encourage good-fitting harnesses and collars, both with identification tags and emergency contact information for dog and human," she said. "In the summer, we promote well-fitting personal flotation vests, also with the same emergency information. Be prepared for the unthinkable."
In Vermont, where fall brings early darkness and October hunting season commences, dog lovers want to feel safe outside with their dogs and stylish at the same time, according to Cindra Conison, owner of The Quirky Pet, a pet store in Montpelier, Vt.
"I sell reflective collar covers from SimplyBVermont, made right here in Montpelier, reflective collars and leashes from A Bee’s Hive, made in Martha’s Vineyard, USA-made Yellow Dog LED collars, and reflective vests from Alpine Outfitters," she said.
Holly Allen, co-owner of Dee-O-Gee, which has multiple locations in Montana, noted that with cold weather activities, including this product category at her stores is a must.
"We focus on coats from Ruffwear, Hurtta and Canada Pooch as these seem to fit active dogs well and hold up to the cold and use," she said.
"We carry boots from Ruffwear, Saltsox and Muttluks," Allen added. "When living in an area with deep snow and freezing temperatures, boots for staying outside longer are essential."
On the Market
By staying ahead of trends in active and outdoor wear, and providing customers with new, innovative and well-designed products that are also fashionable for their dogs, manufacturers are able to keep pace in a competitive market, according to Jessica Knight, co-founder/director of DOOG (Dog Owners Outdoor Gear), an Australia-based company that offers products for dog adventures.
This month, DOOG is unveiling a new travel collection that includes canine backpacks for hiking, travel totes and carriers.
"We’re so excited to be launching our new travel line at Global Pet Expo," Knight said. "The DOOG travel range will complement our current lines of dog-walking and training gear and be practical, hardwearing, innovative and super stylish, of course."
ZippyPaws, a Chino, Calif.-based manufacturer of dog accessories and toys, is also expanding its offerings in the dog walking and adventure category.
"In anticipation of customer needs, ZippyPaws is excited to further branch out into other facets of pet products," said Ashley Kajcienski, marketing manager. "In January 2020, we launched our newest leash collection, Mod Essential Rope Leashes."
With fashion and functionality in mind, these woven leashes are designed with durable silver zinc hardware and colorful leather accents, she added.
The Monterey Bay Lifejacket is Baydog’s latest offering; it is currently available for pre-order with an in-store date of April 1. The lifejacket is specifically designed for boaters and features a base model with an upgraded Offshore version.
"We worked for two years on this design, and we believe it is the best dog lifejacket on the market today," said Stephen Frolich, COO of Baydog, an Annapolis, Md.-based manufacturer of products that aim to make dogs’ adventures better. "The additional features included on the Offshore are meant to safeguard a dog if they go overboard, even in rough seas."
Two flotation pontoons on the back will roll a dog upright, an extra flotation pad under the dog’s chin/chest keep its head out of the water, and an extra handle on larger sizes make it easier to lift a dog back aboard.
"We can’t wait to debut this product at Global Pet Expo, and we think retailers will love the unique design, exceptional quality, great colors and affordable price," Frolich added.
This month, Ruffwear is unveiling its updated Front Range harness.
"This top-selling product is a great everyday harness," said Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruffwear, a Bend, Ore.-based manufacturer of outdoor gear for dogs. "For 2020, we’ve improved durability and colorfastness of the polyester shell fabric and added a light loop for the Beacon safety light."
Updated patterns and colors are available for Ruffwear’s Front Range, Crag and Patroller leashes, as well as Crag and Top Rope collars. The Quick Draw leash also received updated closure systems, while a new everyday Front Range collar will coordinate with the rest of the Front Range line, offering an easy-to-use, side-release buckle.
Ruffwear’s new Heeler harness will launch in March 2020. The everyday harness uses tactile cues to transfer training prompts from human to dog, a great tool for training and honing the skills needed for a positive on-leash experience, according to Strible.
Additionally, the new Pack Out bag from Ruffwear will offer a convenient solution to carrying full waste pick-up bags, hands free, between drop points. It can be waist-worn or clipped directly to a pack.
For adventurous canines, Ruffwear’s updated Highlands pad is a foldable, closed-cell foam pad that provides a resting spot for dogs on the go. The updated Highlands sleeping bag is packable and durable, and it features a zippered opening and integrated sleeve for the Highlands pad.
Safety is often the top priority for consumers shopping for dog walking products and gear and accessories designed for canine adventures.
Ashley Kajcienski, marketing manager for ZippyPaws, a Chino, Calif.-based manufacturer of dog accessories and toys, said that while products must function well, safety is crucial.
"Functionality is not only essential for ease of use, it is important to consider for the comfort and safety of our furry friends," Kajcienski said.
Pet product manufacturers report that careful research and development is the key to designing high-quality and safe products in this category.
