Helping Them Chill

Oh those annoying tykes. You know the ones—children who race each other madly through the supermarket aisles, or who have screaming fits in restaurants, movie theaters or on the plane while sitting right behind you. Face it, no one enjoys being around an out-of-control kid. The same holds true for dogs that misbehave or lack the necessary social skills that make them agreeable at home or as a guest outside the home—and in recent years, the pressure placed on pets to be well-behaved and likeable has intensified. 

People are taking their dogs with them everywhere, consequently putting them into situations they may not have been trained to handle or may not have the temperament to tolerate without stress or anxiety. On the other hand, dogs are also being left home alone, in some cases a lot, for long periods of time, which doesn’t set well with many of them. Either way, dog owners are increasingly in the market for calming aids or behavior-modification products that can make life more comfortable for both the pet and the owner—and anyone else who might be affected by the pet’s behavior. 

Being home alone is often a huge stressor on pets, causing any number of troubling behaviors.

"Separation anxiety can lead to huge issues, according to our customers, including destructive behavior," says Scott Garmon, president of NaturVet, a Temecula, Calif.-based, manufacturer of healthcare products for dogs, cats and horses.

"Not having enough time for the pet is one of the big reasons dogs end up in shelters," Garmon continues. "We are sure that the destructive behaviors [that occur] in the owner’s absence play a very big role in placing the dog in the shelter."

One problem is that owners do not always understand that the dog is not misbehaving out of mere willfulness but rather because it is stressed and can’t manage his or her reactions, Garmon explains. Reducing the real stress the dog feels may result in better behavior.

Awareness Creating Demand

Fortunately, awareness of the impact of separation anxiety on pets is growing, something Bob Thorne, president of SmartPetLove, credits to advances in animal psychology. "We find that owners are now understanding the connection between their pet’s discomfort and their pet acting out in destructive or negative ways at home," says Thorne, whose Novi, Mich.-based company creates a variety of products for dogs and cats. "As a result, we hear more and more about dogs suffering from this, the toll it takes on their families and on the relationship between the pet and the owner." 

Pet owners have become less apt to attribute negative behaviors like chewing up the carpet or furniture, constant barking and so on to just being "naughty," says Carina Evans, CEO of Dog Rocks USA LLC, a pet product manufacturer headquartered in Lake Worth, Fla.

"We’re now more accepting that this behavior is because they are stressed, and we’re now trying to do things to help them and make them happier," Evans says. "The increased education in this area has led to an increased demand for products that will help reduce stress in our pets. [And remember], a less stressed pet equals a less stressed owner."

Another reason for the upswing in the demand for calming products is that pet owners are less willing to resort to vet-supplied sedatives to keep pets from stressing out, for example during fourth of July fireworks, points out Evans, explaining that it has become more widely understood that these sedatives don’t actually calm, they just keep the dog from being able to react to the stressor.

"So, the pet is still scared inside," she says. "This then makes the situation worse the next time there’s a similar event."

Consequently, demand for calming products is very strong and growing. "[This] is due to the sentiment that pets are part of the family," says Kate Briere, international sales and marketing manager for Nelsons USA. Located in North Andover, Mass., Nelsons USA is the sole North American distributor of the Bach Original Flower Remedies—marketed as the RESCUE Remedy family of natural and homeopathy products.

"People want to make their pets feel comfortable, whether staying at home by themselves or traveling on the road, or hiding from the dreaded vacuum cleaner," Briere continues. "The idea is to help them stress less."

Customer interest in training and behavior modification tools is also on the upswing. Interestingly, the fact that more folks are shopping online is contributing to the increase, thanks to the parade of delivery people bringing packages to the front doors, which many dogs react to by barking, says Gerry Deren, vice president of business development for Canine Innovations, a pet product company headquartered in Mt. Clemens, Mich.

Not all behaviors result from stress. Many reflect a lack of training and discipline, which can lead to issues like aggression, excessive barking, jumping, stealing, digging and so on, says Deren. 

"People like to have the company of dogs, as well as the protection, but don’t want to make the investment in proper training," Deren says. "With the larger numbers and the lack of training, the problem grows."

