Getting a Grip
Behavior-modification products and calming aids provide pet specialty retailers with effective ways to help owners reduce their dog's stress and get a handle on problem behaviors.
Humans are not the only species experiencing stress; their canine companions can get wound up as well. And, just like people, they can exhibit all manner of troublesome behavior when under duress. This can run the gamut from excessive barking and scratching, to whining and biting. The good news is that as pet owners become more attuned to their pet’s emotional needs, the demand for calming and behavior-modification products is on the rise.
How prevalent are dog behavior problems? “They’re unbelievably pervasive,” says Max Marvin, owner/founder of Portland, Ore.-based Pawsitive Lighting LLC, which manufactures a light-therapy device for pets. “In fact, the lack of a behavior problem would likely place the pet in the minority.”
Marvin doesn’t believe that pets are necessarily spending more time on their own now than they have in the past—although some say the numbers of pets left at home alone have increased, thanks to the economy. However, he does think that more and more pets are being confined to smaller, possibly darker spaces than before, since urban dwelling is on the rise.
Pet ownership has also been on the upswing for years, says Denise Eaton, education manager for Nelsons—located in North Andover, Mass., which distributes the RESCUE Remedy family of natural and homeopathy products. Eaton cites Humane Society figures indicating that in 2012, 164 million households had pets, up from the 67 million households in 1970.
Not only are there more dogs around, thus more opportunities for misbehavior, but we’ve transformed the position they occupy in the household, says Marvin, explaining that pets are viewed as “treasured family members, rather than furry afterthoughts.” Pet owners are also more in tune with their pets’ psychological state, and are eager for solutions that support mental/emotional well-being.
In fact, concern for a pet’s feelings is a significant trend impacting the calming category, says Dr. Roger Mugford, founder of Bridgeport, Conn.-based The Company of Animals Ltd., which makes training aids and protection devices for pets.
“We want them to be happy, not wracked by fears,” says Mugford, a PhD psychologist focused on human/animal relationships and the resolution of pet behavior problems, especially aggression. “There’s a very great interest in pets behaving badly. The number-one behavioral symptom is canine aggression, but the most common underlying cause is fear or anxiety. Cure the fear, cure the aggression.”
People’s inability to effectively manage their dogs is one of the significant issues fueling demand in the calming and behavior modification products category, says Charlie King, product manager for DogWatch, Inc., based in Natick, Mass. King says the company is known for installing underground, hidden fences for dogs and cat containment via a network of independent dealerships throughout the U.S. and in 16 other countries. DogWatch also offers indoor avoidance systems and a line of remote training systems.
“People get a dog with the intention of forming a different kind of relationship, and as the dog matures, they become harder and harder for the owner to control,” he explains. “In the worst case, the dog is given up to a shelter or abandoned.”
The fact that pets are living longer is also a factor, says Scott Garmon, president of NaturVet by Garmon Corporation, a Temecula, Calif.-based company that manufactures natural health supplements for dogs, cats and horses.
As Garmon explains, aging pets may experience the same sort of health-related declines that humans do, such as worsening vision or hearing—problems that can result in anxiety and behaviors such as depression, confusion, snapping, hiding, or howling or barking for no obvious reason. If not addressed at the start, says Garmon, these behaviors can intensify and become almost impossible to reverse.
Marvin says the most common problem he sees in pets is seasonal affective disorder (SAD) triggered by reduced exposure to sunlight, which can result in anxiety, sleep disorders and depression—symptoms that can come about during the winter months or after prolonged periods indoors.
Even something as ordinary as introducing a new puppy or dog into the household can create issues, says Eaton, explaining that the dog is required to learn new routines, rules and other behaviors that may not feel normal to the animal.
“These adjustments can bring about behavioral problems—for example, obsessive acts, anxiety and dominance,” she says. “If the owners ignore these issues, they’re developing a very stressful environment for both the pet and the household. And, the unwanted behaviors will only increase.”
The emotional and financial costs to owners wrestling with troubled pets can be high, Eaton adds. King says the same. “Dog owners invest hundreds of dollars into trainers, classes and anything else that will help nurture their relationship,” he says. Pet specialty retailers can assist their customers in finding the right solutions for the problem, not only saving pet owners money and time, but reducing their frustration and improving their relationship with their companions in the process.
“Managers need to develop a problem/solution section within the pet store, focusing on canine aggression and other behavioral issues,” says Mugford.
Karen Karpinski-Fuhrmann, director, softlines, for PetEdge Dealer Services, agrees this is the best way to merchandise these kinds of products. PetEdge, located in Beverly, Mass., manufactures and distributes a variety of products for pet care professionals, including those designed to calm, through its dealer services division.
“When consumers are looking for a solution to anxiety symptoms, they would like to see all the alternatives displayed together,” she explains. “Signage, videos, plus other in-store sales aids, are effective tools in this category.”
