Playing it Safe

Pet specialty retailers can help keep the fun in summer for pets and owners through safety-focused conversations and products.




The summer months offer dog owners plenty of opportunities to hang with their pets, but it also brings a greater chance of things going wrong. Of course, every season poses risks that dog owners must be mindful of in order to keep their pets safe. But summer months bring particular concerns, mainly because the outdoors and all the warm-weather activities beckon so irresistibly that it’s easy to disregard situations that could put dogs at risk.

Of course, everyone knows not to leave dogs locked up in hot cars, but there are several potentially dangerous misconceptions about dogs and summertime that even the best-intentioned owners might have. Here, pet specialty retailers can perform an essential service, helping customers make their pets summer-safe by educating them about what can go wrong and how to proactively prevent accidents and injuries from happening.

Take dogs and water, for example. According to Katie Wood, sales and marketing coordinator for EzyDog, one mistaken idea many folks hold is that dogs are inherently good swimmers. However, Wood says this simply isn’t the case. 

C. Hughes, vice president of sales and marketing for Fido Pet Products, agrees this is a common misunderstanding. “People think all dogs are natural swimmers because they can doggy paddle,” she explains. “But in fact, research shows that many dogs can’t swim naturally. And even if they can swim, they tire out more quickly than their humans do.”

This is why dogs need flotation products such as life jackets or vests, says Hughes, whose Indianapolis-based company provides a variety of safety supplies for pets. This is a safety strategy Wood supports as well. Headquartered in Sandpoint, Idaho, EzyDog makes rugged lifestyle products for dogs and their humans.

“Another benefit is that a lifejacket’s snug fit can help calm a tired dog that would otherwise start to get panicky,” Hughes adds. “[We] want to help owners avoid a stressful situation where they have to jump in after the dog and then they both need help.”

These devices help take the danger out of water play, says Wood. “Whether it’s running water, rivers, falling out of boats or just pushing the swimming limits, additional support makes these activities much safer and more fun,” she says.

Not understanding how easily dogs can overheat is another issue, says Carolyn Robb, president of Kumfy Tailz. Located in Evansville, Wis., the company makes a range of products “redefining pet comfort” for dogs and horses.

“Canine bodies were designed for the cold, and therefore dogs can quickly overheat,” says Robb. “Heatstroke ends in death 50 percent of the time. By the time a pet parent sees the warning signs of heatstroke, it’s sometimes too late.”

Some symptoms of heatstroke pet specialty retailers should make their customers aware of include heavy panting and difficulty breathing, a bright-red tongue and thick saliva, lethargy or anxiety and progressive unsteadiness. Dogs will also sometimes vomit. Symptoms of dehydration—another summertime concern—include loss of skin elasticity, dryness of the mouth and gums and thick saliva. If dehydration becomes advanced, dogs can go into shock.

People may also not realize that a dog’s eyes need protection from dirt, debris or bugs and from harmful UV rays, just as human eyes do, says Roni DiLullo, CEO of Doggles, LLC. The company, headquartered in Diamond Springs, Calif., makes protective eyewear for dogs.

“You’ve also got sun blindness to worry about and long-term, cataracts caused by sun exposure,” DiLullo says. “All of this can be prevented with proper protection. The most important thing to remember is that if you would wear sun protection at any given moment, your dog probably needs it too.”

Summertime is also when more folks hit the road, bringing their dogs along for the ride. But it’s not just vacation travel that sees dogs clambering into vehicles more frequently. Nice weather encourages canine companionship even on trips around town. In fact, says Gordie Spater, co-founder and chief business officer for Kurgo, 71 percent of people take their dogs in the car on daily errands (over 37 percent take them on overnight trips). Consequently, there’s a real need for dog restraint products.

“Education is still critical in this area, as there are a lot of solutions,” says Spater, whose Salisbury, Mass., company makes a variety of pet travel products. “Although almost everyone wears their seat belt and buckles in their kids, a lot of pet owners have never considered their dog should not be allowed to roam freely around the car.”

In fact, Spater continues, Kurgo’s research indicates that just 16 percent of people restrain their dogs, and more than 80 percent say they’ve never thought about it when the topic is brought up.

“Now that more people are taking their dogs with them everywhere, restraining a dog in the car has become even more important,” he continues. “Dogs can cause distracted-driving accidents if they get into the front seat. In the case of an accident, they can become a dangerous projectile…not to mention the dog’s safety when tossed during an accident.” 

