Puppies may be adorable, but wind up with one that marks or has constant accidents in the house and adorable quickly becomes deplorable. While some owners may persevere until the situation eventually improves, there is always the chance that things will not take a turn for the better, and the puppy could end up in a shelter or out on the street. Senior and elderly dogs present their own set of challenges; health issues that, absent effective solutions, could result in them being put down or living very restricted lives.
Fortunately, there are products available designed to address the needs of puppies and senior or disabled dogs. To describe them as lifesaving isn’t an exaggeration, says Dawn Howell, co-owner of By Moms 4 Pets, LLC. Based in Elkhorn, Neb., the company manufactures SammyDoo Pet Diaper Wraps, intended for puppies in training, females in heat, or any dog that has incontinence or “piddling” issues.
“This product saves dogs’ lives,” says Howell. “People put dogs down for marking and incontinence.”
The need for solution-oriented products of this nature is growing, especially as the population of senior dogs increases, says Patrick Hoffman, president of Arlington, Texas-based Solvit Products.
“Demand is definitely moving upwards,” says Hoffman, whose company manufactures a variety of products—stairs, ramps, lifts and trailers/strollers—to improve pet mobility. “Driving this is the trend of how we perceive our pets and the measures we’re willing to take to keep them alive. Consequently, all the things that happen to old people are happening to our pets.”
Trend in the Making
“In the human world, an entire market has been created around providing assistance products to the aging population of people, and the same thing is happening in the dog world,” says Ann-Marie Fleming, founder/CEO of Dog Quality Enterprises, Inc. The company, based in Vancouver, British Columbia, provides dog mobility and incontinence products like strollers, diapers, wraps, traction socks and more.
“It’s estimated that approximately 33 percent of the dog population is considered to be in their senior years,” Fleming says. “Given the growing population of dogs in the U.S., this puts the number at roughly 26 million, based on the latest [American Pet Products Association] stats.”
Manufacturers are also devising ways to prevent mobility issues—for example, through products designed to encourage activity. Consider Ball Dynamics International, LLC. The Longmont, Colo.-based company distributes exercise balls for the human professional fitness and rehab market. In 2010, it launched the FitPAWS brand, which is designed for the canine market. According to Gloria Miller, marketing manager for the company, the humanization of the family pet has led to greater concerns about their health and fitness—just like it has for people.
“Preventative exercise applies to pets too,” says Miller. “And it’s economically easier on the pocketbook than the cost of time and rehabilitation for injuries.”
Then there’s Otto Step, Inc. Located in Albany, Ore., the company manufactures a product designed to prevent the various joint injuries that can occur when dogs leap into or out of SUVs.
“It’s all about prevention,” says owner Debra Rudzik. “The Otto Step and other step-type products have been doing very well in today’s market. After all, anything we can do to protect our furry friends is well accepted.”
Asking appropriate questions will help customers find the right products. In addition to age, breed and the nature of the problem, ask what, if anything, seems to have helped in the past, suggests Linda Jangula, owner of Wiki Wags. Located in Lavon, Texas, the company provides disposable male dog wraps.
Be aware that some customers might avoid admitting their dog is incontinent, concerned that this will reflect badly on them as an owner, says Howell. Rather than asking, “Does your dog have incontinence issues?” try saying instead, “Well, if it’s an incontinence issue, we have these products that can help,” and then discuss the various product features.
Hoffman says that when it comes to ramps and stairs, along with asking about the dog’s weight—necessary to determine the load-bearing strength required, and ramps are often more appropriate than stairs for very large dogs—and mobility, also inquire about where the customer plans to locate the device. This can help you determine if a telescoping, folding or fixed ramp would be most appropriate, or if stairs would be a better choice, and if so, the kind of stair—folding or fixed, wood or plastic.
Products of this nature require customer interaction on the part of retailers and staff. This is especially true for solutions intended for older dogs because pet owners may not even realize such products exist, says Fleming. She sees the senior-dog market as a “significant opportunity” for retailers, and advises creating a senior center to increase customer awareness, focusing the product assortment on key challenges faced by aging dogs, such as mobility, incontinence and obesity, for example.
Miller likes the idea of building “specialty categories” within the store, “thinking outside the box,” when dreaming these up.
“Create a category for health and wellness that includes selected nutritional support and exercise products,” she says. “Or, create a seasonal category of indoor activities for the winter.” Another possibility is partnering with nearby trainers to offer in-store training utilizing products the store is currently offering or considering.
Floor samples and visual aids are invaluable sales tools; many products can be featured on stuffed dogs, for example. Such displays get noticed and also serve as effective educational tools.
Remember that many of these products crossover into different categories and therefore can be displayed throughout the store. Take diapers/wraps; these can be located not just with products for puppies and/or senior dogs, but also with travel-related as well as after-surgery items. And think comprehensively, says Hoffman, otherwise you may not provide your customer with a complete solution.
“Depending on the condition of the dog, some consumers will buy multiple products,” he says. “For example, they may purchase a ramp, stairs and a stroller/trailer.”
Fleming recommends doing customer surveys. These help retailers better understand their customers’ needs, resulting in better buying decisions for the store, and also educate customers. “This causes them to stop and think about what their dogs are currently challenged with,” she says. “Creating awareness is a necessary step for success.”