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On Pee Pads and Potty Training

We field a lot (A LOT) of questions about potty training. Owners get their puppy, they buy the token package of puppy potty pads and try and set about to house break their puppy. The result looks a bit like this image I ran across on facebook (photo credit unknown):

Cue owner frantically covering their house from wall to wall in pee pads, hoping that the accident may possibly land on one of the 567 pads they’ve layered across their living room.

Years ago I remember going into an in home training lesson with a family who opted for disposable mattress pads and had literally covered their entire house in mattress pads (including the furniture!)

Not surprising, their dogs did not understand.

Your dog is not being malicious or vindictive in missing the pee pad, they simply don’t understand what you mean when you throw these things (that look an awful lot like your white bathroom rug) all over the house.

So first things first — ask yourself, why am I using a pee pad to begin with? 

The reality is most pet owners should skip, yes SKIP the pee pads.

Unless you are in a high rise apartment building or an area with significant wildlife risk (coyotes/rattlesnakes, etc), you can probably SKIP the potty pads all together. If your ultimate goal is for your pet to go potty outside, thats where you should gear your training.

Why are you teaching your dog to defecate in your home if thats not the end goal? 

The basics of potty training come down to routine, confinement and teaching the dog to hold their bladder. Delving deeper into problem solving individual potty training issues is a topic fo another blog, or private training lessons. Today I want to focus on if you really do need those pee pads (see above), and if so, how to make them actually work.

We’ve answered a bit on do you really need those pee pads (see above). If you’ve decided that pee pads make sense for your puppy, the first change I typically recommend to clients is to make sure the pee pad looks DIFFERENT than the rug next to it.

If you want pee pad training to be successful, you have to make the pee pad stand out. Ideally I try and integrate the pee pad into a box or raised tray so that its obvious to the dog that they need to jump into/on something as part of potty training. The unfortunate part of trying to train a dog to pee pads is they can ‘walk and pee’ or pee in the very corner and inevitably the result is urine soaking just as much on the pad as around it.


Another change I typically recommend is to stop throwing pee pads everywhere around your house. Using pee pads is about teaching a dog to target where they need to go, not just hoping to catch an accident. In the beginning we can use a smaller space such as an exercise pen so that a puppy has limited options for mistakes. Gradually increase the amount of space so eventually there is a single pee pad in there room and the puppy is expected to see it out. If you are using pee pads for the life of the dog, try and have the pee pad in one predictable corner of the house.

Another suggestion I often make to puppy owners is to stop giving treats for potty training.

Yes I’ll repeat — STOP GIVING TREATS FOR POTTY TRAINING.

I’m sure there is an angry internet Lynch mob quick to say how giving cookies for going potty worked just fine for their dog and I’m sure its fine for many dogs. However if you are reading this article I’m guessing there is something going wrong in your potty training at the moment so this tip may just be worth trying.

My feeling about treats for potty training is that I find many dogs simply are not focusing on the act at hand because they are so focused on coming back to you for their cookie. Much like potty training a human child with bribes, the focus becomes on what they get and not on the business of going potty. I’ve even seen more than one occasion where a dog will fake pee just to rush back for a cookie. So with that in mind, try a switch to just praise and see if your student becomes more focused on their duty.

Our last tip is to change the pee pads often. Just like a cat who won’t use a dirty litter box, many puppies do not like using an already soiled pee pad. I realize pee pads can be expensive and if cost is a concern, you may consider switching to a patch of artificial turf (see link here) or washable pee pads (see link here) instead. Just remember the same principle applies … the pee pad needs to look significantly *different* than the surrounding rugs/carpet and if possible, always elevate it up into a tray or box.

We hope these tips for pee pads will help you further you puppy’s potty training. Remember we are just an email away if you’d like more information on the training programs at OC Dog Ranch! You can reach us at thepack@ocdogranch.com or call our dedicated staff at (949) 525-7362.

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