by Amy Hempe
• Doggy dos and don'ts
• Pet preparations
In the past year, the pet business has swelled to a $70-billion-a-year industry. Whether it is trendy new dog food or an exciting new grooming gadget, entrepreneurs want to get the word out about their product. This means marketing at conferences and conventions.
And there will be dogs.
It is the participants who bring in the majority of the pets. Some dogs can handle it like seasoned veterans. Other pups cannot handle the crowds, the noise, or the presence of other dogs without causing some kind of commotion.
If you are opening your doors to dogs as well as their people, keep a few things in mind:
1. Establish limits. Cathy Erickson, owner of Great Midwest Pet Expos discusses creating that line between the needs of the dog-owner versus the needs of the group. “Unless it’s an AKC event with show dogs, set limitations to allow only spayed and neutered dogs,” she says. Furthermore, she states that leashes should not be longer than six feet, and that retractable leashes are not acceptable due to the high chance of people and dogs getting tangled up. Finally, Erickson recommends banning puppies. “Puppies piddle and puppy owners are a bit notorious for shrugging it off with an ‘it’s just a puppy’ approach. Your site and the other attendees will thank you.”
2. Require signed waivers. It should not be a surprise that there is a movement afoot among some pet owners concerned with the safety of vaccinations. This will, no doubt, be debated for a while. However, if you are adamant that pet-vaccinations are required, have pet owners bring in veterinarian-signed certifications. It’s a good idea to require these at least for any zoonotic (transmittable from animals to humans) diseases, like rabies. Beyond that, consult a local veterinarian for advice concerning any recent outbreaks or issues. At the very least, require that anyone bringing a pet into the area sign a waiver taking full responsibility for the dog’s health and behavior.
3. Offer a doggy daycare area. For pet-industry conferences that last a few days, dogs are going to start looking and acting like young children. They will get bored, distracted, and will let everyone know their displeasure in as loud a way as possible. At the BlogPaws 2017 conference in Myrtle Beach, there was a special room in the Sheraton Convention Center designated specifically for dogs. While the owners went off to special breakout sessions to learn the value of SEO tracking, the dogs were free to play and romped in a supervised area with – and this is important – special turf for the dogs. Dogs large and small burnt off energy in a safe environment where their owners were welcome to pop in anytime.
4. Encourage vendors to make booths dog-friendly. Marketing expert Nicholas Podrasky of Hound About attends many pet conferences each year, and states firmly that “having dogs only makes a conference better.” People at booths represent industries for animals, and unless HR overlooked something crucial, everyone working there likes animals. Podrasky points out that “Dogs are entertaining, and much easier to approach than a stranger walking up to your booth. I’ve found that acknowledging and greeting the dog first is a great ice-breaker. It actually increases accessibility, in my opinion. From the simple ‘what kind of dog is that,’ to ‘Oh! Corgis are my favorite!’ Booths also benefit from having some type of dog-friendly activity, whether it’s providing water and treats, to offering a contest for a free-dog item.” Erickson does not recommend necessarily expanding the width of aisles to make room for dogs, but she does say that vendors should be aware that dogs can knock things down.
5. Be aware that dogs are still dogs. There will be accidents. There may be some altercations. Sharon Richards, the Meeting and Events Manager at the Kansas City, Missouri Sheraton is prepping her hotel for two animal-centered conferences in the Spring of 2018: BlogPaws 2018 and the Animal Welfare Conference, just two weeks later. She says that they are strategically placing “accident stations” wherever they may be needed: most likely near the elevators and the exhibit halls. These involve paper towels, spray cleaners, and plastic poop bags. They will also have large disposable towels near the entrances in the event of muddy paws, a huge likelihood in the springtime. Additionally, she is providing nearby veterinarian information around the hotel and in the welcome letter guests will get upon arrival. As for safety, Cathy Erickson noted that it’s important to have a bite-plan arranged beforehand. Make sure that all staff has access to an on-site medic’s number, and to discuss with staff when it is necessary to call 9-1-1. Erickson also explained that escalators can be potential safety issues for dogs, as they do not fully understand the concept of moving stairs. Their paws can easily get pinched or leashes can get snagged. Therefore, make sure these warnings are posted at escalators, but also clearly point the way to stairs and elevators.
6. Prepare ahead of time. Yvonne DeVita of BlogPaws stresses preparation more than anything. Things will flow more smoothly if attendees are aware of the rules ahead of time. Send out a newsletter or even a video of the rules and expectations for pets well in advance, so people will show up prepared. A crowded event with a hundred other strange dogs is not the place to begin socializing your pet. Yet be aware that dog owners will have some different interpretations of the rules. A ‘well-behaved dog’ can be exactly like a ‘well-behaved child’ – someone who obeys rules exactly on the first command versus someone who doesn’t. DeVita points out, “Animals and people together are great fun and excitement, but little issues will come up. Bottom line: be prepared! This keeps the issues to a minimum.”
Amy Hempe is a teacher and writer in the Denver area.