girl with golden retriever dog

From pandemic to profit… looking back at the headline, it’s a selfish thought, really. But in the case of the pet industry, it rings true. Long referred to as “recession-proof,” that moniker for the pet industry evolved with the times into its current form: “pandemic-proof.” 

Of course, that is not meant to minimize any of the serious and very real challenges retailers faced; it takes a resilient bunch to face the hurdles presented by the pandemic head-on and come out on the other side. However, there is no denying the pandemic fueled sales of all pet products, but specifically in the areas of calming aids and behavior modification.

The surge in sales is only set to continue as the stress pets were already taking on from their owners evolves into separation anxiety. 

“You can’t explain to your pet, ‘Hey, I’m heading back to work; see you in eight hours,’” explains Amanda Howland, co-founder of ElleVet. “Dogs are so sensitive to their parents’ feelings that they pick up on non-verbal cues, such as tone of voice and pupil dilation. It’s been an incredibly stressful time for people figuring out their job and their health, and preparations for return to office. 

There are two main forms of calming aids and behavior modifications: Internal, which focuses on chemically altering a pet’s mental state; and external, which focuses on reward-based positive reinforcement methods.


Internal & External Benefits

Natural, internal cures, including all forms of CBD, herbs and oils, are useful in working to calm dogs without the need for sedation. The use of internal cures enables pet parents to alter their dogs’ mood by reducing stress, anxiety and other emotionally induced behavioral states. Of course, the use of internal supplements relates to pet parents seeking all natural cures for their own health.

“Canines are sentient beings and highly perceptive to our body, mind and spirit activities,” says Dr. Bob and Susan Goldstein, co-founders of Earth Animal. 

“They seek to help us heal and sometimes by doing so, they cross over the line and emulate our condition(s). It brings to mind how important it is for pet parents to take care of our own mental and physical well-being as well.”

However, it’s not all about CBD and internal cures—even though internal ones do have their place. For the pet parents who aren’t fully on the CBD or internal cures train, the good news is that they have behavior modification products to correct poor behavior. Instead of altering a dog’s mental state, there are external methods that work to exhaust animals before they’re even left alone.

“Behavior modification tools and even mental stimulation toys have a definite place in teaching dogs to remain calm as their owners return to work,” explains Emily Benson, marketing director at Starmark Academy. “Clickers can be used to teach a dog to remain calm and quiet for increasingly longer periods of time with an end goal of being left home alone. Reserving a special toy can also help alleviate anxiety when a dog is left alone—puzzle toys work well here, as they allow dogs to focus their attention on something they enjoy rather than the stress they would otherwise be feeling.”

However, it’s not all about puzzle toys and clicker training. Additionally, “exercise and mental stimulation” are keys to helping dogs remain calm at home, explains Howland. 

You see, when dogs are mentally stimulated, they are able to translate their energy away from destructive behaviors and into something more positive.

“People try a lot of different [products to address their pets’ stress, but it matters] if your dog has generalized anxiety or if it’s based on some sort of phobia,” says Howland. “Classical music, for example, is something pet owners try, or massages. Essentially, it’s all about positive reinforcement.” 


Merchandising These Products

While there are many varieties and uses for these products, it paves the way for retail shelves that are overstocked with calming products. In a marketplace with so much noise, how can retailers determine what the best products to carry are?

“There are so many products and companies clamoring to be the No. 1 recommended product,” says Howland. “It’s a lot of noise, so it’s important that retailers do their due diligence and ask the right questions to make sure they’re carrying products that have been clinically tested, what the dosing is or whether their product comes from a bulk manufacturer.”

With that researching of product and dosing comes the numerous questions that pet parents will have when using these products on their pets. While the external methods are relatively self-explanatory, the internal methods are quite different.

Oftentimes, pet parents are wary of turning to internal cures. However, educated retailers should be able to steer pet parents away from that uncertainty and assure them that the solutions they are turning to are safe. But given the oversaturation of products currently in the marketplace, the experts agreed that it’s best for retailers to create a separate section for these products that feature well-trained associates to converse with pet parents and alleviate any concerns they have.

“Every store should have an apothecary section,” says the Goldsteins. “And within the remedies and supplements, there should be an area for emotional healing. During challenging times, such as now (the pandemic), holidays and seasonal travel, it’s a good idea to display remedies upfront right at the register. Susan recommends a small black board as a point of sale.”

Ultimately, it is the retailers that are up-to-date on their products and can guide pet parents in the right direction that will see the most success. The current industry trend is being as knowledgeable as possible, so retailers should keep that in mind as they stock and display these products.

“The best way to merchandise products is to learn about them so you will be able to speak intelligently to the countless pet owners looking to you for info and, more importantly, provide advice,” says Jon Neveloff, founder of King Kanine. PB