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When it comes to building up a training department, there’s no such thing as a dog too old to learn new tricks. More than ever, pet parents are interested in training, from basic obedience and discipline to weaving through toilet paper mazes, and it’s important for retailers to rise to the challenge. 

“A dog training product section is a very important part of any pet supply retailer’s range of products,” says Bill Parsons, account manager at P.L.A.Y. Pet Lifestyle And You. “As pet parents are savvier than ever with their knowledge and desire to train their new and even older pups, it is a great asset to any store to be able to supply them.”

The past year has made savvy pet parents even savvier, as close proximity to their furry friends has reinforced the importance of training. 

“As pet owners have been spending more time home with their pets over the last year, the realization of the need for training has become more apparent and so the demand for training and associated products has grown,” says Emily Benson, marketing director for Starmark Pet Products. 

Bonny Wainz, a sponsored trainer with Canine Innovations, reinforces the importance of training, which is why pet parents need all the help they can get from retailers. “An untrained dog leads to a dog that tends to be hyper, nervous and will develop many unwanted behavioral issues,” she explains. “People are also realizing more that they need to train and work with their dog.”

For retailers, the right products to supply are the ones that are shown to be effective, and that comes with research, stresses Benson. She explains that positive reinforcement and reward-based products are the most effective, so those are a great place to start when building a selection. 

“Canine Innovations only recommends the use of humane training devices, which can be found in our Pet Convincer product line,” explains Christopher Mushenski, president of Canine Innovations. 

Wainz elaborates that these include treats, harnesses, training collars and other items, but the most important thing is to offer a range. “Make sure that they support all types of devices and training equipment needed based on a dog’s personality.”


The Importance of Staff Training

Training departments require even more care to set up than other areas of the store, and it all starts with a knowledgeable staff to guide both new and veteran pet parents to the best products for their furry friends. 

“While there are some products that essentially sell themselves as basic consumables, there are many products, including food, bedding and toys, that truly benefit from a knowledgeable sales team in-store,” Parsons explains. “Many stores find that regular sales meetings to discuss new products or lines coming to the store is one of the best ways to keep staff well-trained on features of products they carry.”

Every staff member should be equipped with a solid knowledge base to help consumers figure out what they need and how best to achieve it. 

“Asking customers what training issues they need help with can determine what product would best serve their needs,” Benson elaborates. “From there, retailers should be able to explain how the training products work and direct them to the appropriate product.”

“Focus on knowledge of the products and a well-trained staff is at the core of customer service, and why customers come into the store for that kind of service which they can only get in-person,” adds Parsons. 

While this level of research and training might seem daunting, there are numerous resources for retailers to call on to help build their knowledge base. 

“As a manufacturer and supplier, [P.L.A.Y.] is always working to support our retail partners with the resources they need to create effective training programs and keep their staff on the leading edge of market trends, customer needs and innovations on products,” Parsons says. “Between signage and direct sales team training opportunities with staff to online resources like our retailer resources page on our website, where stores can find documents, videos, images and much more to assist in sales, P.L.A.Y. is focused on being a real partner to our retails and their staff.”

People who use these products daily are also a valuable resource to determine which products are most useful, in general and for specific customer bases. “Professional dog training and behavior specialists are a resource to learn about training methods, as well as dog training organizations,” Benson adds.

While these kinds of professionals are helpful in determining which products to include in the selection, and in educating the staff, partnering with them also presents a unique opportunity to see the products in action. 

“Training demonstrations classes or even in-store video demonstrations, can help show customers different training products while explaining why and how they work,” Benson says. 

Demonstrations and classes can also be helpful to people who aren’t sure how to get started with training their pets, or have tried the tools but haven’t been able to get them to work, Wainz says. In those cases, they need a professional to show them the ropes. 

These kind of visual displays and services are an important way to build a robust training department, one that doesn’t just offer products, but also practically shows pet parents how to effectively use them to train and discipline their pets. 

Partnering with local training groups, even if there isn’t room to hold classes in-store, is a great way to market products, as well. 

“A solid understanding of needs of trainers and local dog training programs, as well as reach-outs to organizations and trainers to see what they are asking their students to purchase, can be a great way to make connections in your community, support the needs of the students and build on direct marketing for your store in effective ways,” Parsons adds. 

Interestingly, though many consumers primarily shop online, manufacturers anticipate consumers returning to brick-and-mortar stores as COVID-19 related restrictions to continue to lift. 

“There has been a strong trend for customers’ desire for returning to the in-person, in-store service experience,” Parsons explains. “As such, being a well-prepared retailer is a key way to stand out from the competition.”

A good training department can help build a solid foundation between retailers and consumers, which, in turn, helps pet parents build a solid relationship with their furry friends. 

“Training creates an effective means of communication and bond building between people and their pets,” says Benson. “With consistency, training teaches pets what behaviors are appropriate and those that are not, and this can make a difference of a pet remaining in a lifetime home or being relinquished to a shelter.”  PB