Beacons of Hope
For dog owners who despair of ever getting a handle on the house-training process, pet specialty retailers can be a calming resource for encouragement and solutions.
Because they typically forge strong connections with their customers, pet specialty retailers are well-positioned to serve as an indispensable resource for pet owners with questions or concerns. And although this expertise is important for every category—from food to toys to remedies and more—it’s especially so with house-breaking and training issues, which can leave dog owners completely distraught, and even put the pet at risk.
“This category is very important because one of the No. 1 reasons pets are surrendered to shelters is due to behavioral issues, namely excessive chewing and potty accidents,” says Tara Whitehead, director of marketing and communications for MidWest Homes for Pets. “The more new pet parents become educated about the benefits of house-training products, the happier they and their pets will be.” Located in Muncie, Ind., the company (a division of Mid-West Metal Products) designs and manufactures a variety of containment products for dogs and other animals.
Shane Wisdom, owner of Gotta Potty in St. Peters, Mo., confirms the potentially life-saving aspect of successful house-training. Wisdom, who manufactures the Gotta-Potty system that alerts owners to when a dog needs to go outside, says the biggest reason why dogs end up in shelters is because owners have simply had it with the property damage caused by dogs eliminating in the house. And, he adds, not only can this problem negatively affect the relationship between the dog and the owner, it can also impact relationships between the owner and other family members or roommates.
House-training concerns can also keep people from adopting dogs in the first place, says Tina Ingersoll, marketing specialist for Waste Management, PetSafe brand, part of the Radio Systems Corporation family of products. Headquartered in Knoxville, Tenn., the company’s portfolio consists of an array of electronic training and containment systems, waste-management products and more.
This is a particular worry for those would-be dog owners living in apartments or places without yards, Ingersoll continues, noting the demand for house-training products is on the rise, especially in urban areas.
By all accounts, demand is strong, especially among Millennials, who seem to be holding off on child-rearing, turning their attention to dogs instead, says Adam Bledsoe, CEO and founder of Lennypads, a Knoxville, Tenn., company that manufactures washable/reusable training pads.
“Dogs are also living longer, so there are a lot of older dogs with incontinence problems,” says Bledsoe. “So both of these spectrums are growing.”
It’s a dynamic category where the need is never going to wane, says Brad Gruber, president and CEO at Health Extension Pet Care, a Deer Park, N.Y.-based company that offers a variety of house-breaking and training products. Gruber says data shows the number of dog owners has increased about 29 percent over the last 10 years, with about 105 million Americans owning dogs. Multi-dog households also grew at a fast clip, he adds, with Millennials and Baby Boomers being the likeliest to own more than one.
“Due to pet parents having longer workdays and extended commutes, many dogs are spending more time alone at home,” says Gruber. “Couple this with the trend in urban living, fewer dogs having yards, and those that just have small spaces to relieve themselves in—this group in part fuels the need for training and waste-management systems.”
Dos & Don’ts
Learning what customers are looking for and any issues they’re hoping to resolve is always important, but this conversation is essential for the house-training category. For those wrestling with house-breaking problems, offering encouragement can go a long way towards calming them down.
“The best thing retailers can do to help customers be more successful at house-training is to emphasize that training is a process and it doesn’t happen overnight,” says Ingersoll. “[Tell them to] be patient with the dog and always reward and praise him when he uses the potty where he is supposed to.”
Along with directing customers to the appropriate solutions, pet specialty retailers should be prepared to offer concrete dos and don’ts that customers can act on. Linda Jangula, CEO/manager of Jalyn Enterprise LLC (dba Wiki Wags), a Lavon, Texas, company offering disposable male dog wraps, recommends positive training, rather than reprimanding.
“It works so much better and faster when the dog learns he or she gets extra attention, treats or whatever,” she explains. “It instills the natural want-to-please behavior over and over again.”
For indoor house-training, Jangula provides the following tips pet specialty retailers can pass along to customers. She advises:
- Don’t give a new puppy or new adult dog full run of the house when beginning the effort.
- If using pads, be sure to locate them where you want the puppy/dog to go, since the pet will naturally return to that same spot, even if the pad is later moved just a few feet away.
- Don’t designate a heavy traffic path or open floor areas as the potty.
- Immediately remove any solid waste.
For outdoor training, Jangula recommends that dog owners:
- Take the dog outside whenever possible.
- Stay with the dog in the beginning until he or she clearly understands the desired behavior.
- Don’t confuse outdoor potty time with play time.
- Immediately praise success.
- Let the dog back in the house after potty breaks.
