It’s said that necessity is the mother of invention. If so, the pet-products industry now very well might be considered the big daddy of innovative ideas. Take, for example, leashes that hold nothing back and pet beds that are anything but sleepy.
The key questions: How much of the buzz about innovations is accurate, and how much is just marketing hype that’s geared to line the pockets of an industry that already rakes in some $12 billion annually? How much of the promotional information is written to evoke a response from the pet “mothers” and “fathers” among us?
It’s “pet humanization” that’s fueling the industry, concedes Bob Vetere, who is the president and chief operating officer of American Pet Products Association. The more that we consider our pets to be family members and make them a bigger part of our lives, the more that it increases our need for products to allow us to lead “active lifestyles and ensure that Fluffy and Spike are well taken care of,” Vetere says.
Over the past 10 years, “pet humanization” has helped consumers to believe that products now exist on the market that allow people to have a pet who didn’t think they had the time to have a pet.
Author and investigative journalist Michael Schaffer, who spent months sniffing doggedly around the industry as he researched his book “One Nation Under Dog,” further explains the reason for this new wave of innovation. We apply the same instincts to caring for and nurturing our pets as we do for our children, he says.
“Will a new kind of leash or food bowl or dog bed make it easier to have a pet? Sure. Is there also junk out there designed to separate fools from their money? Sure. . . . People should apply the same standards as they do to other products.” Namely, consumers should ask, is this a good product, convenient and worth the money?
He adds, “The one thing we know is that dogs and cats don’t care about whether something is stylish.”
NOT ON A SHORT LEASH. Pet owner Sean Cox can’t disguise his enthusiasm when he talks about his black Labrador/Doberman mix, Kaya.
“She’s my ‘daughter,’” Cox gushes. “We go everywhere together.” Both go hiking and duck-hunting and enjoy the outdoors together, so Cox spent a lot of time to find a strong leash.
He decided on a leash that has a handle and D-rings that allow him to shorten the leash, tie it to a pole or hook it onto his belt for hands-free use.
“This leash had all [the] functions with a quick click, and it really worked for us,” Cox says.
Some of the latest models to be unleashed by manufacturers have built-in extras, such as a flashlight, a dispenser for waste bags or wipes and a compartment to hold the scooped poop. Fortunately, we found that these multifunctional leashes are priced competitively against what you’d spend for an ordinary leash and the separate accessories.
Harrison Forbes, who trains all types of canines, from working dogs in police and military organizations, to celebrity pooches, says “I like [the idea of] having practical things, like flashlights and poop-bag holders . . . on the leash.”
Forbes points out that other new takes on leashes help to address the pet’s behavioral issues. This includes the ThunderLeash ($30), which pet-products manufacturer ThunderShirt introduced in April 2013 to relieve pet stress and anxiety with its swaddling effect. The leash has hardware that allows the owner to wrap it around the midsection of the dog.
The leash is a “modern improvement on an old training trick called the Dutch half hitch,” Forbes says, “that puts an extra loop on the a leash around the flank or belly.” Tightening the loop helps to distract and settle “an overactive or leash-aggressive dog that may pull hard or become very agitated at the sight of other animals or strangers. . . . Even a 20 percent anxiety reduction can put a pet in a new mindset” that might allow a pet to conquer its fear slowly.