However, depending on the product, merchandising the solutions in other areas of the store can prove effective. Pet retailers should think like their customers when figuring out where to locate these kinds of products, says Eaton, asking where they would look for such an item if they needed it. For example, some calming/behavioral products might also fit well in the travel section, or with crates and carriers, she says. Seminars, newsletters and in-store demonstrations will also call needed attention to these solutions, Eaton adds.
These tactics can also help increase pet owner awareness, since this tends to be a category that is ignored until the need arises, says Karpinski-Fuhrmann, suggesting that, in addition to the strategies already mentioned, having store employees try the products out so they can give personal testimonials is also powerful.
Of course, staff education is a must when it comes to selling calming and behavioral modification products, and manufacturers offer all manner of support in this effort, such as in-store training, product demonstrations, brochures, and even samples.
Engaging customers in conversation and querying them about their dog’s symptoms, circumstances and potential behavioral triggers is essential. These products offer pet retailers the ability to provide their customers with effective non-prescription solutions; making them attractive to growing numbers of pet owners seeking more natural options, and to manufacturers as well.
“Over the past few years we’ve seen extraordinary growth in the number of antidepressants being prescribed to dogs and cats, with little knowledge of the possible long-term side effects these medications have,” says Marvin. “I’d really like to see that change.”
What’s on the Market: Calming and Behavior-Modification Products
Canine Innovations (petconvincer.com): Headquartered in Mt. Clemens, Mich., the company offers The Pet Convincer, a training tool that mixes a burst of chemical-free cold-compressed air with an acoustic effect to instantly interrupt unwanted behavior such as excessive barking, jumping, whining, digging, disobedience and aggression. Users are advised to lean forward and direct the spray to the dog’s shoulder, releasing the air flow. Dogs feel the gentle pressure, see the escaping CO2 and hear the spray. Four versions are available—Pet Convincer II, Pro, Plus and Lite. All work on the same principle but offer different features. They can also be used on cats and birds.
DogWatch Inc. (dogwatch.com): The BigLeash S-15 Remote Trainer behavior modification product is designed for maximum training flexibility. The S-15 has a half-mile range and offers 15 levels of electrical stimulation—brief and continuous, vibration and tone. The “In-Touch” Two Way Communication feature enables the dog collar to talk back to the handheld transmitter, displaying information such as battery status and visual signal strength on an LCD screen. The FireFly night light, consisting of four LED lights on the collar, can be activated from the handheld remote, making it easy to locate the dog in the dark. Also available is the BigLeash V-10 Vibration Trainer (no shock).
NaturVet (naturvet.com): The company’s Quiet Moments Calming Aid is formulated with natural, active ingredients including L-tryptophan, passion flower, chamomile and ginger to help support the nervous system in reducing tension and stress. It is ideal for traveling, fireworks, boarding and grooming. Versions include Quiet Moments Calming Aid Time Release Chewable Tablets, Soft Chews for dogs and cats, and Herbal Calming Spray.
Nelsons (rescueremedy.com): RESCUE Remedy Pet provides a natural way to treat pet anxiety caused by travel, separation, new surroundings, loud noises such as thunder or fireworks, and other behavioral issues arising from stress. The alcohol-free product is a blend of the same five Bach Original Flower Remedies found in the original RESCUE Remedy stress-relief formula for people, such as star of Bethlehem, rock rose, cherry plum, impatiens and clematis. Just add four drops to the pet’s food or water bowl or even on a treat. It is safe for all kinds of pets, including dogs, cats, birds, horses, fish and iguanas. It is also non-addictive, and it doesn’t interact with other medications.
Pawsitive Lighting LLC. (pawsitivelighting.com): The Sol Box is a light-therapy device designed specifically for pets to help them overcome a variety of disorders and behavioral issues caused by a lack of sunlight. The Sol Box emits 10,000 lux of full-spectrum light—the equivalent of a sunny day—enabling pet owners to bring sunshine into their home. Benefits of daily sunshine include increased energy, improved sleep, balanced circadian rhythm and even a mitigation of aggression and anxiety. The product can also treat specific conditions such as seasonal flank alopecia, directly caused by lack of sunlight.
PetEdge (petedgedealerservices.com): The KONG Anxiety-Reducing Shirt provides soothing comfort through the sense of touch and smell. Features include a full-torso design providing full-body coverage and compression fit via the polyester and spandex-blend fabric, reinforced elastic hems and an adjustable Velcro closure. The shirt is made of a breathable material for year-round use. It also has a pocket that includes a sachet of dried lavender, known for its calming, soothing scent, and it features reflective trim for increased nighttime visibility and step-in construction.
The Company of Animals Ltd. (companyofanimals.us): One of the company’s key products offered in the calming category is the Anxiety Wrap (AW). The wrap, invented by American trainer Susan Sharpe, applies sustained pressure over the entire body of the dog or cat. The AW consists of very stretchy, semipermeable fabric that molds and moves with the body and allows it to breath, avoiding overheating in hot weather. The sustained acupressure activates endorphins and the sympathethic nervous. It also diverts blood to the brain, relaxing panicky, distressed dogs in seconds.