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The Basics of Housebreaking

Posted: Nov. 16, 2012, 6:45 p.m. EDT

Offering housetraining tips and products to new owners can boost sales and garner customers for life.
By Steven Appelbaum

At this time of year, many people are obtaining puppies. Aside from questions on feeding and where to get good veterinary care, one of the most common and pressing questions that new dog owners ask is, “What products should I use for housetraining?”

Housetraining, sometimes called housebreaking, refers to teaching a dog to go to the bathroom outside of the house or, in some cases, in a specific location in the house, such as on puppy pads or in a litterbox.

The basics behind housetraining are fairly straightforward. Advise new owners to set their dogs up for success by putting them on a consistent schedule of walks as well as set feeding and watering times. They should be ready to lavishly praise their pets for appropriate bathroom behavior.

House training puppies
So far, so good, but complications do come up, and retail staff must be ready to help. Generally, if owners can get their dogs to potty in the correct place for about two or three weeks, with few or no accidents in the house, most will have mastered the housetraining concept by then.

Let owners know that as a general rule, each accident sets them back about two days, so three accidents a week pretty much negates most progress. Based on this, the biggest challenge owners face is how to prevent their dogs from eliminating in the wrong places during that critical two- to three-week window.

It is here that confinement or crate training can be used.

Crate Training
In nature, canines typically are born in a den. This area is a safe place where the mother can keep her pups during the critical first few weeks of their lives.

Because puppies don’t even open their eyes for the first 10 days, they are pretty much helpless. Yet, they are taking nourishment and have a biological need to eliminate.

If they were to eliminate all over themselves, their littermates or their mother, they would get sick and die. So nature provides a solution.

Dogs instinctively avoid soiling the area where they lay to the best of their physical ability. This important information for owners means that crates or exercise pens can, if used properly, prevent their dogs from eliminating while in one. This gives owners the chance to take their dogs to the proper bathroom area and offer praise when they eliminate there.

Crate Options
Owners need to know about the three basic crate types: fabric crates, which typically are mounted on a metal frame, hard plastic crates and collapsible metal crates.

Although fabric crates, such as those made by Pet Gear, are outstanding for travel, I find that they are less effective for housetraining young puppies because some might chew through the material.

Next up are the hard plastic crates, such as those made by Petmate. This company offers several crate models, including Vari Kennel, Deluxe Vari Kennel Jr., Furrarri and Pet Shuttle. A real pioneer in this category, Petmate was the first to introduce fiberglass airline crates for dogs. Today, all its models are made from plastic.

The differences between Petmate’s various models mostly show up in price and size. For example, the world-famous Vari Kennel is now made in only two sizes: small, for dogs up to 15 pounds, and giant, for dogs 90 to 125 pounds. However, the Deluxe Vari Kennel Jr. comes in small, medium, intermediate and large.

The bottom line on crates for housetraining is simple: Unless customers plan on traveling with their dogs, especially in the air, they do not need to purchase a super-expensive crate.

Metal crates are similar to the plastic ones, but they can’t be used for airline travel. The metal crates come in many sizes and often fold-down flat for easier storage when not in use. Midwest Homes for Pets makes excellent metal crates, as does Petmate and Pet Gear.

Plastic and metal crates are outstanding tools for customers to use for housetraining, and they have been used for many years. As a general rule when helping owners select the best size crate for housebreaking, have them choose a crate that will allow the dog to stand up and turn around as well as to lie down and stretch out. A larger crate might enable the dog to eliminate on one side and lie down on the other. A smaller crate might prevent the dog from being comfortable. This can create a bit of a challenge for owners when purchasing a crate for large-breed puppy.

If it takes owners several months to housetrain their dogs, or if they plan on using the crate for other things, such as travel or as a spot for their dogs to enjoy, they might find themselves having to purchase a new crate for the older, larger dog. This is one reason why I prefer an exercise pen or X-pen.

Pen Options
X-pens are manufactured by several companies, including Petmate and Midwest Homes for Pets. They come in different heights and can be moved into various configurations and sizes, making them functional for dogs of many different breeds and ages. They are also a bit less constricting than a crate because the dog can see through pens and they don’t have tops or bottoms.

In my next article, I will go more in-depth about educating customers about how these products are used in housetraining and more.

Steven Appelbaum

Steven Appelbaum is the president of Animal Behavior College, a vocational institution devoted to helping animal lovers succeed in animal careers. Appelbaum has been a professional animal trainer for 30 years. He is the author of the book “The ABC Practical Guide to Dog Training,” and is a freelance writer, lecturer and consultant.



The Education Series: Training & Behavior Modification column is brought to you in part by Farnam.


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