As dogs continue to be embraced as "members of the family," owners have become more interested in training and behavior products that assist with obedience or help address problems, such as anxiety. Dog owners want the best for their pets, but they also want them to be on their best behavior as they spend more time with them daily.
"Pet owners are definitely looking for solutions to problems they are experiencing at home with their pets," said Emma Burkinshaw, registered veterinary nurse (RVN) at Pet Remedy USA, a brand of Podium Pet Products in Lake Worth, Fla. "As more pet owners become educated on signs and symptoms of problems—such as stress and anxiety—they are more likely to look for solutions."
The desire to improve dogs’ behavior also results in growing consumer interest in training and obedience classes—and buying corresponding products. Darrell Perkins, co-owner of Fin & Feather Pet Center in Richmond, Va., said that he has witnessed a surge in demand for training classes in recent years. While it goes against the do-it-yourself mentality that many people have adopted, Perkins said that when it comes to training, most dog owners would prefer some professional help.
"There was a time when dog owners wanted to do their training on their own, but now I’m getting a lot of requests for professionals in our area," Perkins said.
Laura Gustafson, store manager at H3 Pet Supply in Stratford, Conn., agreed. She said that she has noticed that more owners are inquiring about training and behavior products, and she has been getting a lot more requests for professional referrals.
"It’s a time management issue," Gustafson said. "People just don’t have a lot of free time these days, and if they can attend a class or they can find a product that helps meet their training needs, then they’d rather invest in that."
Treats seem to remain a popular training tool for most retailers. Gustafson said H3 Pet Supply sells quite a few treat pouches that owners take to classes.
Sarah Ercolani, president of Fun Time Dog Shop in Whitmore Lake, Mich., said small-sized, healthy training treats are the most popular training-related products she sells.
"Customers especially want really high-value rewards for this purpose—not your everyday treats," Ercolani said. "Great choices include a single-source protein such as beef, salmon or liver in as pure a form as possible. Treats that have a strong aroma are especially rewarding to dogs as well. Dog owners also want treats with a light color that can be easily seen in the grass or on a dark training surface such as black matting often used at training facilities."
Highlight Helpful Products
Once customers are in the store, displays go a long way in driving their interest in behavior and training products.
"We use signage and special areas of our treat section to emphasize treats that are especially good for training," said Sarah Ercolani, president of Fun Time Dog Shop in Whitmore Lake, Mich. "Displays are always a great way to educate customers on a specific collection you are highlighting. Several times per year, we also add a section to our newsletter highlighting products that are helpful for training."
A display with a stuffed animal alongside the product is usually eye-catching, said Emma Burkinshaw, registered veterinary nurse (RVN) at Pet Remedy USA, a brand of Podium Pet Products in Lake Worth, Fla. "The display should highlight a problem or sign of stress that the animal is showing so that the owner can relate," Burkinshaw added. "Videos are also useful and catch people’s attention."
Pete Fischer, senior consultant with Torrance, Calif.-based Dogtra, which offers e-collars and training products, said, "We use pictures of the product on the dog in order to show a good representation of the look and size scale. We also use a diagram to show a range of available products that buyers can easily see and pick what fits their needs."
Using education as part of the display can be beneficial and possibly even go a long way in helping pet owners who are struggling with their dogs’ behavior.
"I believe retailers need to promote the training items in a more friendly and educational way," said Sarah Beck, founder of Doggie Don’t in Fort Lauderdale, Fla. "So many dogs end up in shelters due to correctable behaviors. The training items are often in a back corner without an explanation. Many pet parents are unsure and nervous about what to purchase to deal with naughty and nuisance behaviors. Have educational information available to pet parents to help them."
Create Local Partnerships
Partnering with local trainers can be an effective means of generating consumer interest in training and behavior products, as customers often turn to their local pet store for training referrals. Conversely, trainers frequently make product recommendations.
This synergy provides retailers with an opportunity, said Sarah Beck, founder of training-tool manufacturer Doggie Don’t in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., who recommends that retailers bring local trainers into the store.
"Perhaps every few months, retailers could do a seminar addressing a certain dog behavioral issue with a Q-and-A session," Beck said.
Sarah Ercolani, president of Fun Time Dog Shop in Whitmore Lake, Mich., said she has had a lot of success partnering with local trainers who often refer customers to her shop.
"Find out what your local trainers are recommending, and offer the trainer a discount or another type of incentive to send referrals to you," Ercolani said.
Social media should also be utilized to generate interest. Facebook is the No. 1 news network in the world today, said Emma Burkinshaw, registered veterinary nurse (RVN) at Pet Remedy USA, a brand of Podium Pet Products in Lake Worth, Fla.
"The currency it relies upon is social sharing," she said. "In effect, the customer and the channel are now one and the same. Any sharing of your content is a tacit endorsement of your content. Photo competitions, giveaways and videos all work well on social media."
Pete Fischer, senior consultant with training product manufacturer Dogtra in Torrance, Calif., agreed.
"Dog people love using social media such as Facebook and Instagram," he said. "We like to implement target campaigns such as tips or real-life stories in topics that our consumers enjoy."
Doggie Don’t in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., has introduced the Doggie Don’t Holster, which gives pet owners a new way to carry the company’s Doggie Don’t Device.
"This is great if you are a pet parent like myself who walks multiple dogs at a time and who has several tools including a treat bag and our Doggie Don’t Device," said Sarah Beck, founder of the company.
The Arc Handsfree unit, developed recently by Dogtra in Torrance, Calif., is a Bluetooth-connected hands-free controller with a 22-foot range.
"The versatile and flexible strap lets you attach the ultra-compact Handsfree controller anywhere—on your belt, wrist, hand, etc.," said Pete Fischer, senior consultant with the company. "The discrete, fingertip control is ideal for pet training in the neighborhood, for field work or for police K9 training."