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Book Review
How to Housebreak your Dog in 7 Days
by Shirlee Kalstone

Review by: Kate Connick, Jan. 2003

Shirlee Kalstone's How to Housebreak your Dog in 7 Days is a 67-page, paperback booklet which aims to simplify housetraining. In a nutshell, Kalstone's formula relies on: regular feeding (no treats), strict scheduling, confinement (crating), proper clean-up of accidents, praise for successes, and corrections for errors. She contends that the average puppy should be housetrained by 4 months of age.

Housetraining isn't rocket science, and there's nothing about this book that makes it exceptional. Much of the same general and legitimate advice that it contains can be found on the internet for free. Simply put something like "crate training" or "housetraining a puppy" into any search engine.

This 18-year-old booklet should contain timeless wisdom, and to an extent it does. Kalstone sings the praises of crates, urges owners to be dutiful in picking up dog waste, and offers basic common sense like sticking to a schedule and taking the pup out at times when it is predictable that he'll need to eliminate.

On the other hand, some of her suggestions are questionable, not the least of which is the title itself. Certainly a puppy can begin to grasp the fundamentals of housetraining within a few days, but it is overly optimistic to suggest that a puppy can be genuinely "housebroken" in a single week. I've heard more than a few disappointed owners express unhappiness with themselves and their puppies for being unable to achieve such rapid success.

Of greater concern are Kalstone's sample schedules which propose leaving the untrained animal in a crate for as long as 10 uninterrupted hours (8am-6pm) while the owner is at work. These schedules, according to the author, can be used for puppies as young as 12 weeks of age - a suggestion that I find disturbing. Leaving a puppy crated for that length of time virtually guarantees that the pup will be forced to soil its crate, thereby undermining one's efforts to crate-train and housetrain. Kalstone acknowledges this, "It's normal to find a puddle or a mess when you first begin... eventually you will return home one night to find no mistakes."

Forcing a puppy to sit in a cage - quite possibly in its own waste - for 10 uninterrupted hours is tantamount to cruelty. A wiser author would assert that the working person must, at least temporarily, come home to let the pup out at lunchtime, contract with someone else to do that, make arrangements for the pup to soil in a way that he need not be trapped with it, or simply not get a puppy until their lifestyle allows for it.

Also problematic is Kalstone's endorsement of after-the-fact punishment for house-soiling. While the author does not advocate physical punishment, and while she admits that punishments are best delivered if the dog is caught in the process of eliminating, she does assert, "Even if you don't catch your dog misbehaving indoors, you can still correct him... grab him by the collar, and march him over to the scene of the crime. Point to it and... give him a good verbal scolding... to shame him." If a puppy has to eliminate and does just that, he has already rewarded himself for his behavior. Delayed punishment may cause the puppy to grovel, and may relieve the owner's frustration, but it is unlikely to facilitate learning.

Regarding the puppy who is unclean overnight, Kalstone offers, "If your puppy soils his crate, scold him verbally (after you take him out of it)." I fail to see how this is instructive to a puppy who may have soiled hours earlier. Removing a puppy from a dirty crate to chastise him strikes me as something more inclined to make the owner herself seem fundamentally unpleasant. If the very core of crate training is relying on the puppy's instinct to keep its immediate sleeping area clean, punishment beyond being trapped with its own waste should not be necessary. Again, a better author would recommend getting up to take the puppy out in the middle of the night (or going to bed later) if a puppy is unable to make it overnight without soiling its bedding.

On top of it all, the author is repeatedly inconsistent in her presentation. On the one hand, she suggests postponing housetraining if a 14-week-old puppy is not mature enough to remain clean overnight. On the other, she advises that housetraining should begin the moment a puppy joins the family and recommends delayed punishment as just indicated. While she recommends scolding the puppy who has soiled its crate overnight, she advises the person who arrives home from work to find a soiled crate to not scold the puppy. She advises not leaving a puppy crated for lengthy periods, yet her sample schedules have the puppy caged for 10-hour workdays. Given the many contradictions, how is the rank novice supposed to know how exactly to proceed?

I don't recommend this book. Housetraining can be easily achieved without after-the-fact punishment, and crate-training should not involve excessive confinement. Although some of Kalstone's general comments about housetraining and responsible ownership are on the mark, much of the same advice can be found elsewhere - and often for free.

How to Housebreak your Dog in 7 Days by Shirlee Kalstone.
Published by Bantam Books, 1985. ISBN: 0553341197

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