Cool, Calm and Collected
The need for calming and behavior products is growing as more consumers learn they can help relieve their pets’ anxiety.
There is much to fear—at least, that might be what some pets think as they endure fireworks, thunder, solitude and trips to the veterinarian. Pet owners know their loved ones feel stressed sometimes, and humans are looking for ways to relieve the tension and encourage good behavior from their pets. Manufacturers of calming and behavior modification products say there is an increasing need for these items, and retailers can succeed if they understand the products and merchandise them well.
The calming-aid category is growing, says Scott Garmon, president of Temecula, Calif.-based Garmon Corporation/NaturVet. The increased demand comes from several factors, including pets being left alone more due to busy family schedules. Also, more pets are going through sometimes-stressful travel experiences as airlines and hotels become more accommodating to families with pets.
As the demand for calming aids grows, consumers are increasingly looking for products that are easy to administer. “In the past, pet parents had to rely on a prescription drug from their veterinarian to help calm their pets,” says Garmon. “Now, there is a wide variety of natural calming aids available at all pet stores with multiple delivery options.”
He adds that while tablets and liquids were once the most popular options, soft chews have taken the lead. “Soft chews are easy to feed, taste like a treat and are widely accepted by dogs and cats,” says Garmon. NaturVet offers Quiet Moments Calming Aid Soft Chews, which contain the natural ingredients chamomile, passion flower, L-tryptophan, thiamine mononitrate (B1) and melatonin. The chews also contain ginger to help support sensitive stomachs, which is highly beneficial when traveling.
Merchandising can help boost sales, so NaturVet offers a variety of Calming Aid displays, such as countertop, drop down and power panel displays. Seasonality is important. “Calming aids should always be featured before the Fourth of July, during the holidays and during thunderstorm season, to help remind customers of impending situations where a calming product might be needed for their pet,” says Garmon.
Manufacturers say retailers should learn about the products and be able to talk to consumers about their pets’ issues, including which ones calming products can and cannot address.
“Calming products are not a substitute for dog or cat training,” says Susan Weiss, CEO and founder of Ark Naturals Products for Pets in Naples, Fla. She says she often fields calls from consumers who say their dogs are aggressive, cannot walk well on a leash, behave badly at dog parks or destroy household items. “These are issues that have to be addressed with training. These are not nervous pets, or anxiety-ridden pets. These are pets that need to learn manners.”
Weiss says calming aids are appropriate for temporary problems, such as when the dog or cat is kenneled or groomed, left alone for a short time and exhibits separation anxiety, during fireworks or during a car ride. Ark Naturals offers Happy Traveler, both in its original capsule form and now in a new Happy Traveler chewable. The chewable has about half the amount of active ingredients and is designed for smaller dogs and cats. “It’s extremely tasty, which translates to not having to force the chewable down the pet’s mouth,” says Weiss.
Some herbal remedies should not be taken with certain medications, Weiss advises. If the pet is taking a prescription medication for seizures, the pet owner needs to check with their vet before using herbal calming products.
Calming treats can perform another important function, says Michele Rohrig, brand manager for Nutri-Vet, based in Boise, Idaho. “Keeping pets calm and comfortable has the added benefit of helping to restore the pet-owner bond,” she says. “This bond suffers when our animals are anxious and unhappy.”
The newest product in the Nutri-Vet lineup is Grain-Free Pet-Ease Soft Biscuits. The company says the carob and sweet potato flavor biscuits soothe and calm naturally with a balanced blend of supplements and herbs. They contain no wheat, corn or soy. Nutri-Vet also offers a salmon flavor Pet-Ease Paw-Gel for anxious cats.
Rohrig says retailers need to make behavior modification part of the overall conversation with shoppers. “Retail associates can learn to ask questions like, ‘Does your dog seem fearful when meeting new people?’ or ‘Is your cat afraid of certain noises like thunderstorms or fireworks?’” she says. “The answers can lead to a good discussion on how calming supplements may be an option.”
Also, she recommends that retailers offer a variety of high-quality products and adds that Nutri-Vet products are veterinary-formulated and have received the NASC (National Animal Supplement Council) quality seal.
Consumers are also seeking natural calming products, says Carina Evans, CEO of Dog Rocks. The company, which is based in the United Kingdom, has a U.S. office in Lake Worth, Fla. and brings in Pet Remedy items from the U.K. “Consumers want products that not only work well but also don’t potentially harm their pets or the environment around them,” says Evans.
Pet Remedy offers plug-in diffusers, refills and sprays. The natural products contain oils that calm pets in times of stress and anxiety, and they do not contain alcohol. Evans says the humanization trend is one factor in the growth in the category. Another trend, she says, is consumers awareness of where products are sourced. “Our products don’t contain Chinese ingredients, which are usually a poorer variant,” says Evans. “The essential herbal derivatives we use are European and therefore less processed, rawer and natural.” Among the plant ingredients in Pet Remedy are valerian, vetiver, sweet basil and Spanish sage.
Evans says it helps if retailers use the products on their own pets so they can help the consumer to make an informed decision. The company provides free samples to stores.
For consumers looking for a way to train their pets, Hutto, Texas-based Starmark Pet Products offers Starmark’s Pro-Training Quicker Clicker, which the company says is the first vertically operated clicker with a belt clip. The easy-to-press, raised dome is designed to allow faster clicking, and the cylindrical clicker can be clipped to a pocket or belt to keep the user’s hands free for training. The Quicker Clicker produces a clear, crisp sound to help create a consistent marker to shape and reward positive behavior. Starmark Academy provides a free training guide and video on its website.
“Clicker training is a combination of classical and operant conditioning,” says Emily Benson, marketing director for Starmark Pet Products. “The clicker marks the moment of the desired behavior and is then followed by a reward, usually a treat or toy. This helps create an active learner as the dog begins to try different behaviors in order to achieve their reward.”
The behavior category is growing. Benson, citing figures from APPA’s 2015-2016 survey, notes that about 72 percent of dog owners use some form of training device for their dogs, a steady increase in the last decade. That creates opportunity for other items, such as treats that are used as rewards and toys that can help engage the dog and relieve boredom.
“There are a variety of behavior-modification methods and associated tools that can be daunting for both retailers and customers,” says Benson. “Learning the basic methodology behind the different behavior-modification tools will help the retailer make an informed decision on what products they feel comfortable recommending to their customers.”
Behavior modification also includes discouraging certain behaviors, such as barking. “We don’t want to see family members yelling at their dog to be quiet,” says Larry Cobb, CEO of the U.S. division of The Company of Animals. “We have found that the same training aid used in a wise way is the most successful.”
The company, which has offices in the U.K. and in Davenport, Fla., manufactures Pet Corrector, which emits a sound similar to that of a goose or snake. “Dogs have a natural fear of this sound,” says Cobb. “If a dog is barking, any family member can emit a short burst from a Pet Corrector and this will get the dog’s attention. It is now that the training starts with a treat and positive rewarding when the dog stops barking.” He adds that the method has successfully been used to overcome other unwanted behaviors like jumping and stealing food. The Company of Animals includes a training guide with each purchase.
Cobb says more retailers are installing training sections stocked with a full range of training and behavior aids. Stores should offer not only products like Pet Corrector but also treat bags and walking options to offer a complete solution for pet owners’ training needs. “They will have a satisfied and happy pet parent,” he says.