Shopping. A great American pastime. Some women can spend absurd amounts of time and money pawing through the racks in outlet malls or milling about at designer boutiques. But this woman, this dog training, blue jean wearin', coupon clipping woman, can drain the bank account in only a few very special places. Yes, bookstores will sink me. And, now, as the proud mother of a preschooler, a toy store is also a dangerous place to shop.
But from the time I was old enough to sign a check, my true shopping passion was pet stores. America is with me on this one. Recession or not, spending money on our pets continues to grow. In 2011, that number was $50.84 Billion*. Gulp. That's billion, with a B.
So, as any savvy business would do, companies continue to come up with more and more products for our pampered pets. Some of them are gold - more toys to keep dogs mentally stimulated, and foods with higher quality nutrition that will help our pets live long, healthy lives. And some just aren't worth the space on the shelf. Assuming you don't have an absurdly large portion of that $51 Billion in your own personal bank account, it helps to know what products are worth your hard earned money and which can be left to gather dust (or to be purchased by someone who missed out on my blog).
Here are ten of the most popular house training products:
No-go: wee pads. These things must be a big time money maker for the companies that sell them, but I don't believe in using them to help house train a puppy. They don't teach a puppy to hold it (to control their bladder and wait until they are taken outside - a skill they will eventually need), and they send the message that pottying inside is okay.
Go: artifical grass mats. I don't recommend these for every client with a new puppy, but in some situations they can be helpful. I suggest the plastic turf if a client can't get a very young puppy outside to the grass quickly enough - for example living on the 17th floor of a condo building - and in rare cases where house training has already gone awry.
No-go: dog diapers. Unless your dog is incontinent (like our senior husky, Timber), leave diapers to the human babies, not the dog babies.
Go: crates. Using a crate to help house train a puppy (or adult dog) is incredibly helpful. Although metal wire crates seem to be getting more shelf space these days, I still prefer a solid plastic, airline style crate.
No-go: dog door. Although a dog door can be a great convenience later in life, I don't recommend them for puppies or dogs that are still being house trained. House training is about two things: learning where to go and learning to hold it until you get there. Since dogs with a dog door have free access to their yard, they might not learn to hold it.
Go: baby gates. Supervision is a critical part of house training. Baby gates will help keep your dog within site and prevent them from sneaking off to leave a stinky gift in the spare bedroom.
No-go: newspaper. Unless you are buying it to read or clip coupons, don't bring a newspaper home. The old-school method of whacking a dog on the rear whenever they had an accident in the house is severely flawed methodology.
Go: odor remover. When cleaning up the inevitable accident, an ordinary household cleaner just won't do the job. Dogs noses are astronomically more keen than our own. It takes an enzymatic cleaner to get all the odor up - anything left behind is a billboard for your dog: pee here!
No-go: treats. You may be surprised to see this on my list. You thought I was a positive trainer, right? Well, I am. And offering your dog treats for going potty in the proper location won't necessarily hurt anything, but I don't think it really helps either. In my experience, dogs don't seem to make the connection between a bodily function and a food reward. But don't forget to pour on the praise!
Maybe: the doggy doorbell. Teaching a dog to ring a bell as a way to ask to be let outside is a fairly new fad, and I'm not against it, but I'm not all for it either. Owners usually start asking me about teaching their dog to "signal" when their puppy is about 3 to 4 months old - the initial angelic cuteness is wearing off and owners are frustrated with accidents. "If only my dog would somehow just let me know when she needs to go outside, life would be so much easier!"
Granted, a dog doorbell (commercially available as either a series of bells hung from the doorknob or an electronic doorbell that has large buttons a dog learns to step on) is preferable to other signals, such as scratching the door or barking, but be aware if you teach your dog a signal: your dog won't be learning to notify you only when they need to go out to eliminate, but will notify you any time they want to go out. This could include wanting to go chase a squirrel, wanting to sniff the leaves, wanting to graze on the grass... do you see where this is leading? Take comfort though. Most puppies really are close to being fully house trained by this point. It just takes a little more persistence and you'll be there.
*American Pet Products Association, total U.S. pet industry expenditures