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Book Review
Housetrain Your Dog Now by Krista Cantrell
Review by: Kate Connick, March 2003

Plenty of pet owners need direction on how to housetrain their dog or puppy. In perhaps no other topic area does the reader have a greater need for simple and direct, step-by-step instruction. The reader wants to know what to do and how to do it, ideally in the most succinct and straightforward manner possible. Krista Cantrell's 145-page paperback, Housetrain Your Dog Now aims to fill that need but misses its mark. The problem with this book is less one of content than of presentation.

Cantrell, a self-described "cognitive animal behaviorist" (whatever that is) asserts that "housetraining your dog is the most important behavior you can teach," as it is "the first step in building a relationship with a dog." She asserts that her methods will result in a housetrained dog within 14 days, a goal that most readers would find most satisfactory.

Her approach would probably best be described as "holistic" in the sense that she discusses everything from when to answer the phone to how to teach a dog to sit up and beg, all loosely under the heading of housetraining. "The relationship you establish while housetraining your dog starts, stops, and grows every other behavior." Some readers might enjoy that approach, but those feeling the urgency of wanting a clean dog and not knowing how to achieve it would probably prefer a much more focused approach.

The book is divided into three sections: get ready, get set, and go. It provides a clever yet not entirely effective way of presenting the material, as the text often comes across as meandering, redundant, or contradictory. The approach lacks a clear, task-oriented focus. Part of the problem is that the author has a more motivational than instructional tone. Part of it is that she's so busy hammering home the idea that the owner must invest time and effort in training the dog in general that the details of the housetraining process become muted.

Too much time is spent discussing tangential matters such as time management or teaching tricks. Perhaps some readers would find answers to questions like these helpful, "Do I answer the phone when I am training the dog?" I find it unnecessary, even patronizing. Similarly, I don't really see how teaching sitting, begging, or balancing a treat on the dog's nose speaks to the subject of housetraining. Yes, they're nice little exercises, but they're far afield from the topic at hand.

The author often asserts that other things must be taught before housetraining can begin, leaving the reader to wonder what one is supposed to do about housesoiling in the interim and at what point that 14-day clock starts ticking. For example, Cantrell contrasts city, suburban, and urban living and presents the housetraining challenges that each engenders. She contends that, "Housetraining rural dogs requires that you focus on one area that impacts your success or failure: boundary training." She then explains how to boundary train a dog (by drawing a line in the dirt with a stick and giving the dog treats for not crossing it). Whether or not you like the idea of boundary training, it's really quite irrelevant to housetraining, per se. Someone who lives in the country can have a dog that is clean in the house, even if the dog would run away when given the opportunity.

Sometimes the author contradicts herself. On one hand, she asserts that dogs don't like to eliminate where they eat. Yet she suggests teaching a dog to go to its papers (for papertraining) by tossing a treat onto the papers.

She makes many quick references to clients, but oddly the cases often seem to distract the reader from the author's point rather than illustrating it. The various, boxed-off highlights that are identified as habit forming tips, helpful hints, important points, and time savers are often similarly distracting. Her writing style is simply too chatty and verbose, and she overuses goofy metaphors to the point of annoyance:

"Working with dogs is like using a compass; you must take frequent sightings to keep them headed in the right direction."
"Inside the word 'dog' are the letters 'd' and 'o' or 'do.' 'Do' is a small word, yet it carries an impact like the aftershock of a 7.5 earthquake."
"Taking more than two weeks to housetrain your dog is like water-skiing behind a bass boat instead of a ski boat. Although a bass boat gets you up and out of the water, the ride is slower, longer, and not as much fun."
"If you want to know how learning happens, draw a rainbow. Go ahead. Start with a big, fat, purple crayon and draw an arc from the bottom of the paper to the top. Stop. Ask yourself, is it a rainbow? Not yet, but once you add red, green, orange, yellow, blue, and indigo, the rainbow appears. Now draw a pot of gold at the end. If you run out of room, it's okay. Turn over the paper and draw the pot on the other side. There's always room for rewards. Learning is like drawing rainbows..."

In a nutshell, Cantrell recommends strictly supervising a dog, spending time with it, being vigilant to signs that it must go outside, keeping a diary of elimination, sequestering the dog in an x-pen or crate when necessary, and rewarding the dog with food, toys, or play for eliminating outside. She sensibly insists that an owner must devote time and effort into housetraining and urges against punishing mistakes. She includes ideas on teaching a dog ways to "tell" its owner that it needs to go out. She also includes a chapter about troubleshooting common problems and makes mention of often overlooked items like the incontinent, older dog, litterbox training, and leg-lifting. It's not bad advice really. It's just presented in a rambling, unfocused way.

There are peculiar omissions and inclusions, as well. Much to my amusement, Cantrell never really discusses the obvious - how to clean up accidents. She also never really wraps up the book but ends it with a seemingly misplaced introduction to what she calls Canine Courtesy Customs. They are generic, bumper-sticker style remarks that relate to training or dogs or life in general, e.g., "Dogs come in many sizes, colors, weights, and heights; pick one that fits you... If you find yourself in a jam, make toast...Dogs don't worry about you, they believe in you." Frankly, I could have done without the several black and white photos that show dogs either urinating or defecating. Those photos, along with terms like "tinkle" and "pee" strike me as vulgar.

I had high hopes for this book. I am utterly smitten with the Jack Russell Terrier puppy on the cover, and I love the idea of an informative, instructional little paperback that can give the pet owner a good guide to housetraining. This disappointing book has some good ideas, but it's too padded with irrelevant material and loses its focus.

Housetrain Your Dog Now, by Krista Cantrell.
Published by Plume Books, 2000. ISBN: 0452281601

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