An interesting side effect of this year’s coronavirus pandemic and subsequent stay-at-home orders has been a surge in pet ownership, according to shelters, stores, breeders and rescues. With families spending significantly more time at home and trying to work and school in place, a spotlight has been cast on pet behavior and training.
“There is no question 2020 has been an odd year for the pet industry,” said Stephen Frolich, director of marketing for Charleston, S.C.-based Only An Ocean, a pet products curator with a retail and distributor network in the U.S., Europe and beyond. “The greatest and best disruption is the massive injection of new pet ownership. Around the globe, thousands of people have welcomed new furry family members into their homes to get through quarantine or to support local animal shelters and rescues affected by COVID-19.”
The more time that has been spent sheltering in place with pets, the more negative behaviors have been noticed and addressed, industry insiders said.
“When many owners were spending more time at home with their dogs, problem behaviors such as jumping, begging and barking seemed to be discussed more frequently,” said Jamie Popper, CCFT, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, business development and marketing for Blue-9 Pet Products, a manufacturer of dog training products in Maquoketa, Iowa. “It would make sense that the more time we are spending around our dogs, the more often we would see these problem behaviors.”
In addition, with the increase of fostered, rescued and newly adopted pets, people have been dealing with more fear and anxiety behaviors in their dogs and cats. In particular, Hazel Clarke, co-owner of Innovative Pet Products, a pet accessories manufacturer in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia, reported seeing “fear and anxiety manifesting as obsessive behavior like continuous barking, paw chewing and destructive behavior in the home.”
Pet owners have also seen a rise in separation anxiety-related problem behaviors as businesses have started opening up and more people have returned to work and other activities. These behaviors have included inappropriate toileting, chewing and excessive vocalization, Popper said.
Cat owners have been seeking help with engagement and litterbox misbehavior, said Karen Conell, owner of The Bark Market, a retailer in Delavan, Wis. And Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof Retail & Delivery in Washington, D.C., reported an uptick in products designed to “keep … cats engaged, not crawling across the keyboard.”
“Customers want toys they can engage with their cats that have been good in helping train cats and keep them busy,” Jones-Napier said. “They want to keep them engaged and occupied to reduce the risk of anxiety and [bad behaviors].”
When owners are looking at solutions for new pets and any problem behaviors, positive reinforcement is the method of choice for training, Popper said.
“In the past, many would use harsh training methods to punish behaviors,” Popper added. “Seeing a shift towards training new and replacement behaviors is encouraging.”
Top products to help owners as they train pets and address issues include unique feeding devices, quality foods and treats, natural calming products and no-pull harnesses, retailers reported.
When training, “success comes from being a calm, guiding influence,” Conell said. “We do promote high-value foods and rewards, good-fitting collars or harnesses—no-pull harnesses or martingales—and 6-foot or longer leashes. We sell loads of freeze-dried beef liver for training.”
Jones-Napier has also seen an increased demand for dog toys that are designed for chewers and outdoor entertainment.
“There’s been an uptick in flirt poles for the outdoor fun,” she said. “They want things they can do outdoors with their dogs.
“Owners are finding intriguing ways to keep their dogs entertained during Zoom meetings and such,” she added.
Keeping Pets Happy
Manufacturers continue to launch offerings designed to meet pet owner demand for new and effective products to assist in their pet training and behavior sessions.
Innovative Pet Products launched its LickiMat Tuff series this year. The LickiMat is a challenge/reward-based treat delivery center that uses a food-grade-quality molded mat to engage pets over extended periods while delivering small amounts of their favorite food or treat. LickiMat Tuff is a stronger version that features a chew-resistant hard back and is dishwasher safe.
“With a soft rubber compound fused to the hard plastic back, it is an ideal first LickiMat for puppies and soft on the pet’s mouth,” said Hazel Clarke, co-owner of the Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia-based pet accessories manufacturer.
“Many dogs manifest their stress and anxiety through chewing and destruction at home,” Clarke said. “Tuff is a safer option for these animals. Also, because the Tuff models have a rigid base, these products are easier to present to the animal during training for engagement, motivation and reward.”
Next up, the manufacturer is focusing on a series of professional pet training aids for animal behaviorists and dog trainers, she added.
To help owners house-train their dogs, Only An Ocean in Charleston, S.C., released three new designs of the classic PoochieBells dog doorbell. Lead-free and handcrafted in the USA, the Southern Dog Collection comes in Cotton, Firefly and Sweet Tea designs. Owners can train their dogs to ring the bells when they want to be let outside to go potty. The company also introduced a new pop-up display for retailers that is designed to hold 24 bells.
Put a Spotlight on Solutions
Industry experts agree that education is immensely important when it comes to pet training and behavior products and techniques.
“We don’t expect the average dog and cat owner to know what products are going to solve the problem behaviors they are dealing with, or which will help them achieve their training goals,” said Jamie Popper, CCFT, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, business development and marketing for Blue-9 Pet Products, a manufacturer of dog training products in Maquoketa, Iowa. “Educating consumers on how to work with their dogs is critical to their overall success.”
Whether pet owners are coming in with questions to resolve an issue or they just got a new puppy or adopted a new kitten, it’s generally a problem-solving situation, said Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof Retail & Delivery in Washington, D.C. While books on training help, she finds that engaging and digging deeper into the conversation is best.
