I recently spent the better part of a day going door-to-door as part of a volunteer program in my community. I was impressed (but not surprised) that so many homes—most homes I visited, in fact—had dogs as members of the household that went berserk when the door bell rang.
Then I noticed the world in which they live. Even nice, suburban neighborhoods are filled with danger for dogs: traffic; household, lawn and pavement chemicals; fences with openings; protrusions and hooks that snag collars and enclosures that get too hot, even in cold seasons. And that’s in the dog-friendly neighborhoods.
Dog safety is a huge issue, especially in the spring, when families begin stirring with activity after the long winter indoors—road trips in the family car, weekends in the park and more time spent outside on the deck or backyard. Retailers should remind customers about the many safety issues they should keep top of mind and stock their stores with all the products that help pet owners protect their animals.
But mostly, storeowners need to get their customers thinking in ways they might not have before—they need to think safety.
Some products are obvious sells: collars, leashes and harnesses. But there is no shortage of products on the market that are designed with pets’ safety in mind. Reflector vests for nighttime walks, crates, and car seats and harnesses designed to integrate with the car’s seat belt system, for example, can be lifesavers this time of year.
Hydration is also critical to dog safety. Customers will need to have water on hand when they are on the road, so that means they will be looking for portability. Water bottles and portable containers that dogs can drink from should be musts for dogs on the go and their owners.
The list of products that can fall into this category is extensive, but retailers’ selling opportunities also lay in the not so obvious. This is where retailers’ relationships with customers counts. Building awareness is key to selling new products.
Education of the pet owner is the first step to ensuring safety, says Denice Pruett, president and inventor of Too Hot For Spot, a static-cling thermometer for the car window that clearly indicates the temperature inside.
The point, Pruett says, is to build awareness. “If we can provide folks with an analogy regarding these various safety topics, I believe it allows pet owners to be educated in a way that opens their eyes and ears to each topic,” she says. “When discussing vehicles and the dangers of hyperthermia, I use the analogy, if you hold a magnifying glass over a leaf, shining the sun’s rays onto that leaf, there is a good chance that the leaf will be burned or catch on fire. Think of how your pets feel when they are left in cars on a sunny day—for even just a few minutes.
“This thermometer was created to provide pet owners with real-time information to make intelligent choices when traveling with their pets. It is also designed to raise awareness, so even if a pet is not in the vehicle, someone passing by on a 75-degree day can see at a glance that the interior of a vehicle can reach 120 degrees. Education is the key.”
Storeowners who listen closely to what their customers are saying will always find opportunities to offer products that meet their needs, but not always in predictable ways. Take the simple concept of a fenced enclosure. “When people are dealing with their dogs’ ability to get out of a fence, they think they have a fence problem,” says Ann Price, president of Puppy Bumpers. “They go to the hardware store to get chicken wire, mesh, or worse, they get invisible fences, even though they have a perfectly good fence.”
The problem may not be the fence, she says. The problem may that the puppy or dog is so small that it can get through it. So, Price invented a product that essentially makes the dog bigger. The Puppy Bumpers safety collar is an oversized, stuffed collar for puppies and small dogs that looks like the pillow airline passengers often use.
“We are trying to educate the storeowners and pet owners about Puppy Bumpers,” Price says. “Almost universally, people know of a dog who has fallen off a balcony or escaped through a wrought iron fence. We provide a poster for the stores that carry Puppy Bumpers that show exactly how they work to keep dogs safe.”
During the warmer months, in many regions of the country, among the most obvious safety products for dogs include flotation devices, flea and tick prevention, even sunscreen to prevent sunburns. These are products retailers should definitely have on hand. One of the most overlooked areas of dog safety, however, are the paws.
Too often, dog owners simply regard the paws as tough dirt magnets and mud trackers, but they forget that the paws are in constant contact with highly threatening environments.
“The environment poses many health and safety risks to dogs’ paws that many people are still unaware of,” says Andrea Friedland, vice president of client relations at Pawz Dog Boots, LLC. “The liquid chloride used to melt snow on the streets can burn a dog’s pads so badly they need to be removed. Frostbite in the winter, sand irritation at the beach, and traction control on hardwood and tile floors are three major issues facing responsible pet owners. The consumer needs to be educated that paw protection is a health and safety concern.”
Pawz Dog Boots, she says, are designed to be easy to use, disposable and biodegradable, and they don’t need straps.
“Our boots provide a waterproof, disposable, reusable solution that offers serious paw protection against ice, lawn chemicals, salt, liquid chloride, snow, fire ants, dog run bacteria, mud, clay, pad rashes, post-surgical infections, post grooming dirt, hot pavement and solves traction control problems.”
These aren’t the only products out there that address the many safety issues dog owners and their companions confront each day. They do, however, illustrate the golden rule of safety: be aware of your environment and avoid situations that put safety at risk.
It’s a dangerous world out there for dogs, mostly because they live in a world controlled by us humans. Retail operators are the best resource pet owners have in their communities to stay safe because you are best positioned to educate your customers and to help them think about safety in new ways.
Dan Headrick is a writer and marketing executive. He and his wife, Pam Guthrie, owned and operated Wag Pet Boutique in Raleigh, NC, from 2003 to 2010. The store received numerous community and industry awards.