Accidents Happen

Housetraining problems can ruin the bond between owner and pet, resulting in dogs ending up in shelters or worse; pet specialty retailers can help dogs and their humans stay happily together.


Every pet product category in the store serves a purpose, whether serious, playful or somewhere in between. However, the housetraining category, along with related items like stain and odor removal products and crates, stands out as being among those that provide the most significant ways to improve a dog’s (and a dog owner’s) well-being. This is literally a category that can spell life or death to a pet.

Seem overly dramatic? Not according to dog trainer Shane Wisdom, owner of Gotta Potty in St. Peters, Mo. The effect of housetraining gone wrong can be devastating to a pet, says Wisdom, whose company offers a housetraining system. If the owners cannot get the dog properly trained, they very often will return or take the pet to the shelter. 

Tara Whitehead, director of marketing and communications for MidWest Homes for Pets, a division of Mid-West Metal Products, headquartered in Muncie, Ind., agrees.

“The No. 1 reason adopted dogs are returned to shelters or rescues are for behavioral problems,” says Whitehead, whose company designs a variety of containment products for dogs and other animals, as well as other accessories.

“Ineffective training leads to stressed-out pet parents and stressed-out pets,” she continues. “In addition to pet anxiety, this can diminish the amazing bond that can and should occur between dogs and their people.”

This can also result in owners abusing their pets, says Linda Jangula, CEO and manager of Jalyn Enterprise LLC. Located in Lavon, Texas, the company is the wholesale vendor for the Wiki Wags brand of disposable wraps for male dogs.

“Due to the destructive nature of this problem, pet owners become frustrated to no end, taking it out on the dog for an instinctual habit,” she explains. “Many times this can lead to abusive action towards the pet. Male dogs are dumped or worse, severely beaten.” 

Considering the damage that can occur when housetraining goes wrong, it’s not surprising that pet owners become a little high-strung. For example, Wisdom has seen urine rot out hardwood flooring and even subflooring. 

“If the dog continues to go in the same spot, the urine will soak through the pad and into the subflooring, and then you have a big, big problem,” he says.

And accidents don’t confine their negative effects to flooring alone, says Adam Bledsoe, cofounder of Lennypads, LLC. Located in Knoxville, Tenn., the company makes washable, reusable potty pads. Furniture, beds and even the inside surfaces of vehicles face ruin. In the process, he adds, pets can become ashamed and fearful as their owners grow increasingly frustrated.

To the Rescue
Pet specialty retailers can provide a huge assist by understanding the housetraining mistakes that pet owners tend to make and discussing these with their customers, helping the training process proceed more smoothly and successfully. Consistency and structure are essential, says Ryan Anderson, category manager for waste management for Radio Systems Corporation’s PetSafe brand, which makes waste management products for indoor use, along with other pet-related items.

Not having a structured approach and consistency when housetraining can make it harder for the pet to learn when the proper time to relieve himself is,” Anderson says. “Keeping a schedule of when the dog goes to the bathroom will help in predicting when he will need to go in the future, decreasing the chances for accidents and the ensuing frustration. The dog must be monitored at all times and rewarded extensively for doing the right thing.”

Wisdom agrees that lack of consistency is the No. 1 reason housetraining tends to go south. “This can lead to accidents in the house, which can lead to repeated going in that part of the house where the dog had that accident,” he says. “Related to this is scolding the dog while it is peeing on the floor, this just makes the dog think that you don’t want him to pee in front of you.”

Another mistake Wisdom says owners often make is taking the dog outside and then standing there for over 30 minutes while the dog just wanders around and basically does everything but his business. If the dog doesn’t go within five minutes, he advises his training clients to take the dog back inside and watch for triggers indicating the dog is ready to go and then take him outside again.

Inside the home, pet owners often fail to create a “den” or specific bathroom area and instead give the dog too much freedom around the house.

“It’s best to confine the dog to the area where his potty is during his usual bathroom times, he advises. “Another common mistake is incorrect and inconsistent timing of rewards when the dog goes potty in the right place. And a worse (and even more common) mistake is punishing the dog for having an accident or going in the wrong place.”

