The opening session of 2016 Petfood Forum was a lively keynote by celebrity dog trainer and author Victoria Stilwell, who shared her experiences utilizing pet food as a critical part of her positive approach to dog training.
“My passion is to go into homes and make life easier for dogs and their people,” said Stilwell. “When you’re talking about pets, you’re talking about people’s family. You’re not just feeding pets; you’re feeding family members.”
Stilwell shared that she has seen a transformation in the way that consumers are thinking about pet food and about their dogs during recent years.
“In the last 15 years, there’s been this amazing explosion,” Stilwell said. “When I first started, it was a struggle to convince people that what they fed their pets was important.”
According to Stilwell, this shift has also impacted the pet food industry, the way that pet food manufacturers and marketers make decisions, and the trends and ingredients we’re seeing in pet food. It’s become more and more important to focus on what’s in pet food and what the benefit is to pets, for both consumers and the industry.
“Petfood Forum is the only place where the word ‘protein’ is sexy,” said Stilwell. “Nowhere else except for the Petfood Forum could you say that protein is a sexy word…or freeze-dried. Freeze-dried is kind of alluring, isn’t it?”
According to Stilwell, food can be an extremely strong motivator for dogs—and positive, food-based training is far more effective than utilizing fear-based training approaches.
“It doesn’t matter if it’s the tiniest Pomeranian or the largest Pit Bull or Great Dane,” said Stilwell. “It’s training dogs without the use of pain or fear.”
Stilwell sees an opportunity for the pet food industry and dog trainers to work closely together to educate consumers about the importance of pet food in many aspects of a dog’s life, including behavior and health.
“What I’ve learned is that people love solutions and that’s why my training is solutions-based training,” said Stilwell. “I think if the pet food industry could do solutions-based food…I think it just would help.”
For example, she recommended that pet food packaging offer more information about how pet owners can solve common issues—perhaps even how they can use food and positive training approaches to solve specific problems.
Another suggestion that she had for attendees was that they need to get to know their customers—not the pet owner, but their real customers: the pets themselves.
“You have to essentially understand what is dog and what is cat,” said Stilwell. “I’m always looking for the best training treat…the most delicious, succulent training treat...because that’s what dogs care about. I always think it’s important that if you’re in an industry that you live your industry, so you understand what pets and people want.”
Read more coverage of Petfood Forum on our Live from Petfood Forum page.
By Lindsay Beaton
As work continues on creating a new nutrition label that focuses on simplifying information for consumers, challenges remain.
By Tang Yu