Dogs In Training

Savvy pet specialty retailers can be a source of information and support for customers and dog trainers, becoming an important destination for both.


Dogs want to please, and that’s why training can be rewarding for animal and owner. But training, like a good education for children, makes dogs happy and fit for co-habitation. There are several ways pet specialty stores can support local trainers, as well as customers’ endeavors to train their pets, while boosting sales and cementing their reputation as the go-to destination for assistance with all things dog-related.

For starters, storeowners would do well to forge relationships with local dog trainers, to learn as much as possible about individual trainers’ unique programs. Retailers should also stock products that support trainers’ programs and encourage trainers to steer their students to the store for the supplies they need.

The Fundamentals
Trainers can give great insight about the range of merchandise a pet shop might want to stock, including specific brand recommendations. But retailers can also get started on their own.

Whether they’re in a formal dog-training class or not, dog owners will always need collars, leads and harnesses. Many owners simply look for style and durability when selecting a collar and leash, but spend a bit of time with some trainers in your area, and you’ll learn how to introduce new and functional concepts to help sell these must-have accessories.

For example, two-foot traffic leads aren’t typically bought by casual shoppers, but they might be must-haves for dogs enrolled in a training class, so stock them along with your typical four-foot and six-foot leads.

Trainers don’t agree on everything and often dispute the relative merits and proper use of such equipment as retractable leads, so-called “choke” collars and prong collars. You should be prepared to address those issues if you carry these products.

Harnesses come in a variety of design configurations. Many dog owners new to advanced training programs are confused by complex systems straps’, snaps and buckles. Your staff needs to be trained and familiar with the harnesses you sell, because customers will almost always need help putting them on their dogs and adjusting them for a proper fit. It is also important to note that certain harness designs might be better suited to particular breeds, sizes and body shapes.  

This is why it is so important to form relationships with trainers in your market. Get the most out of your inventory by asking trainers their opinions about which kinds of products might be better suited for certain kinds of training programs.

Take toys, for example. Agility trainers might focus on things that fly–like balls and discs. Behavior and manners training might put greater emphasis on toys that provide calm entertainment to help keep dogs challenged and occupied.

The king of all training equipment, however, is the treat. Here, again, confer with the experts, but generally speaking, retailers should offer a variety of treat products. Remember, variety can be a powerful training aid, since many dogs will become bored with the same treat during training. Provide high-value treats to pique the dog’s attention. Suggest that customers use an unpredictable mix of treats, with different flavors and textures, to always keep the dog guessing and, consequently, alert. Keep in mind that the treat needs to taste great, but not be filling.

Training Every Day
You don’t need to look much further than the home for more ideas on how to present training products in your store. Housebreaking is one of the first and most common training challenges. Pee pads are a must for many dog owners. A common housebreaking tip is to place pads near the door most commonly used for outdoor business, until the pet learns to hold it long enough and to signal the owner he needs to get outside.

Bell systems that a dog can ring itself are quite effective signaling devices dogs learn to use. Crate training is also widely recommended in many programs, and the range of crate designs and price points is rich and varied.

Remember, with housebreaking, pet owners need clean-up products until the dog’s housebreaking lessons are learned. Stock plenty of household cleaning products and present this merchandise category as part of the training mix.

The list goes on–training clickers, treat bags that attach to the belt, portable water and food containers, and products that deter chewing and barking. All of these products help round out your training supplies inventory, and one of the important attributes of this category is that while the products convey a high-value proposition in terms of functionality, they typically come at low price points with high margins.

The bottom line is that a sizable portion of a store’s total inventory mix probably has a training component that could lead to a possible sell. The smarter you get about the world of trainers, the better equipped you’ll be to sell. Let the trainer train you, and take the time to do the same for your staff.

Beyond Selling
We have to be creative these days. Your store sells products, but don’t let that limit your store’s retail power. If you’ve invested time and energy forming relationships with trainers in your market, then look for ways to let your store do double duty as a training venue.

Consider opening your store for classes on proper dog behavior in public places. Your retail space can be used to help socialize dogs. Many trainers don’t necessarily have their own facilities. You can build a community, enlarge your market and cultivate ambassadors for your business by offering your space for certain training groups.

Many trainers provide promotional gift bags to their new clients, and you can help stuff that bag with treat and food samples, business cards and discount coupons to your store. Many trainers will send their students out shopping with a list of must-have supplies. Work to develop cooperative relationships to ensure you stock the items trainers want their students to have.

On the other hand, don’t be shy about offering your knowledge and insight about products to trainers. You might offer to speak to a class about certain products available in the market as well as food and treats. It is generally wise not to try to over-promote your own store in such situations, but you can provide knowledgeable insight about product quality and performance, and this is usually a solid way to build long-lasting customer relations.

Finally, help your customers find the right trainer. Be a source of information in your community, not just a purveyor of merchandise. In this effort, your skills of diplomacy must be sharpened to avoid conflicts with potential competitors among trainers in your community. Learn their differences and you can help steer the right clients their way. Do that, and they’re likely to reciprocate.

Your business is always about more than selling. It’s also about learning and cultivating new markets, trying new products and daring to take novel approaches. And it is always about forming and nurturing new relationships.

Dan Headrick is a writer and marketing executive. He and his wife, Pam Guthrie, owned and operated Wag Pet Boutique in Raleigh, NC, from 2003 to 2010. The store received numerous community and industry awards.

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