News Industry Profile Company Of Animals



Industry Profile: Company of Animals
16th December 2014

By Sandra Pearce

With the right tools…

We’re all familiar with the saying ‘Give a man a fish and you feed him for a day; teach a man to fish and you feed him for a lifetime’. At the Company of Animals, giving pet owners the best education on their training and behaviour products is core to its business. Sandra Pearce learns more about the company and its founder, Dr Roger Mugford

Dr Roger Mugford is a busy man. His third book The Perfect Dog (all about dog behaviour and training) is just published and has been well received, he says. He defends some 100 dog bite/aggression cases in court each year, and his Training & Behaviour Centre sees 200-300 owners every week.

“Dog management is not just about patting a dog on its head: rather it is about watching behaviour and signals,” he says. Whether it’s ‘a few ounces of Chihuahua or a Great Dane’, dogs need disciplined management. “In 35 years of doing this job, access to expert dog training and behaviour management is much easier now than when I started, but curiously, the world of dogs has seemingly deteriorated over the same period,” he observes.

Statistics of 9,000-10,000 dog bite hospitalisations and one to two fatalities a year in the UK attest to this worrying state of affairs, he says.

Roger thinks that there are a number of contributory factors, but topping the list is a detrimental over-reliance on reward-based training, coupled with a reluctance by too many owners to assert themselves. “Owners are told by some trainers that dogs are sweet little things that only want to be your friend. Some are, but most dogs need structure and rules, just like children. We need a balanced approach to training, as between pay-offs and penalties. Dogs need to be taught that their actions have consequences, and owners to recognise and reward good behaviour while not unwittingly rewarding bad behaviour.”

Effective tools
Using the right product is essential for successfully dealing with bad behaviour, and Roger’s company, the Company of Animals, is behind many of the top-selling training and behaviour products on the market today.

The Pet Corrector, for example, works by emitting a hiss of compressed gas (like the hiss of an angry snake or cat), and so interrupts a dog’s unwanted behaviour such as his barking, chasing or jumping up. Over three million units have been sold worldwide, which was ‘quite a milestone’. “It means that millions of dogs are not now barking in the car, fighting or annoying neighbours,” he says.

Baskerville muzzles sell throughout the world at a rate of about a million a year. “This muzzle is saving more dogs and people from being bitten than any dangerous dog legislation,” he states. “Legislation in the UK is cruel and irrational because it focuses on a dog’s appearance or ‘type’, rather than on what they do. I want us to have sensible legislation that deals with bad owners and to stop our continuing obsession over pit bull terriers.”

The Baskerville Ultra is a ‘great muzzle’, he says, and the fact that it has been copied in China suggests that others agree with him. “To copy something in our pet industry is quite flattering; witness the number of ‘nearly but not quite’ Halti clones that are available.” Thankfully, the Ultra (along with a raft of other products in the company’s portfolio) is patented, and lawyers are ‘on the case’.

The Company of Animal’s top product, however, is still the Halti headcollar – and its largest cash contributor despite having been launched 32 years ago. It has sold somewhere between 16 and 18 million units… Roger has lost count. “Initially, when I first brought out the Halti, people thought it was cruel and might break a dog’s neck. The concept was entirely inspired by my working with horses, but I am still waiting to see the first dog present with an injured neck!”

Halti is now on its fourth release – this latest design being the most comfortable and with an optimum fit from having greater adjustability. Relaunched to a worldwide audience at America’s Global Pet Expo, Germany’s Interzoo and Britain’s PATS, he says: “Halti has saved a lot of dogs from pulling on the lead and owners from being injured.” However, he is quick to add: “There are many other headcollars which boast that they are the solution to pulling. Halti is not a solution, rather it’s a step on the way, another training tool to improve the safe management of dogs in society.”

He is also over the moon with the Anxiety Wrap. Although this concept was launched in 1991, it was not marketed effectively until the brand was purchased by The Company of Animals last year. It is a wrap that diminishes anxieties and fears, and owners have reported ‘miracle results’. “We call it the therapeutic hug,” he said.

As with all tools, owners must be trained to use them correctly and The Company of Animals has invested heavily in this aspect – all products come with user guides, DVDs, or are supported by videos on the company’s website.

The dog training fraternity is very important to Roger, who initially got involved with dogs as a reaction to Barbara Woodhouse: a champion of harsh methods and choke chains in the 1970s and who became a household name with her TV series Training Dogs the Woodhouse Way. That is not at all the ‘Mugford way’. He has no time for ‘choke chains and all that nonsense’.

But The Company of Animals is so much more. Over the years it has broadened its product offering to include, among other things, car accessories; toys (including the popular Nina Ottoson interactive puzzle range); treats, chews; and more recently, cleaning products (it holds the licence to the Mr Muscle pet range); healthcare (eg the Arm & Hammer dental range); the Pet Head grooming range, and the multi-award-winning Green Slow Feeder.

