There's more than one way to train your puppy to use a pee pad. Some people start with a cold turkey approach, while others prefer to gradually introduce the pad.
Others, once they've decided to put their dog on a pee pad, stick with that technique for the rest of their dog's life.
But, if you've never tried to pee pad train a puppy, you're probably wondering what the best approach is, and how you might go about it.
Potty pad training your dog
While many owners toilet their dogs outside, indoor potty training is a viable option for small breeds, particularly those living in cold climates or in high-rise buildings. The following steps will help you get started:
- Restrict Fluffy’s access inside the house. Keep her on leash with you, in a free-standing pen on an easy-to-clean floor (while supervised), or in a properly-sized kennel. When she looks as though she’s about to pee or poop, say “potty” (or whatever word you choose) and take her quickly to her pad. Give her lots of praise and a small treat when she “does her business” there. Do not allow her free access to the house yet, as that will only result in making housetraining mistakes. If she pees or poops in the wrong areas, she will return to those areas more and more.
- No punishment. If Fluffy has an accident, simply take her quickly to her pad. No yelling, no “bad dog” or other punishment: all that will do is teach her to poop and pee when you are not around (when it’s “safe”). Clean any soiled areas with an enzyme-based cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle and follow label instructions carefully.
- Set up her “alone” room. When you can’t watch her, or when you are away from the house, leave Fluffy in a small bathroom with pads covering the entire floor: leave her some water, toys, and some bedding to lie on. Do this for 2-3 days, then take away one of the pads (leaving all the others). In two more days, take another pad away. Two days later, remove another, and so on. The idea is to wean Fluffy off of each pad until there is only one left in the room. If she pees outside of the remaining pads, put the rest back and start over.
- Feed Fluffy on a schedule. For dogs that eat twice a day, we recommend putting the food bowl down in the morning, wait 15 minutes, and then remove it, regardless of how much or how little she ate. She will learn to eat when her food is available, and be less likely to have accidents during the day.
- Take her to her pad regularly and wait for her to go. We recommend every 2-3 hours, as well as the following sleep, play, and eating periods. Once again, reward her generously when she goes. I would keep her on a leash to prevent her from wandering away: simply stand with her at her spot, on a leash, and ignore her until she goes. Give her 5 minutes, then take her away from the spot.
Maintain this routine for about 2 weeks. If she’s not having accidents at that point, begin to give her a little more freedom and continue to reward successful potty trips. If she begins to soil again, go back to the steps mentioned above.
Pros and Cons of Pee Pad Training
- Can be convenient: You can place pee pads anywhere. In many cases, it may also be quicker and more easily accessible to get to a pee pad, rather than outside or all the way down the elevator, before an accident happens.
For example, if you are mobility impaired or live on an upper floor of a tall apartment building, it's much easier to get your puppy to their pee pad area than make the long trip downstairs to get them outside.
- Easy clean-up: Like a diaper, they soak up the mess and you can simply toss them in the trash. Or you can buy reusable, washable ones.
- Creates a potty spot: Pee pads can encourage your puppy to potty in the right place with a built-in attractant. You can also purchase potty attractant spray to use on your dog's porch potty, and even use it to encourage your dog to go potty in certain parts of the yard over others.
Pee pads or dog litter boxes create an appropriate potty area in your puppy's long-term confinement zone, helping your puppy learn to go to the bathroom away from their sleeping area.
- Weather friendly: For all those times when it’s just downright nasty out and the idea of taking your dog out to potty makes you want to cry, pee pads give your dog an indoor bathroom option.
Some pups have a hard time going potty outside in inclement weather because they’re uncomfortable or distracted.
No trip outside necessary for pee-pad trained pups.
- Anything could be a pee pad: Teaching your pup to pee on a thin paper pad may also teach them that it’s okay to pee on similar items.
They might consider the newspaper you tossed on the floor as fair game for a potty spot.
Some dogs who use pee pads generalize to going to the bathroom on any square mat or rug in the house. Watch out when you step out of the shower!