"People often take for granted that the products seen in stores have been properly tested, but that’s not always the case," said Stephen Frolich, COO of Baydog, an Annapolis, Md.-based manufacturer of products that aim to make dogs’ adventures better.
When developing adventure-oriented products such as backpacks or lifejackets, pet safety must be the No. 1 priority, Frolich said.
"For example, the development of our new Monterey Bay Lifejacket took over two years, mostly to get the different safety features of the Offshore version exactly right," Frolich said. "We live in a sailing town, and just about every sailboat has a dog onboard. We created the Monterey Bay to protect those dogs, even if they go overboard in bad conditions.
"This meant a lot of time, effort and money had to be spent on extensive research, development and product testing prior to coming to market," he added. "But to create a product that owners can depend on to save their dog’s life … totally worth it."
At DOOG (Dog Owners Outdoor Gear), pet and human safety is at the forefront of design, according to Jessica Knight, co-founder/director of the Australia-based company, which offers products for dog adventures.
"We conduct stringent safety tests at our factories, and every item is carefully tested to conform to the highest European and North American standards," Knight said. "For example, pull-weight tests are conducted on our leads to test the strength of the material, and clips go above and beyond weight-pull requirements.
"DOOG products are also rigorously tested by staff, friends and family members before they are launched into the marketplace," Knight said.
Pet safety plays a major role in developing products that are intended for more mundane everyday use, such as leashes, harnesses, coats and collars, Frolich said.
"Like everything in life, you get what you pay for," he said. "Every year, thousands of loose dogs are accidentally killed by cars after slipping out of a harness or collar that was either poorly designed or poorly made."
Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruffwear, a Bend, Ore.-based manufacturer of outdoor gear for dogs, agreed, citing hardware safety as a crucial component to Ruffwear’s designs.
"We know how scary it can be to have a collar’s hardware fail—it can be a life or death situation," she said. "We deeply respect both the literal and metaphorical strength of the hardware connection of our gear."
This commitment includes stamping and forging hardware from high-quality metal blank sheets, she added.
"Over the years, we have continued to evolve our understanding of the active loads coupled with the user experience, which has led us to take a road less traveled—designing our own custom hardware versus specifying off-the-shelf pieces," she added.
Merchandising and Marketing
Forethought is central to sales success when it comes to stocking walking and outdoor adventure products for dogs, manufacturers and retailers report.
"Plan, plan, plan ahead," said Stephen Frolich, COO of Baydog, an Annapolis, Md.-based manufacturer of products that aim to make dogs’ adventures better.
Planning is just as essential for manufacturers as it is for retailers. According to Frolich, it is incumbent that policies be in place that consider the seasonality of products.
"This means pre-booking programs, flexible ship dates, volume discounts, low-order minimums and, in some cases, taking back unused inventory at the end of the season," Frolich added.
Manufacturers and retailers should always work closely as partners when promoting these items and marketing them to the consumer, said Ashley Kajcienski, marketing manager for ZippyPaws, a Chino, Calif.-based manufacturer of dog accessories and toys.
"For seasonal outdoor products, retailers should always gauge the needs of their customers to make sure they bring in an appropriate amount of stock," she said. "Additionally, eye-catching endcaps and product promotions can help boost sales and bring these products to the consumer’s attention."
Stores with the most successful sales are those that take the time to look at historical sales data and place precise orders, Frolich added.
"They know what SKUs will sell, and in what quantities," he said.
Pattie Boden, owner of Animal Connection, a pet store in Charlottesville, Va., noted that customer input is another component to successful sales.
"We find that some customers will ask us in advance of the season, so we’ll have the sizes they need ready to go. I have either hiking or water sports items grouped together like an ‘adventure needs kit’ and put color pictures of dogs ‘on an adventure’ to give them the idea," she said. "Those big color pictures are great for inspiration."
Timeliness is another important aspect, and successful retailers don’t wait until the last minute, Frolich added.
"For example, smart retailers will order coats and sweaters over the summer, with a designated shipping date," Frolich said. "That way, when the cold weather arrives, they’re ready to take advantage of the sales opportunity."
At Dee-O-Gee, which has multiple locations in Montana, displays of cold weather items begin in September, and are heavily stocked through January, according to co-owner Holly Allen.
"Past January, we typically do special orders instead of reorders because, by mid-February, customers are looking towards spring," she said. "We run reports based off of sales from the year prior and make educated decisions based on growth for initial stock of these items."
When it comes to in-store sales success, communicating a product’s design intent, features and benefits, and how it relates to a customer’s need is an essential part of the retail experience, said Susan Strible, director of marketing for Ruffwear, a Bend, Ore.-based manufacturer of outdoor gear for dogs.
"This can be done through signage, packaging, imagery and how the product is displayed as part of a collection," Strible added. "We want to educate consumers on how a product can fit into their life, meet a need or inspire outdoor adventures together with their canine companion."