Serving up Safety
The simple act of letting dogs go outside can have unintended consequences that owners should guard against, and during the summer, there’s far more of that outdoor time, says Len Horowitz, founder and CEO of 4 Paws Tech

“This can lead to more opportunities for dogs to get out of their fenced yards, chase more squirrels and frolic like we all wish we could do,” says Horowitz. Located in New York, 4 Paws Tech develops LED and reflective leashes, collars and harnesses and other reflective wearables.

It’s also very likely your customers haven’t considered the possibility of dog skin cancer, especially in short-haired breeds, says Melyssa Johnson, brand manager for Playa Pup/Plangea Inc. Based in Vista, Calif., Playa Pup offers flotation devices as well as a line of UV-protection apparel, such as a rash guard, and accessories for pets.

“Customers tend to find the rash guards when their pet has a skin irritation or has been diagnosed with skin cancer,” says Johnson. “Veterinarians suggest keeping the pet out of the sun, which most dogs do not like. So, customers research UV apparel. Also, if a pet has just had surgery and a cone isn’t working, a rash guard is a great way to cover the wound.”

The first step in selling a sun-protective product like a rash guard or other such apparel is educating staff that dogs can get skin cancer, so they in turn can inform customers, says Johnson. Staff should also understand that rash guards can serve many additional purposes, such as after-surgery care or just keeping the dog’s coat cleaner when romping on the beach or hiking along trails.

Johnson advises using signage to inform customers of the entire range of benefits. Common retailing errors she sees are hanging the rash guards with apparel and not mentioning their UV benefits. Failing to relocate these items, along with other summer safety/travel gear, toward the front of the stores in spring and summer are other mistakes.

Protective eyewear is another category that can easily be overlooked—many pet owners have probably never given a thought to protecting a dog’s eyes. 

“Although there is more awareness and vets are wonderful at educating their clients, storeowners should be training their employees in the potential risks,” says DeLullo. “And these items should be displayed as a serious product, not with the toys or dog food,” she adds. “Make a big deal about a safety section. Make it important.”

Creating a dedicated safety section is a great way to call attention to an array of products geared towards summertime fun. Seasonal endcaps are another way to get customers thinking about and purchasing these items. Horowitz recommends displaying lit LED collars, leashes and such on mannequins in the store windows, at the checkout counters and aisles. “Awareness will lead to sales; it’s a simple as that,” he says. “If the customer is engaged and curious, the conversation will more times than not, lead to a sale.”

To get customers and their pets ready for the summer months, retailers could build a display around the summertime activities people will be doing, suggests Spater. “For example, a lot of people will be out walking and hiking more with their dogs,” he says. “Putting together everything they need, from a car seat cover and car harness, to the backpack, leash and hydration products they will need while outdoors will help sell this category.”

Selling summer safety also means asking customers the necessary questions about their dog, like breed, gender, activity level, dietary needs and demeanor, says Horowitz. “They should also ask if they walk their dog or just let them out in the backyard, so a perfect product—from food to toys to, yes, collars and leashes—can be paired with the pet.”

Also inquire about what activities the customer likes to do with their pet, along with uncovering any barriers to these activities, Wood advises. “They should be asking about water activities the customer will be doing with their dog, as well as the dog’s weight and swimming ability,” she says “This will allow retailers to make an informed recommendation for their customers.”

Spater recommends asking what the dog will tolerate during vehicle travel. For example, he says, some will never agree to being restrained by a harness, but drivers can still prevent distractions and possible accidents by using a barrier. Small dogs can be provided with a booster seat.  

“It’s important to ask the customer exactly what their needs are, what they’re looking for and why,” he says. “There are a lot of pet travel solutions to meet different needs. In addition, there are varying levels of quality. Restraining with any harness will at least prevent distracted driving and can be done at a fairly low price. But if a customer is willing to invest, there are different levels of crash-tested dog harnesses.”

Spater says that in general, most dog safety, travel and outdoor products offer retailers fairly high margins compared to those in other categories. These products also allow pet specialty retailers to capitalize on the trend of people traveling and being more active with their dogs, especially among Millennials.

“In many cases, the dog travel and outdoor categories are the fastest growing segment due to this new demand,” Spater say. “It can create a new revenue stream beyond food and add more to a customer’s basket, increasing sales and profits for pet retailers.” 


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