- Set-up for outdoor potty training failure. By allowing your puppy to eliminate indoors while also trying to train them to go potty outside, you are sending mixed messages.
This confusion can delay the desired habit of holding it until they can go outside. Plus, your puppy could become dependent on their pee pads. It can be a long process to transfer your dog’s potty habits from indoor pee pads to only outdoors.
- Chewing and shredding risk: Puppies like to explore the world with their mouths.
Placing pee pads on the floor may just be an open invitation for your pup to go into shredding (and swallowing) mode.
- Tasty snack: Some puppies like to eat their own stool (a habit known as coprophagia), if given the chance.
Using potty pads provides them the opportunity to practice this behavior because they are not being supervised like they would be on a leashed potty break.
- Missing out on fresh air and socialization experiences. While pee pad training can be more convenient and can keep you both warm and dry when the weather isn’t cooperating, one of the great joys and benefits of having a dog is that you get outside and enjoy the fresh air more often. These outdoor excursions also give you the opportunity to meet other people or dogs in your community.
Pee pad training can deprive your pup of the benefits of socialization.
Things to consider When Potty Training Using A Pee Pad
Should you decide that indoor potty options are necessary for your situation, here are a few tips and recommendations to consider:
- Instead of pee pads, consider potty boxes that use turf or real grass to help develop the association that grass is the appropriate place to go potty. You can even make your own DIY porch potty.
- As your puppy becomes accustomed to using their indoor potty area, gradually move it closer to the outside potty area to work on training them to go to the desired destination.
- Never leave pee pads in the crate with your puppy. Not only is it a chewing hazard, but it will also start to teach your puppy that it is ok to pee in their crate. Pee pads can be used in long-term confinement areas, like ex-pens. Check out this puppy zone article for more information.
Tips To Potty Train A Puppy
It’s easy to get frustrated with your new puppy when potty training is taking longer than you expected. But it’s essential to be patient during this process. Remember, potty training takes time. Don’t expect more from your puppy than he is able to deliver. The following points will help you keep your cool:
- A puppy can’t control his bladder until he is 16 weeks old. So as much as you might like him to wait, he simply can’t.
- A puppy can only hold his bladder as long as his age in months plus one hour. So, a four-month-old puppy can only hold it for five hours. That includes during the night as well.
- Every breed is different. For example, a toy breed might need more frequent potty breaks due to a fast metabolism and tiny bladder.
- Every puppy is different, even within breeds. Your first puppy might have been potty trained in a few weeks, but your next one might need months.
Supervision at All Times
It’s important to watch your puppy at all times for safety, but this is also the key to successful potty training. You can’t prevent accidents if you don’t have your eyes on the dog. Here are some tips to help with supervision:
- Take your puppy to the potty pad frequently. How often will depend on his age and bladder strength For very young puppies, it could be as often as every 15 minutes. Better a wasted trip than an accident.
- Set a timer if you’re having trouble remembering when to take your puppy to his pad.
- Watch your puppy for telltale signs he has to go such as sniffing the ground, circling, or whining. When you see those signs, take him straight to the potty pad.
- Use a long leash if you are having trouble keeping your puppy in sight. Tie the leash to heavy furniture or around your waist to limit your puppy’s movements.
- Put your puppy in a crate or a safe area whenever you can’t supervise him.
Using A Crate
A crate is an important potty training tool because dogs don’t like to soil where they sleep.
Plus, a strong denning instinct means that if you introduce a crate properly, your puppy will see it as his safe space rather than a punishment. Keep the following in mind when introducing a crate to your puppy:
- Choose an appropriately sized crate. Your puppy should be able to lie down and turn around but with no extra room. If the crate is too large, your puppy can use one end as a toilet which will delay potty training.
- Use dividers with a larger crate. If you buy a crate for your dog’s adult size, dividers can help the crate “grow” with your puppy.
