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Book Review
Housetraining for Dummies
by Susan McCullough

Review by: Kate Connick, March 2003

Does anybody really need to study a nearly 200-page book in order to housetrain train dog? Honestly, no. That being said, Susan McCullough's Housetraining for Dummies is still a useful publication.

This book is a thorough, even exhaustive exploration of housetraining and related issues. As a result, it can be tiring and somewhat redundant to read cover-to-cover. Happily, thanks to a highly detailed table of contents and index, the reader need not examine the entire text for information. One can easily pick and choose what to read.

The author has an informal, friendly, down-to-Earth writing style. She often refers to her own dog and dog ownership experiences, and comes across as more of a helpful chum than an all-knowing expert.

That can certainly increase the appeal for many readers. There is, however, a fine line between informality and crudeness, and I found the author's selection of terms somewhat vulgar. While she is comfortable with the consistent use of the words "poop" and "pee," for example, I would have preferred more grown-up terms along the lines of "feces" and "urine."

I give the author credit for attempting to cover all bases. However, when it comes to housetraining advice, sometimes more is less. In attempting to be extremely comprehensive, McCullough includes too much tangential information, such as what kind of dog bowl to choose or what size dog boots to select.

Some of her extraneous content is poorly conceived, such as her information on choosing a collar and teaching leash-walking. She contends that pinch (prong) collars are cruel, which is not accurate. Yet she advocates head halters. While head halters do have a place in walking dogs, they require some getting used to, and many dogs will refuse to eliminate until they have become fully acclimated. The author makes no mention of this, yet that single fact will be of utmost importance to the presumed audience of the book.

Similarly, in her chapters about diet, she makes rather neutral remarks about "BARF" (feeding raw meat and bones) as one dietary option. She neglects to mention the extent to which dogs on these diets suffer from sporadic or chronic vomiting and diarrhea. Take a look at any BARF-style online forum, and you'll see what mean. That single tidbit of information is the kind of thing the reader of a housetraining guidebook wants and needs to know.

In a nutshell, the author advocates crate-training to capitalize on a dog's natural tendency to keep its immediate territory clean. Then, through repetition and praise (bolstered by careful supervision and scheduling), the dog will form a habit of soiling either outdoors or indoors (on paper or in a litterbox).

McCullough does explain housetraining and surrounding issues well, for the most part, and I have no doubt that the average pet owner would be able to housetrain a dog after reading this book (and that is the acid test, after all). She has specific chapters tailored to indoor or outdoor training, and she includes sample schedules which can be very useful. She also offers details that a reader might find valuable (e.g., don't use colored ad inserts for papertraining, as they are slippery and non-absorbent). Her description of various "potty styles" will help a novice learn to read and recognize their dog's signals that it needs to eliminate.

Unfortunately, some topics are not necessarily explained in enough detail to be genuinely instructive, e.g., teaching the dog to ask to go outside. McCullough basically recommends hanging bells on a doorknob, ringing them yourself, and then hoping that the dog will do the same. "Sooner or later, your dog will want to check out the bells himself. Encourage him to do so. Praise him enthusiastically if he even sniffs the bells." Not all dogs are forward enough to sniff or nose-butt bells, even with encouragement. McCullough would have done better to explain how to systematically teach the dog to actually nose the bells.

One noteworthy topic that has potential housetraining implications is separation anxiety, but this is not mentioned at all. I consider this an unfortunate omission, given the relative frequency of this problem.

The author's sense of humor is used to good effect. In one memorable metaphor, she likens choosing the correctly sized crate to choosing a correctly sized bra: "Any woman will find that a loose bra is very comfortable, but she'll also discover that such an undergarment fails to fulfill its intended purpose: providing support where she needs it. Similarly, a too-big crate is certainly comfortable for a puppy, but it doesn't represent the cozy den he needs to learn to control his pooping and peeing."

Given the current political sentiment in this country, I found the author's story about visiting France to be most amusing: "Walking on a Parisian sidewalk was like walking in a minefield. Piles of puppy poop were everywhere: right smack in the middle of the sidewalk, anywhere and everywhere on the street... the life of my shoes depended, literally, on continuously watching where I stepped. I was, to put it mildly, grossed out." You won't find that information in your Fodor's guide, but it makes a compelling introduction to a chapter on cleaning up.

I expect that I'd like this author in person. She writes simply, with humor and without airs, and she covers a lot of territory. As a result, this is a good book. On the other hand, it would be better if it were ruthlessly edited to remove superfluous content and if relevant information were enhanced. This has the potential to be a good gift or resource for a novice, although honestly, much of the same information is probably available in various articles online if one has the inclination to look.

bonebone bone
Housetraining for Dummies by Susan McCullough.
Published by Hungry Minds, 2002. ISBN: 0764553496

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