“When you start talking with the customer, you can really find out what’s going on and what might best solve the issues or problems they are having and most effectively,” she said. “The goal of any good shop owner is to help the best way possible.”
Concerns to address include proper fit of wearable items, recommended dosages for edible products and effective product combinations, said Karen Conell, owner of The Bark Market, a retailer in Delavan, Wis.
“These products don’t normally sell themselves since the average pet owner may be unaware they even exist,” she said. “We let the owners try on collars/harnesses for proper fit and to ‘test drive’ [them]. Whenever possible, we offer samples or trial sizes of products. We also share positive feedback we have gathered from clients who have had success.”
Jones-Napier said that over the past couple of years, more companies and individuals have been putting videos online or on their websites “to show people how to use these products in training, how to take them on and off, etc. Now that people are home and online more, there’s more opportunity for people to share training and experiences, with professionals as well as other pet owners, to share what has and has not worked for them.”
While nothing takes the place of in-person, hands-on training and demonstrations, YouTube and Zoom have enabled savvy trainers to still offer some classes, Conell said. She posts customer feedback about products and training successes on social media, as well.
Blue-9 Pet Products has created an extensive YouTube library and free digital downloads, Popper said.
Bloggers also are a helpful source of information, along with trainers’ social media input, said Hazel Clarke, co-owner of Innovative Pet Products, a pet accessories manufacturer in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia.
Keep It Simple
There are myriad products designed to help owners train their dogs and cats as well as address behavior issues, but retailers said it is important to keep it simple when creating an ideal assortment of training and behavior products for shoppers to choose from.
“Our store sticks with the basics: collars, leashes, harnesses, treat pouches and high-value food rewards, for dogs,” said Karen Conell, owner of The Bark Market, a retailer in Delavan, Wis.
In the supplements category, she carries products approved for dogs and cats. These include sprays, collars, tablets, powders and cannabidiol (CBD)-infused peanut butter for dogs.
“These are designed to create balance and calm in the pet, which, in turn, eliminates some unwanted behaviors,” Conell said. “It also can create an environment where a wanted behavior can be reinforced.”
Pennye Jones-Napier, co-owner of The Big Bad Woof Retail & Delivery in Washington, D.C., also recommended retailers keep it simple by picking two to three products out of each category that work and that they can carry all the time. For example, for training collars she offers Halti from Company of Animals and the Canny Collar from The Canny Co. Both are collars but have different applications, as Halti attaches under the chin and the Canny Collar attaches behind the head, she said.
Other products she recommends are clickers, flirt poles and fetch toys, gear specific for handlers—running belts and treat bags—and joint and hip support for more athletic and working dogs. For cats she includes flying toys that are interactive, clickers, harnesses, and hunting and enrichment feeders.
Joe McIver, senior brand manager at Whitebridge Pet Brands in St. Louis
What role do treats play in effective training strategies, and what are the important attributes that professional trainers and pet owners look for in training treats?
More dog adoptions mean an increased need for training treats. When it comes to successful training, the right treats can make a huge difference. And, successful training makes happy pet families. The No. 1 reason why dogs are returned to shelters is behavior issues, so proper training, aided by high-quality training treats, can help keep dogs in their new homes. Whitebridge Pet Brands offer a complete portfolio of training treats, with brands and products that fill every need and appeal to every owner.
What are dog owners and trainers looking for in a training treat?
- Palatability: Dog owners and trainers want a small, highly flavorful treat that will keep dogs focused and motivated but will not contribute to weight gain. Crazy Dog is a whimsical brand that makes training at home fun. Because of its size, texture and low-calorie content, it’s also a great treat option for smaller dogs.
- Reasonable price: They do not want to spend a fortune on treats. Pet Botanics is a value-priced brand, made with highly palatable pork liver and a proprietary blend of eight functional herbs. With 500 pieces per bag, it’s a more reasonably priced option for new owners.
- High-quality ingredients: Dog owners want the best for their new babies, young and old, so superior-quality ingredients are a must. Cloud Star Tricky Trainers are a perfect choice for those looking for a clean label with simple, natural ingredients.
“Because most pet owners want to take their dogs out in public, the need for manners is critical. Many times, dog owners try the quick fix and find it doesn’t work. Pet parents have to put the work in, be committed and consistent. Also, it’s very important to find a competent instructor with a solid background. There is no shortcut to a well-behaved dog.”—Karen Conell, owner of The Bark Market in Delavan, Wis.
“I love seeing a shift to more reinforcement-based techniques, and a desire to delve into the science more. I see many more speakers at conferences that share techniques based in academia rather than anecdotal evidence. Applying the science correctly to animal training is the key to having success in animal training.”—Jamie Popper, CCFT, KPA-CTP, CPDT-KA, business development and marketing for Blue-9 Pet Products in Maquoketa, Iowa
“The main change with human-animal interaction is the place in the family the pet occupies. It has gone from the backyard with scraps of food to the bedroom to now being fed with premium and gourmet food. Today, a much higher value has been put on the pet’s health, happiness and well-being. They are now part of a family instead of belonging to the family.”—Hazel Clarke, co-owner of Innovative Pet Products in Gold Coast, Queensland, Australia