- Associate the crate with wonderful things. If you put treats in the crate, feed your puppy at the back of the crate, and leave food-stuffed chew toys in the crate, your puppy will learn to love it.
- Reward your puppy for going in his crate. He will be happy to go inside if it’s a rewarding place to be. Although a crate is great for a quiet time out, don’t use it for punishment.
- Take your puppy straight to his potty pad whenever you let him out of his crate.
When thinking about how to potty train a puppy, don’t underestimate routine and consistency.
Setting a schedule and sticking to it will help prevent accidents and ensure you give your puppy every chance to go in the right location. These tips will help you stay consistent:
- Know when your puppy has to go. Most puppies need the bathroom when they wake up in the morning, after eating, after playing, and after napping. So, take your puppy to the potty pad every time one of these events occurs.
- Take your puppy to the potty pad anytime they haven’t been for an hour or two.
- Bring your puppy to the potty pad whenever you suspect it’s time. But if he doesn’t go, don’t let him run around and play. Instead, put him back in his crate for 10-15 minutes, then immediately try again. Repeat until he does his business.
- Feed your puppy on a schedule. If you control when your puppy eats, you can better predict when he’ll have to go to the bathroom. Don’t free feed.
- Choose an appropriate place for the potty pad. Try not to move it while your puppy is still learning. If you confuse your puppy, he will have more accidents and take longer to train.
Reward With Praise and Treats
Dogs repeat behaviors that are rewarding and doing their business in the right spot is no different. If you reward your puppy with praise and treats whenever he uses his potty pad, he will be more likely to use it again in the future. Keep the following in mind when rewarding your puppy:
- Reward your puppy immediately after he does his business. Don’t wait to get the treats out of the cupboard. Have them ready to go in the moment.
- Keep a bowl or bag of treats beside the potty area so you are always prepared.
- Use a leash if your puppy is easily distracted. Walk him to the potty pad on a leash and only unclip him after he’s done his business. The freedom to play will be a bonus reward.
Switch From Pads to Outdoors
When it’s time to transition your puppy from potty pads to the outdoors, many of the tips above can be applied in the same way. Simply take your puppy outside rather than to his pad.
This advice can help along the way:
- Teach your puppy a potty cue like “Hurry Up” or “Go Potty.” Start by using the cue whenever your puppy is about to go, then reward him as soon as he finishes. With enough repetition, you will be able to ask your puppy to go where and when it’s convenient for you, including in the outdoor toilet area.
- Move the potty pad outside. Only move it a small distance each day so you don’t confuse your puppy. First work toward the door to the outside, then to just outside that door, then slowly to the final outdoor location.
- Decrease the size of the potty pad once it’s outside. Some puppies will catch on quickly, particularly with the help of potty cues, but if your puppy is struggling, cut the potty pad smaller and smaller until he’s using the ground instead.
Calmly Handle Accidents
It’s human nature to look for what’s wrong and take what’s right for granted. But we need to do the complete opposite with our puppies. Always reward and praise good behavior and ignore the things that go wrong. This is especially true with potty training accidents.
Bathroom mistakes are inevitable with puppies, so please don’t overreact and frighten or punish your puppy. Here are some tips for handling potty accidents:
- Interrupt your puppy if you catch him in the act of having an accident. Don’t scare or startle him. Marking the behavior with a quiet hand clap or the words “oh-oh” should be enough to stop him mid-stream. Punishing him in the act will only teach him not to go in front of you, leading to a dog that sneaks behind the couch to go in private.
- Take your puppy to his potty pad as soon as you catch him. If he stopped when you interrupted him, he might finish on the pad and you can reward him when he does. If he doesn’t finish on the pad, at least you have shown him where he should have gone.
- Do nothing if you don’t see the accident happen. Showing your puppy after the fact won’t teach him anything about potty training. If you want to scold somebody, lecture yourself for not supervising closely enough.
- Clean all accidents with an enzymatic cleaner. Dogs are attracted to the smell of previous business, so thorough and proper cleaning is essential.