Ain’t Misbehavin’
Professional dog trainers are great, but pet owners are still looking for budget-friendly solutions to pet behavior issues on the shelves of the local pet shop.

Consumers may be more willing than ever to spend some of their disposable income on their pets these days, but most probably cannot afford a private dog trainer. And yet, a badly behaved dog can make even the most humble pauper with a pooch think it might be worth the expense. Incessant barking, jumping, lunging out the door, pulling on the leash, doing business indoors, biting and chewing can all turn an otherwise happy home into a prison of stress and anxiety for both dog and owner.

“The experience of owning a dog can be very exciting, but an untrained dog can create a lot of unnecessary challenges,” says Peter Rane, owner of Walkadog Trainer, a training product that helps owners control their unruly dogs on the leash. “We want people to enjoy the companionship of dogs, so our company goal is to make that experience as enjoyable as possible.”

Retailers are in a perfect position to help customers find simple solutions to difficult training problems. Retailers can help customers by making sure employees understand the basic issues many dog owners are facing and how certain products can help address them. Stores should also offer customers a wide range of product options. Ultimately, the goal is to make it easy for customers to find the solutions they are seeking.

“That is the exact reason why we started our company: to simplify the process,” Rane says. “We wanted to create a simple do-it-yourself solution for consumers, and our product is easy to use and gives the user the confidence and control they need to train their dog.”

At their Fingertips
Sean Klein, owner of Klein Brands, Inc., maker of shakeTrainer—a product that uses a sound cue to associate bad behavior with the loss of a treat—says that store operators may often want to promote the benefits of professional training, but he concurs that in today’s stressful economic environment, retailers should be prepared to offer an immediate resolution to behavioral problems right there on their own store shelves.

“A badly behaved dog can be a great source of stress in a household,” he says. “It can make simple pleasures like entertaining guests and enjoying dinner uncomfortable. A dog owner’s relationship with their dog requires that their dog is well behaved to ensure a loving relationship.”

It is also important to keep in mind that consumers today want solutions that don’t require huge investments in time and money; they’re looking for practical products that work. Retailers have to keep their product mix in line with those consumer attitudes and have staff prepared to address those concerns.

“There’s a trend toward simple, inexpensive, cruelty-free and gentle training tools,” Klein says. “With the lagging economy, consumers are looking for inexpensive ways to train their dogs at home, so as to not rely on more expensive dog trainers.”

Simple as these new products might be, store personnel will still need to know how to sell them. It’s always a good idea to spend a little time introducing new products to store employees to ensure they know what they’re doing before the products hit the shelves. Nothing helps sell as well as knowledgeable staff members who can generate customer excitement about the next big thing in training products. Customers, for example, will need an introduction to the Walkadog Trainer—a tool that attaches to the dog’s collar by a short lead that lets the owner control the dog with both hands comfortably. With a little guidance, customers usually get the hang of it quickly. 

“It is such a new concept,” says Rane. “There is nothing like this on the market that we are aware of, so we hope that it will get a lot of attention. As we grow, we will offer promotions and demonstrations whenever we can.”

Many manufacturers are certainly willing to do their part to market these products and help customers navigate the learning curve.

“We found that displaying our point-of-purchase video in the store helps educate the staff and customers, and increase sales,” says Klein. “Also, we’ve realized that placing our product near the cash register increases sales tremendously.”

Both companies use videos and testimonials on their websites, which is a great way for store staff to get smart fast about new products.

New products are exciting, and customers expect to see the latest when they enter their local pet store. Still, training products are wide ranging and retailers will want to maximize the depth in this area.

For example, collars, harnesses and leashes offer a full range of training applications. Staff needs to be conversant about them, as well as know how to properly fit them on dogs of various shapes and sizes.

Toys for agility training, such as balls and discs, can be offered along with toys for behavior and manners training. The all-important treat category gives retailers a powerful tool, in terms of flashy packaging, easy price-points and remarkable variety.

Housebreaking is one of the first and most common training challenges. Pee pads and signaling systems, such as bells and ringers that a dog can ring herself when it’s time to go out, are also great products to discuss with customers.
The list goes on: training clickers and treat bags that attach to the belt, portable water and food containers, as well as products that deter chewing. All of these incremental products help round out a retailer’s training supplies inventory.

Dan Headrick is a writer and marketing executive. He co-owned and operated Wag Pet Boutique in Raleigh, N.C., from 2003 to 2010. The store received numerous community and industry awards.