October 3, 2017

It behooves retailers and their staffs to have some basic answers to common behavioral challenges and learning tasks. Some of the answers/suggestions you give will be product oriented— chewing, house soiling and litter box solutions are good examples. Others might not involve products you sell, but if answered with care and accuracy, may enhance a customer’s experience in your store. Positive experiences are directly related to consumer loyalty, encouraging social media posts and a great reputation. For independent pet retailers looking for ways to compete and stand out from big box stores, assisting customers with their pets is a great step.

As a professional dog trainer, one question I get quite often from late April through October involves swimming pool safety. Most dogs can swim, but if they fall into a swimming pool, they might not be able to figure out how to get out. So, they swim around and attempt to climb out from the side of the pool. Those who cannot escape will keep trying to climb out until they either get lucky and find the steps or become exhausted and drown. Adequate fencing is always of critical importance, but let’s face it: sometimes gates are left open. The key is to teach the dog to find the steps. For dogs who like to swim, this is easy. They will typically jump in when people are swimming and can easily find the steps when swimmers are using them. But what happens if they enter the pool when no one is there?

This is what you can tell your dog-owning customers: Dog owners can purchase a road cone or some sort of highly visible item that can be placed on dry land at the top of the steps.

Have a partner stand by the cone, and invite the dog into the pool. Once the dog is in the pool and swimming around, have the partner coax the dog out and give the dog a super special treat right by the cone. Do this five to 10 times over 10 minutes three to four days a week, and within a month, most dogs will make a beeline for the cone without hesitation when they want to get out.

This same method can be used for dogs that don’t like to swim or have never tried. Gently coax the dog into the water so that it is comfortable enough to swim around. Most of these non-swimming dogs will require little coaxing to leave, but teaching these dogs to associate the steps with the cone is of paramount importance. This way, if the dog accidentally falls in the pool, there is a much greater likelihood it will be able to swim to safety.

Teaching dogs to behave in the pool when owners are swimming is another matter. Dogs can be powerful, vigorous swimmers and people coming close to them while they are swimming can be scratched by their nails. Small children can also be knocked under water by exuberant dogs. If owners don’t want their dog in the pool with them, they must first be consistent about it. Allowing the dog in the pool on Friday but not on Saturday will cause confusion. Owners should remember to praise the dog for not being in the pool when they are swimming. If they are consistent and prepared to remove the dog from the pool every time, most dogs will learn to stay out. Owners who don’t mind their dog in the pool with them, provided the dog doesn’t get overly rough or rambunctious, should avoid rough games with the dog in the pool. Any improper behavior should result in the dog being removed from the pool. Proper, calm behavior can be praised. Consistency, correction of improper behavior and lots of praise for appropriate responses is the way to train.

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