As cute as they may be at first, children who are allowed to run amok—yelling, pushing, breaking things and generally misbehaving—quickly become annoying. The same holds true when it comes to our four-footed “kids.” Fortunately, the pet product market offers a wide range of tools to help pet parents who are struggling with ill-behaved animals, and retailers can serve as powerful resources for customers in need of guidance.
Troubling pet behaviors, such as biting or other forms of aggression, incessant barking, or destroying things, can make pet ownership a nightmare—and an experience from which many pet owners will eventually walk away. In fact, Vladae Roytapel, professional trainer and vice president of marketing for Canine Innovations, Inc., says shelters are overwhelmed with dogs whose owners have surrendered them because of behavior problems. Headquartered in Mount Clemens, Mich., Canine Innovation manufactures the Pet Convincer line of products designed to control and change the behavior of dogs, cats and birds.
Pete Fischer, a consultant with Torrance, Calif.-based Dogtra Company, says the steady influx of dogs into shelters is driven largely by plentiful numbers of ill-informed and ill-equipped pet owners. “Dogs have become throw-away items,” says Fischer, whose company produces a complete line of training e-collars ranging from small-breed pet, to a variety of sporting-dog units, as well as police/K9 work. “Many owners don’t have the time, tools or knowledge to train the dog to be a positive family member. When this happens, all too often they opt to get rid of the dog.”
Looking for Trouble
Some of the most common canine behavioral issues owners seek relief from include problems with potty training/housebreaking, excessive barking, leash pulling and destructive chewing, says Michael Tribble, category manager, training and bark control for PetSafe. Located in Knoxville, Tenn., the company offers a variety of behavior/training products, along with toys, treats, food/water systems and more.
Roytapel notes the number-one reason people come to him is canine aggression. Separation anxiety is another big one. “I routinely deal with dogs that jump from a balcony or window because of separation anxiety,” he says. “I had one dog that chewed through a crate because of this. There were teeth and blood all over.”
A mistake many dog owners make is waiting until the unwanted behavior gets to the point where it becomes dangerous, difficult to change or potentially costly, as in the case of a dog bite. Roytapel is a proponent of taking a proactive approach, particularly through obedience training. Such training offers distinct advantages, he explains. It positions the owner as boss and establishes the language used to communicate with the dog. Most importantly, it gives the dog a job to do.
“In America, dogs are jobless,” he says. “And if you don’t provide them with jobs, they look for jobs to do and what this usually means is that they break the owner’s rules and make them crazy.”
Lack of mental stimulation can lead to a whole host of boredom-related problems and unwanted behaviors, such as chewing or barking, says Jeanette Holliday, marketing executive, U.S. Division for The Company of Animals, LLC. The company, whose U.S. headquarters are in Bridgeport, Conn., offers training and agility products as well as interactive feeders and games, primarily for dogs.
With growing numbers of customers looking to address troublesome behaviors, the demand for dog training and interactive toys is steady, even growing. “People are constantly bringing new animals into their homes,” Holliday says. “So there’s always a need for the products we supply.”
Fischer adds that owners are becoming more aware of the benefits that come with a well-trained dog. As a result, e-collar manufacturers are seeing demand for their products in the pet-training world explode. In response, they’re developing more user-friendly products for the dog market, such as smaller sizes and a wider variety of stimulation options.
Busy lives and downsized living have also propelled sales of solutions designed to address unwanted behaviors. With people and pets crammed into tighter spaces, the need for everyone to get along is even greater. At the same time, there’s less and less time to train against problem behaviors or correct them, says Tobi Skovron, CEO of Pet Loo. The company, with headquarters in Los Angeles and in Melbourne, Australia, makes a variety of products that address pet elimination/waste management needs, including cat litter and poop bags.
One such product, the Pet Loo, described as a “backyard in a box,” has experienced strong growth. This activity has been fueled by apartment/condo dwellers, those who have to be at work all day and owners concerned about letting their pets eliminate outside because of predators or other issues. Also driving demand is frustration many owners experience over housetraining their dogs, says Skovron. Too many accidents around the house have caused owners to give up their pets unnecessarily he adds.
Making the Sale
When the Pet Loo first launched nine years ago, it was a difficult sell, says Skovron. “But now, we’re in 84 countries,” he says. “In 2011, our sales grew by 48 percent; in 2012, they rose by 83 percent over 2011.”
Skovron says the product sells best when retailers use the Pet Loo display that company offers to retailers for free. He adds that retailers who didn’t use the display in 2011, but did in 2012, experienced a 48-percent growth in sales.
“The display stand is a silent salesman,” Skovron says. “But even so, the product is very simple; there’s not much education required.”
However, many customers do not even know that behavior training/modification products even exist, says Tribble. Even non-pet owners are aware of food, chews, toys and leashes. But some of the most experienced pet owners are in the dark when it comes to going beyond these most basic needs, he says.
“Of the millions of dog-owning households, approximately 60 percent don’t know that their local pet store carries training solutions, and 50 percent don’t know they carry barking solutions,” Tribble says. “The challenge for retailers is to make consumers aware that major problems can be fixed in a quick and humane fashion.”
A good strategy is placing signage or other displays near everyday products like food, toys and treats, says Tribble. Strategically placed register/counter or aisle signage—“Want the perfect walking partner?” or “Too much barking? Ask an associate how to calm your canine.”—may also spark interest and start a customer/associate dialogue. He also advises retailers not to skimp on employee product education.
Product demonstrations are always an effective sales tactic, as is running a video near the actual items, says Holliday. She also suggests that staff try the product. “Personal experience from the retailers themselves will help sell any product on their shelves,” Holliday says.
Most importantly, talk with your customers, says Tribble. “As a retailer, you can help them by asking about what they’re hoping to accomplish, which can allow you to steer them in the right direction, creating more loyal, long-term customers.”