Calming Aids and Behavior Modification for Dogs
As growing numbers of dog owners look for ways to reduce their pet’s anxiety and stress, calming and behavior modification products are drawing lots of attention.
As people become more aware of the detrimental effects stress and anxiety can have on their bodies, they’re realizing that those overwhelming feelings aren’t exclusive to humans. As pet owners work to reduce stressors in their own lives, they’re looking to provide the same relief for their dogs.
Though there are several reasons for this, the biggest motivator is how fully pets have been integrated into the family, explains Brittany Green, product manager for Tomlyn Veterinary Science. Consequently, people are becoming more sensitized to their pet’s needs, driven by greater awareness the role stress plays on pet health and behavior. To improve the quality of their dog’s life, they’re seeking solutions.
The first step is to recognize where stressors come from and realize that they come in all forms, says Chelsea Gennings, co-founder and CEO of Pet Releaf. She explains that those stressors can include thunder, fireworks, car rides, vet visits, loud sounds and being left home alone, in addition to changing environments. Taking a pet from a quiet suburb and moving them into a noisy city introduces them to new, cacophonous stimuli.
Another factor is the rise of pet-friendly work places. Just like the name implies, more people are looking to bring their dogs to their offices, says Julianna Carella, CEO/founder of Treatibles. Although some dogs do quite well tagging along, others may not. But even dogs that love spending time in the office can be a little too rambunctious or reactive around other dogs, which is where calming products can offer an assist. However, Carella emphasizes that calming products shouldn’t be used on dogs who become stressed out in their human’s workplace, as it won’t make them happier. In that case, the best solution is to keep them at home.
Some symptoms of stress and anxiety are easy to recognize, like panting, shaking, whining, hiding, barking and getting sick, but becoming aggressive can also be a signal that the dog is overwhelmed, explains Gennings.
Allowing aggressive and/or destructive behaviors to go unchecked can make reversing them harder, and could result in harm to the dog or to others. Pet specialty retailers need to impress upon pet owners the importance of learning about behavioral issues and take proactive measures to correct them and address the root causes, advises Green.
And, just as it is in humans, ignored stress can erupt into a litany of physical issues, such as excessive grooming.
“Some dogs and cats will end up removing all of their fur in areas,” explains Carella. “This can lead to more problems like skin infections. If the underlying anxiety is addressed with a calming solution, it may stop the situation from escalating.”
While calming products are one approach; training and products are another. Puzzles and other interactive toys can help relieve anxiety and improve behavior, says Emily Benson, marketing director for Starmark Pet Products, Inc. The company provides a variety of training products for dogs, and offers the Starmark Academy for Professional Dog Trainers and Starmark Animal Behavior Center.
“Besides obedience needs, our trainers see many dogs exhibiting destructive or nuisance behaviors related to boredom or a lack of an appropriate energy outlet,” she says. “Oftentimes these dogs need not only training, but physical and mental stimulation in the form of regular exercise and a job to do.”
Interactive toys can fill both needs, Benson explains. For example, Hutto, Texas-based Starmark’s Treat Dispensing Puzzle Ball features four inner chambers of varying degrees of difficulty and holds a cup of food inside. Food is dispensed as the dog nudges and paws at the toy. The Pro-Training Quicker Clicker is an effective training aid for shaping and rewarding behavior.
“Ideally, prevention of undesirable behaviors through training, exercise and interactive toys should start when the dog is first brought home,” she says. “Doing this also makes for a happier, more fulfilling life for the dog, as well as a better relationship with the owner.”
Fort Worth, Texas-based Tomlyn offers Relax & Calm Chews in formulations appropriate for small dogs and cats and medium to large dogs. The chews contain L-tryptophan and chamomile, to induce calmness, and ginger, to help relieve stomach upsets that often accompany anxiety/stress. Green says it’s important for pet specialty retailers and pet owners to understand the chews are intended as a temporary measure for an unexpected or short-term situation.
“If a dog has extreme anxiety, it will be a long process to address the underlying behavior and resolve it for the long-term, which cannot be fixed with a chew or a pill,” she says.
CBD/hemp products are entering the pet market in growing numbers. Petaluma, Calif.-based Treatibles currently has hard and soft chews for dogs and cats, as well as oil dropper bottles in four potencies, capsules in two potencies and a topical cream.
Its newest product is Tater’s Sweet Potato Tots Soft Chews. In addition to featuring organic, broad-spectrum hemp oil, the chews also contain valerian root, passion flower extract and chamomile flower.
Littleton, Colo.-based Pet Releaf’s Edibites supplemental chews (regular and large-breed sizes) contain CBD and full-spectrum cannabinoids, says Gennings, adding that the chews are a good way to introduce pets to CBD-based products. For those seeking higher potencies of CBD and cannabinoids, the company provides oils and capsules with multiple delivery methods, such as directly into the mouth or onto the pet’s food. Other products include the 100 percent plant-based Canna Care Topical for skin issues and Boom Bars, its first hemp protein-based product.
Carella and Gennings say there is still a lot of misinformation around hemp-derived products for pets.
“The biggest misperception is that pets will become high or sedated,” says Carella. “By law, hemp contains less than .3 percent of THC, the psychoactive cannabinoid in medical cannabis. This miniscule amount will not get pets high. Some pets will feel very relaxed from broad-spectrum hemp oil with naturally occurring CBD products, but they won’t be sedated nor will the essence of their personality change.”
It’s also important to understand that not all CBD products are created equal, says Gennings, explaining the product’s end result will depend on the spectrums, sourcing and extraction methods, making it essential to know where the CBD oil or product is coming from.
“It’s crucial that retailers are educated in the hemp world,” she says. “Educating themselves on the products and on hemp in general will make such a difference in the customer experience, as well as create loyalty based on trust.”
As for interactive toys, they help dogs stay entertained, and retailers can benefit from them in the form of repeat sales, as well as food/treat consumption.
“Oftentimes, owners also want to provide their dog with a variety of these types of toys to keep their pet challenged and prevent them from getting bored by only using one toy,” says Benson.
To figure out which solution—calming aids, interactive toys, training products or a combination of the three—provides the best fit, pet specialty retailers should query customers about what they’re trying to address by asking about:
• The type of anxiety or stressor the pet is experiencing and how this is being expressed (symptoms).
• If this is a chronic or situational stressor.
• What products they’ve tried, what seemed to work and what didn’t.
Retailers should also question the pet owner about how severe and frequent the pet’s reaction is and if the symptoms disappear or linger once the situation is resolved, advises Green, explaining it’s necessary for retailers to understand the “full scope of the issue” to determine whether a temporary or long-term solution is necessary.
These products offer plenty of merchandising opportunities. Retailers can create specific calming and behavioral modification sections, and/or cross-market them with travel products, leashes and harnesses, food and treats, and even grooming products, since some dogs become stressed during grooming.
Carella suggests creating special displays around key stress times, such as the Fourth of July, summer travel, holidays and seasons where inclement-weather is more likely. Such displays will not only attract customers, but they will also inspire reflection as to how these events might affect their pets, she says.
Given the sheer amount of potential behavioral issues, pet specialty retailers should strive to carry a variety of products, since not all will work the same on every dog, Green reminds. Doing so will spark sales and turn the retailers into a solution-provider customers can count on. PB