Recently, the Virginia-based Center for Pet Safety released the results of a car harness crash study and identified only one dog harness (from a Californian manufacturer) that met all of its criteria. Despite this, Roger is totally confident in his CLIX CarSafe Harness’s ability to keep dogs safe in the car. “It’s got a break strength of four tonnes’ tolerance,” he says. “At that impact, all occupants in a car would be dead.” It uses the same seat-belt material as found in cars and doubles as a walking harness.

Some car harnesses have been over-engineered, are complicated to fit or have steel bits in them. By contrast, he says that CLIX is a safe, comfortable harness that is quick and easy to fit. I am very proud of its design,” he says.

Over the next 12 months, we can expect new launches into electronic feeders, clicker technology and yet more harnesses, to name but a few. It’s all go, go, go at COA! But they will never go into pet food, and Roger visibly shudders at the thought. “Owners have been misled by vets about food, who in turn have been brainwashed by the manufacturers,” he says. A raw dog diet feeder himself, he explains: “Despite many invitations from major manufacturers, I will not endorse industrial dog food. Dogs are carnivores and we have been misled by brands that are too high in carbohydrate, puffed with air, are mostly jelly and water in cans, and have generally become an over-flavoured, over-priced route to feeding our pets.”

Roger is not one to mince his words and no stranger to controversy. So strongly does he feel about commercially prepared dog food that he devotes an entire chapter in his book to it.

Local roots, global vision
Housed at Roger’s farm in Surrey – yes, he is also a farmer and has 70-80 cattle, 100 sheep and three llamas distributed between Chertsey and another farm in Devon – The Company of Animals operates using distribution bases in the UK, the USA, Europe and Asia. His staff ‘create and market’; manufacture, warehousing and distribution is for others with ‘specialist expertise’. “We focus on our strengths,” he says by way of explanation.

Turnover is roughly equal between export and the UK markets. The US is the next biggest market, with Canada, Spain, Australia and Germany following. Products are sold in 42 countries, including Russia, Hong Kong, France, the Czech Republic, Iceland and even in China.

“Let’s not coerce people into responsible dog ownership, rather educate and help them to find solutions in a nearby pet store, veterinary surgery or with other pet professionals,” he says.

Pet retailers play a critical role as they can give face-to-face advice on products. “It is so important to have informed staff who can direct owners in the right direction, not necessarily to our products, but to finding the best and kindest solution to a problem. Bricks-and-mortar retailers are vitally important to us. Our products are primarily educational and they need someone to explain how they may be best used.”

To support wholesalers, the company does not take on distribution nor seek direct sales to retail accounts. “Wholesalers are our logistics partners and we love them,” he said. “We support our wholesalers because they do a fantastic job on tiny margins, and this will remain our business model.”
Most people will be aware that The Company of Animals supports a number of charities, and Roger likes to hand out products to rescue workers at shows like Crufts. “We think there are some amazing people working in animal rescue and animal care, for no personal benefit or gain. Less to the big nationally funded charities, more to the little people.”

As such, the company is a keen supporter of Wetnose Animal Aid, a non-profit organisation that raises funds to help lesser known rescue centres and groups. “We support Wetnose Day. It is a good opportunity for local pet stores to get involved and support their local smaller charities.”

He is also a keen supporter and scientific advisor to Medical Detection Dogs, a charity that trains specialist dogs to detect odours of human disease. It currently has 60 medical alert dogs that are paired with diabetic patients. An independent study by the University of Bristol but funded by The Company of Animals has shown that these patients manage their diabetes better and require fewer emergency hospital interventions, with enormous cost savings to the NHS. “These dogs save lives and give people independence from the healthcare system. Medical Detection Dogs are another Guide Dog story in the making.”

It is pretty obvious that Roger thinks the pet industry is a wonderful place to be. “The pet business is a global village where everyone seems to know one another. It’s a great friendship place. But you have to be well-behaved the whole time,” he laughs. “The bad boys get found out and they fall by the wayside. It’s the best business to be in.”

Ironically, he thinks the biggest threat to the pet retailer is the industry itself: “Doing stupid things like going back to selling puppies and vulnerable reptiles. You can run good stores without selling animals.” Critical to the long-term health of pet retail are the staff: friendly people who are ‘animal savvy’, dedicated to animals and with a qualification in animal care. “There are a lot of them out there,” he says.

Friendliness cuts across the trade. “Anyone can ring me,” he says, but adds with a slight sigh that too many people do have his number – not that this is going to change anytime soon! Though it can be tricky getting hold of him sometimes. As it is, he has trips scheduled to Istanbul, Connecticut and Australia, all before Christmas... but this may be partly down to his strategy to avoid the British winter when possible. Yet at 68, he has no plans to retire. Ever! In fact, the only times you can be sure he is in the country are March and April, for the lambing season. He grins: “I do love to help pull the lambs out.”