Pet Training Products for Today’s Fido-Friendly Culture

People are taking their pooches everywhere nowadays, including to work, on social visits, to restaurants and on vacations. This has increased the need for canine companions to be well behaved in a variety of settings, creating a greater focus on innovative training and behavior products.

"We see more owners interested in including their dogs in experiences such as kayaking, eating out at a dog-friendly café and joining them at the gym," said Jamie Popper, business development and marketing for Blue-9 Pet Products, a manufacturer of dog training accessories in Maquoketa, Iowa. "Because of this, there is an uptick in demand for new innovative products that help owners get the results they want out of training their dogs."

Another trend impacting the dog training and behavior category is the increase in senior citizens owning dogs. Packaged Facts’ Oct. 25, 2019, report, Pet Population and Ownership Trends in the U.S.: Dogs, Cats, and Other Pets, 3rd Edition, found that dog owners aged 55 and older "increased their share of the total U.S. dog-owning population by 5 percentage points (from 25.6 percent to 30.6 percent) between 2008 and 2018, while among younger age groups, the share of dog ownership decreased (40- to 54-year-olds) or remained unchanged (18- to 39-year-olds)."

There are three key reasons more older Americans have pups in their lives today, said Kerissa Kelly-Slaten, brand manager at Whitebridge Pet in St. Louis:

"Baby boomers, always known as ‘rule breakers,’ aren’t giving up pets as they age, as previous generations have done."

"It’s getting easier to find senior communities that accept dogs. About 75 percent of for-profit senior-living facilities now allow their residents to have pets, according to the retiree-focused website"

"There’s more scientific evidence of the health benefits dogs can bring to older people, such as a recent study [published Oct. 8, 2019] by the American Heart Association, which found that heart attack survivors who live with dogs have a 33 percent lower death risk afterward than those who live alone."

These senior owners of dogs have a need for well-trained and -behaved pets for living in smaller and communal environments. Plus, they need pets that can tolerate getting limited exercise.

In addition to these trends, industry experts reported that excessive barking and pulling remain key concerns for dog owners.

"Barking is actually one of the top reasons dogs end up sheltered," said Trenton Langston, training and bark category manager of PetSafe brand for Radio Systems Corp., a manufacturer in Knoxville, Tenn. "Other behaviors dog owners might like to address include basic obedience, such as eliminating behaviors like jumping, digging or pulling."

Susie Darlington, owner of A Paw Above, a pet store in Leavenworth, Wash., said that beyond pet owners wanting their dogs to know basic commands, "The most common training issue I see is training the dog not to pull."

"Customers are looking for their dogs to be well mannered in the house and out in public," she said. "This means not pulling on a leash and not tearing up the house."

Dawn Bateman, director of operations for Petsplus Natural, which has stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, agreed that pulling and walking on a leash are dominant concerns for dog owners. She and other independent pet specialty retailers named no-pull or front-clip harnesses as a staple for customers to address this issue.

Another best-selling product for dog training and behavior is treats, experts said. Toni Barry, manager of Highland Pet Supply in Atlanta, said she highly recommends dog treats to aid in training.

"It’s the No. 1 product for rewarding behavior you want repeated," she said.

With the pet industry’s focus on positive reinforcement for training and behavior, treats have become central to the process, Kelly-Slaten said. Coupled with the concern about pet obesity, there is more demand for smaller, low-calorie training treats, she added.

Bateman said she recommends distinct treats for various exercises. For example, "a small, soft, tasty treat for potty training," and then "when training for sit, stay, calm, I recommend a hard treat, so it’s a different experience for the dog for the different tasks."

In her store, Darlington said dog owners also are "looking for treats that can be stuffed into toys to keep their dogs busy while they are away."

Savvy owners use treat-dispensing toys and puzzles to keep their four-legged friends occupied and less likely to engage in destructive behavior.

"A well-trained dog will enjoy far more freedom, leading to a better quality of life," Langston said.

On the Market

Treats and Harnesses Support Positive Training Methods

Products that support dog owners’ desire for a well-behaved canine companion are selling well, retailers reported. Harnesses and training treats topped their list of popular offerings, and manufacturers are providing a variety of products to meet consumer demand.

For customers seeking low-calorie treats for their positive-reinforcement training, Whitebridge Pet, a manufacturer in St. Louis, offers Pet Botanics Training Rewards. They’re made with real pork liver as their No. 1 ingredient and come in Bacon, Chicken and Beef flavors in Regular (3-calorie) and Mini (1.5-calorie) sizes, according to company officials.