Wisdom is also a dog trainer and is well-versed in how training efforts can go wrong. He describes inconsistency as the No. 1 issue that can set training back. Another problem is a lack of awareness; the dog starts to walk towards the area in the house where he usually eliminates (and where the owner would prefer that he not) and this goes unnoticed until it’s too late. The owner needs to be watching and take the dog outside, says Wisdom. He also recommends using a single, consistent command when house-training.
“The owner uses 15 different versions of potty demands, which will confuse the dog,” he says. “You have to pick one phrase and consistently use it.”
Other errors he mentions include:
- Rubbing the dog’s nose in the waste or swatting at the dog. “The problem is, about three to five seconds after the dog’s potty behavior, they can’t make the connection,” he explains.
- Yelling at the dog if they catch him/her peeing in front of them.
- Thinking older shelter dogs won’t require house-training. People need to realize the dog was trained for the last house he/she lived in and will need to be “recalibrated” for the new home.
“Also, if you train the dog in one specific area of the house and then open up the rest of the house to the dog, that dog will need to be trained in all areas,” Wisdom adds.
One of the most effective ways to maximize this category’s potential and help customers is to notice indications that house-training is on the customer’s mind. For example, says Wisdom, someone walking up to the counter with a bottle of urine stain remover presents the perfect opportunity to discuss what may be going on and to make recommendations.
Remember, there’s more to being proactive than uttering the standard “May I help you,” says Jangula. Instead, she advises designating a “Featured New Products” section at the front of the store to grab attention when customers first walk in. The effect can be amplified by incorporating a “DVD of the Month” into the display showing the products in use or an actual training.
It’s also important to fully understand the features and benefits of the products you offer, especially since some will be new to customers and will require explanation and demonstration. This can apply to even seemingly straightforward solutions. Take reusable, washable pads, for example.
“Disposable pads have been around forever,” says Bledsoe. “But our product is a new take on an old industry. We’re trying to put fun and brightness into potty pads.”
Part of the problem is that disposable potty pads have traditionally been used by mass merchants as loss leaders, so pet specialty retailers are getting edged out of this market, Bledsoe says. Instead, Lennypads is trying to give pet specialty retailers a unique alternative that could prove especially appealing to eco-concerned pet owners.
“We really encourage the staff to educate customers on washable pads,” he says. “It’s an up-and-coming industry that still requires education.” Bledsoe says his company is currently testing out a POP display that will demonstrate the absorption and odor control of their pads and plan on making this widely available in the first or second quarter of 2018.
Crates and crate training also offer opportunities for discussion. Customers should be informed that crate training can successfully address issues like excessive chewing and barking and can also prove hugely helpful in the house-breaking process, helping a dog avoid accidents by keeping him or her on a schedule, says Whitehead.
“With a crate, pet parents are taking advantage of the dog’s natural instincts to keep his home clean,” she explains. “Therefore, when he has to go, he will try to hold it in until he is taken outside to the proper area. Once crate training is complete, a crate can be kept and used as a dog’s own personal space.”
However, it’s essential the customer purchase the right crate, says Whitehead, noting that most cases of dissatisfaction arise due to improperly sized crates.
“Retailers should help the consumer determine the likely size of their dog when it reaches full adulthood, so they can make a one-time crate purchase that will fit their dog from small puppy to full-grown adult,” she says, adding that the crate should also include a divider panel to help adjust the living space for the pet.
Pet specialty retailers should also seriously consider establishing relationships with nearby trainers, says Gruber. This would encourage trainers to send their clients to the store for the products they need and will also give retailers an outside resource to refer their customers to, he explains.
Retailers can also help by holding classes for new puppy owners, and even those with older dogs, says Jangula. The sessions could cover not just house-breaking, but other training issues and topics like nutrition or grooming.
“Retailers could also sell more products if they have a professional trainer come in from time to time and give a presentation on different techniques along with the products to help,” she says. “Set aside a certain day, weekend or holiday for this. Create a store display and really advertise the event so people can see it as soon as they walk in.”
Gruber says retailers should think about moving into the training sector by offering formal training classes. “Then, when pet parents come into the stores for training, it’s a logical progression to have them purchase the products they’re learning about right on the spot.”
He also stresses it’s essential for retailers to ask the right questions in order to provide the most effective solutions. Don’t limit these to just age, sex, size and breed; dig deeper, for example, inquiring if the pet is having accidents in the house, if there’s a medical condition, or if there have been any significant changes in the house such as another pet, a new baby and so on.
“Most importantly, it should be asked if the dog has been spayed or neutered,” he says. “Lifestyle plays an important part here too. It’s important to ask how often the pet goes outside or gets walked and if they’re home alone all day.”
“It really only takes two things to make a dog happy, and that is good food and good training,” Gruber continues. “Dogs want to please, and training can be as rewarding for the dog as for the pet parent.” PB