Larry Cobb, U.S. vice president of sales, marketing and operations for  Davenport, Fla.-based pet product manufacturer The Company of Animals, says he believes behavior issues are on the rise, thanks to owners failing to correct their pets in the moment or to administer positive reinforcement properly. These issues can include even seemingly minor—yet still irritating—activities like begging, jumping on beds or sofas, or going into rooms where they shouldn’t go, he explains.

Serving Pets & Owners

Thorne describes the calming aids and behavior modification/training categories as essential. "These types of products are critical because they help keep the relationship between pet and pet parent strong and vibrant, and they help keep the home happy and harmonious," he says. "We hear too often about pets being brought to shelters because owners cannot find solutions to ease the negative behaviors of their pets."

In reality, these products can be considered lifesaving, as important to the dog’s health as food and water. Consequently, when it comes to serving both pet and owner well (and also boosting sales), education should be the pet specialty retailer’s primary strategy, Thorne says.

"When a customer comes in asking for products that help address negative behaviors, encourage staff to ask questions about the pet’s living situation to try to better understand the underlying cause of the behaviors," he says. "This is the most important way to treat the behavior."

What are some of these behaviors that might indicate a need for calming aids or training tools? In addition to aggression, excessive barking, destructive chewing, lunging, biting and so on, Evans mentions house soiling, trembling, salivating, spraying, scratching, loss of appetite, urine-marking and hiding. Deren mentions additional behaviors, such as stealing, pulling on walks, jumping and lack of attentiveness that could call for the use of training tools.

Pet specialty retailers should be certain to inquire about the pet’s behavior and also about the pet’s age to get a better handle on ailments that may be possibly contributing to the problem, says Briere. They should also ask about any changes in the pet’s environment or circumstances, she adds, such as if the pet is adapting to new surroundings, or if another pet or a baby has been added to the household. Also ask the customer to try to recall when the pet seems stressed. Their answers can help retailers point them to the right solution, Briere says.

It’s helpful to ask dog owners what they’ve already tried to address the problem, says Cobb. "With a complete understanding of the situation, you can better suggest an alternative training tool your customer hasn’t considered," he explains. "Also ask how severe and unwanted the behavior is, and find out how many family members are involved in modifying the pet’s behavior. Frequently, the use of confusing, inconsistent training methods is the real culprit, not the training tool per se."

Cobb adds that retailers have a lot to gain by promoting these products because, although calming aids and behavior modification products do not move as quickly as items like food or treats, they offer "significant profits per turn." 

Also remember:

• "People don’t buy products, they buy the results the products produce, so sell on purpose," says Evans. "Sell because you’ve identified what your customer wants. Tailor your offering direct to the customer. Understand how they feel and show them how your offerings can help them as well as their pets."

• Customers are counting on you to be the experts, and to coach and council them, says Deren. "Pet behavior is much like kid behavior, and most parents rely on trained and knowledgeable staff to learn the proper ways to make behavior work."

• Think creatively and expand your ideas of what constitutes training tools—muzzles, for example. "Many dogs are prone to lashing out when they feel uneasy or threatened," Cobb explains. "Using a comfortable muzzle is an essential piece of proactive training equipment, useful in all sorts of situations."

• Don’t miss cross-merchandising and seasonal display opportunities. The biggest demand for calming products is during June and July. Holidays and adverse weather conditions (think thunderstorms) also boost demand. Take advantage of this heightened need and place these products in the travel sections, at the counter or on end caps. To pump up sales during these times, Briere suggests that retailers consider using e-newsletters to educate customers and alert them to seasonally relevant products.

• Create a "training solutions center," suggests Cobb. Then, hold an in-store mini-seminar, inviting customers and educating them on training options and techniques, perhaps in conjunction with a trainer, he says.

• Where a user’s manual is involved, go over this with the customer, advises Deren. This will provide an opportunity for impromptu training and for some consultative selling, he explains.

Evans says that by paying proper attention to these categories and providing an array of choices, pet specialty retailers are demonstrating an understanding of their customers’ needs and concerns.

"By empathizing with consumers, they’re making their stores a destination for excellent product offerings, somewhere the shopper will want to go, receive specific advice and fill their baskets," she says. "They’re talking as pet owner to pet owner and providing a service level that will be reciprocated with sales."