Dog owners often get stressed-out by their pets’ accidents, which only makes the situation worse. “[Accidents] can and will happen; stay calm and stay the course,” Whitehead suggests. “Another [mistake] is punishing the puppy or dog when they haven’t been taught what to do. Physical punishment and rubbing noses in messes is not effective. Dogs respond best to positive reinforcement when they display correct or favorable behavior.”

Pet owners who use pee pads should be advised to put the dog or puppy directly on the pad when it’s time for the pet to go, says Jangula, adding that dogs typically will need to eliminate after they’ve eaten or upon wakening. It’s important not to play with them or distract them in any way when they’re on the pad, she says.

“But do make sure they stay on the pad until they have done their business,” Jangula says. “Then, praise, praise, praise them. Soon, it will become a natural place for them to head on their own.”

Dog owners should become the “alpha” in the housetraining process rather than assuming a submissive role, says Macon Brock, president and founder for Irvine, Calif.-based Skout’s Honor, which offers environmentally friendly cleaning products and stain and odor removers. 

“Taking the power position with a confident approach makes the pet feel at ease and is something the pet wants and needs,” Brock explains.

It’s also important for people to understand and accept that not all pets will become fully trained, says Bledsoe. Some dogs, especially toy breeds, may be lifelong users of pads. “[As a result], these pet owners will need training and potty products that have a proven record of working, not only to keep surfaces protected, but to keep the pet dry and sanitary as well.”

Sweet-Smelling Sales
There will always be a market for housetraining and stain and odor removal products, making these items must-haves for any pet specialty retailer (and their frantic customers). However, although consumer awareness that housetraining products exist is on the rise, many pet owners don’t know just how many different types there are. Many pet specialty retailers may also not be fully aware of what is on the market. Consequently, exploration and education will help create an assortment that can meet a broad spectrum of housetraining needs. As helpful as pee pads are, they’re not the only tool available, and there is no need to limit the selection to just these types of solutions.

Customer education and helping them find the right product for their needs is integral to keeping sales strong and taking full advantage of the profits these items can add to the bottom line. It is important to initiate conversations with customers to determine what will work best for them. Ask about the age, sex and breed of the dog. Also ask if the pet is having accidents in the house and if the dog has been examined by a vet to see if there’s a medical issue. Ask about lifestyle, and how often does the pet go outside/get walked? Is the pet home alone all day? The pet’s size is also important, especially for those customers considering a crate, says Whitehead.

“We know that consumer dissatisfaction with a crate purchase is usually due to an improperly sized crate,” she says. “Retailers should help educate the consumer about researching their dog’s probable size at adulthood and direct them to a crate that will accommodate the fully grown dog. A divider panel can be used to adjust the size of the living area in the crate while the puppy grows into his adult size.” 

Bledsoe says he advocates crate training as dogs are by nature “den creatures.”

Ask customers about related problems such as stains and odors, and what kinds of stains the customer is grappling with. “Cleaning up a urine stain can be very different than removing mud or even blood,” Brock explains. “Some problems require a cleaning and a deodorizing component, while other issues may need only a deodorizer to do the trick.”

It’s also helpful to ask what kind of food the owner is feeding, says Wisdom, since sometimes food can create issues that lead to accidents. If the dog seems as if it’s showing symptoms of food sensitivity or intolerance, suggesting a different diet may resolve the problem. 

Displaying products so customers can easily see them and understand how they work will boost awareness of all the alternatives available and may help increase sales. For example, Brock says they have found that multiple facings of their products can increase sales by more than 33 percent. “Accessibility is key,” he says.

Don’t limit these items to just one location. As an idea, you can have a section entirely dedicated to housetraining and stain/odor removal products, and at the same time, create areas in the store displaying the products by age group, such as all the items needed to care for puppies, or adult or senior dogs, or dogs recovering from medical treatment. Devising a section for rescue/adopted dogs is another option, since as Wisdom points out, an adult rescue may be housetrained for the place where he formerly lived but not for his current house and so therefore will need these products, at least for a time. What else?

“Always remember that when a customer is coming to purchase housetraining products, they are most likely frustrated, impatient and are seeking the miracle ‘silver bullet’,” says Bledsoe. “My advice to the retailer is to know what is available on the market and what really performs.”

And be sure to emphasize patience, Anderson says. “Training is a process. It doesn’t happen overnight.”


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