In December, Maquoketa, Iowa-based Blue-9 Pet Products launched Inspire Dog Training Treats. These small treats are made to motivate dogs without the mess some treats can make, according to the manufacturer. The U.S.-made soft treats don’t turn into a glop or dust when pet owners are on the go, and they contain added liver powder for extra motivation, company officials noted.

To promote polite walking, harnesses are the answer for many dog owners, retailers said. The Easy Walk Harness from PetSafe, a brand of Radio Systems Corp. in Knoxville, Tenn., is designed to gently discourage the dog from pulling on the leash by steering the dog to the side, redirecting its attention, according to the manufacturer.

Blue-9 also offers a front-attachment Balance Harness with six adjustment points for a fully customized fit, the company stated, adding that the design allows for freedom of movement in the forelimb.

Consumer Education

Store Strategies for Education

Training is a hands-on experience for dog owners, and success requires using the correct products and techniques for that pup or situation. Because of this, retailers and manufacturers said consumer education is crucial in this product category.

"Customers don’t always know which solution is best for their pet," said Trenton Langston, training and bark category manager for PetSafe brand at Radio Systems Corp., a manufacturer in Knoxville, Tenn. "Explain the options available; there’s not a one-size-fits-all solution to pet training. [Also,] set expectations. Our products are designed to empower pet parents to improve their dog’s behavior, but the most effective training methods involve a hands-on approach from the pet parent to achieve the best outcome for the pet."

In-person communication and demonstration are two vital ways to help customers get the right product and understand how to use it. Dawn Bateman, director of operations for Petsplus Natural, which has stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey, said she encourages people to bring their dogs in "so we can show them how to use products correctly."

To ensure the store staff can make the best possible recommendations, partnering with training and behavior experts is favored.

"I encourage pet retailers to work closely with a professional dog trainer in their area," said Jamie Popper, business development and marketing for Blue-9 Pet Products, a manufacturer of dog training accessories in Maquoketa, Iowa. "They can make recommendations on products they use and recommend to their customers, which, in turn, develops a great partnership."

She also suggested attending dog training conferences, such as the Association for Professional Dog Trainers Conference, or that retailers even take a dog training class themselves to stay up-to-date on dog training and training product trends.

Inviting experts into their stores for training seminars is another way that strategic stores can train employees and customers while boosting sales, Bateman said.

Kerissa Kelly-Slaten, brand manager at Whitebridge Pet, a manufacturer in St. Louis, agreed and suggested being creative with topics, from "training the older dog" to "taking your dog to work."

"Even if your store isn’t set up to hold full-scale training classes, many consumers would welcome the opportunity to attend a seminar where they could get advice from an expert on how to use training products to modify an aspect of their pet’s behavior," she said. "And many attendees will wind up buying the products that are discussed."

Best Face Forward for Merchandising

In-store product merchandising can make or break sales in training and behavior products, industry experts agreed. Using eye-catching displays and cross-merchandising are vital strategies to help customers find these products and to make sure sales stay strong. Here are four expert suggestions for independent retailers to try.

1. Make Products Accessible for Customers

"Customers love to see the product in use or have the opportunity to try it out themselves," said Jamie Popper, business development and marketing for Blue-9 Pet Products, a manufacturer in Maquoketa, Iowa.

For example, "Training harnesses should be displayed and packaged in a way that allows the customer to try it on for fit in-store before taking it home," she said.

2. Cross-merchandised with Other Products

"It can be effective to cross-merchandise training rewards in related departments, such as with new puppy supplies, travel products and even products for senior dogs," said Kerissa Kelly-Slaten, brand manager at Whitebridge Pet, a manufacturer in St. Louis.

3. Special Categories or Sections

"I like to group items by categories in my store," said Susie Darlington, owner of A Paw Above, a pet supply store in Leavenworth, Wash. "Training treats in one section, toys that can be filled in another section."

Kelly-Slaten suggested stores create training-specific sections.

"With so much interest in training today, another good strategy is to create a special Training Section in the store, which contains treat rewards along with a variety of training-related products from other departments such as books, videos, leads, clickers, potty training pads and so forth," Kelly-Slaten said.

4. Use Eye-Catching Signage

"When there is a full display with all kinds of information with it, it really catches the eye, and the customers starts to look at things there," said Dawn Bateman, director of operations for Petsplus Natural, which has stores in Pennsylvania and New Jersey. "Then we’ll visit them to talk about the products and make sure they’re getting what they need."