Getting a puppy is an exciting time. You’ve got this new, adorable family member who will grow into a fluffy couch potato, a gentle giant, or a crazy playmate you can take on runs. But no matter what kind of dog your puppy grows into, learning how to pad train is one of the first major challenges you two will have to overcome together.
For brand new dog owners especially, any kind of potty training can seem like a daunting task. Unlike humans, you can’t just tell your furry baby to go to the bathroom in a specific place and expect them to immediately understand. It takes a bit of work and patience, but it is an essential step to keeping your floors intact and training your dog.
Puppy pad training is the process of teaching your dog how to go to the bathroom in specific, designated spots where you’ve placed pads for them. If your dog is trained correctly, they will know to pee or poop on the pad when they need to go and not on your floor. Even if you can’t get them outside on time (or don’t plan to train them to go outside), your dog will do their business on a designated spot as long as they can make it.
Trying to teach your little furbaby all of that may sound hard, and the first few days will be. But as time goes by and you start learning your pup’s patterns and signs and adjusting accordingly, the training will get easier over time. It just takes time, patience, diligence, and maybe a few tips.
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What are Puppy Pads?
Puppy pads are small mats new dog owners place on the floor for their dogs to eliminate on. The point is to train the dog to use the bathroom in the designated spot to prevent damage to the floor. It teaches them early on to not go on the house floor and only where the human designates them to go, whether that’s continuing to go inside or eventually going outside.
While owners typically use pads while housebreaking a new puppy, some owners use them for the dog’s whole life for multiple reasons. They may keep them indoors because of the dog’s small bladder, the owner’s health issues preventing them from going outside, cold or heat outside, or work.
Some dog owners may even keep the pads into adulthood while also taking them outside. I do this for my Pekingese due to her small bladder and the family’s health issues. If I can get her outside I do, if I can’t she has a backup.
Most puppy pads are the common paper, water-resisting products you see in the store. There are also reusable pads and other indoor bathrooms.
A dog and a reusable pad.
Teaching Your Puppy How to Use a Pad
Introducing Your Puppy to the Pad
Introducing your furbaby to their bathroom is always the first step. You obviously can’t expect your dog to just look at one and immediately know what it is. Your dog needs to see it and know that it’s a safe spot first.
Place the pads on the floor in their designated spots and place your puppy on them, adding phrases like “go potty.” Let them sniff around it and explore it as much as they want. Just don’t let them start chewing on it. You don’t want them thinking that it’s a chew toy. If they start trying to chew on it, try to redirect their interest to another toy. Reward them for leaving the pad alone.
Once you have placed the pads, do not move them around while you’re still training. Moving their bathroom around may end up confusing your dog, causing more accidents. Consistency is key for any kind of training.
Watch your Puppy
You need to be watching your dog, especially during those first few weeks of potty training. If you can’t watch your pup for any reason, they need to go into a secluded area like a crate or pen. Until your dog is trained, they need to be kept in a small area even when they’re out.
Use a gate to close off the rest of the house so your puppy can’t wander into trouble or use the bathroom somewhere you can’t see. Not only do you need to be watching for accidents, but it’s also not safe for them to be wandering around the house on their own yet. The last thing you want is for them to find a wire or something else to choke on.
When owners can’t watch their puppies, they may put them in a crate. Pick a crate small enough for your dog not to have too much space so they don’t feel compelled to pee or poop on the other side of it. You can train your dog to see that crate as a safe space, making things easier in the future.
When your puppy is out with you, make sure to keep an eye out for signs that they need to go to the bathroom. Sniffing around the floor is a common sign that they need to go. They may also start pacing or zooming around. As you spend more time with them, their signs will become more obvious to you. For example, I can tell my dog needs to go when she starts pacing back and forth, racing around or starts trying to jump on walls.
As soon as you see the signs, pick up your dog and place them on the designated spot. Tell them to go potty and try to keep them on the spot until they do. With enough training, they’ll start going on their own when out.
Praise and Reward
When the magic moment finally happens and your puppy pees or poops on the pad, make sure to immediately let them know how happy and proud you are. Praise them like they just did the best thing ever and immediately give them their favorite treat. Dogs are people-pleasers. If they know that going to the bathroom on that spot makes you that happy and gets them treats, they’ll keep doing it.
Keep treats on hand at all times while you’re potty training and make sure you’re watching for the moment so you can jump to praise them as soon as your pup goes to the bathroom on the right spot. They don’t have long memories, so if you wait to praise them they may not know what it is you’re so happy about. Make sure to keep the praise up consistently to drill the message in that you want them to go on the pad.
While you don’t have to give them a treat for going to the bathroom for the rest of their life, it’s good to keep giving them positive affirmation for going to the bathroom properly even in adulthood. I still praise my dog whenever she goes potty in the right places. She barely ever has accidents anymore (and when she does it’s my fault for not paying attention), because she knows that going on the pad or outside will get her praise and treats.
How Often Will Your Puppy Need to Use the Puppy Pad?
As a general rule, the number of hours your puppy can hold it correlates with how many months old they are. For example, a three-month-old puppy can usually only hold it in for about three hours. At four months, the puppy would be able to hold it for about four.
When you first start training, you should take your puppy to the pad at least once an hour. It’s better to be safe than sorry and it helps them get used to the process. The more your pup is exposed to the pad, the more comfortable they’ll be using it.
As your dog gets older, they’ll be able to hold their bladder longer, but they’ll still need to go often. Regardless of age, you shouldn’t make your dog hold it longer than eight hours at the most. Note that the rule only applies when the dog is just sleeping or lying around. Running around and eating or drinking will make them have to go sooner.
You need to take your dog to the bathroom about ten minutes after meals and after drinks of water. If they don’t go when you first take them to the bathroom, put them in their crate or pen for about fifteen minutes, then try again. Eventually, they’ll have to go.
It’s also important to remember that puppies usually need to poop around five times a day depending on the dog and diet, so you need to be looking out for that too.
If your dog is playing and running around having a good time, keep a sharp eye on them. They usually have to go about 15 minutes after playing, but they may not be paying attention to their bladder and may just stop and pee if they lose control. Make sure there’s a pad nearby wherever they’re playing.
Puppy on puppy pads
If you see the signs that they’re about to lose control, stop them and take them to their bathroom. As they get older and have more control, they’ll be able to stop themselves and get to a bathroom by themselves once they’re trained.
For training purposes, it’s best to stay on a consistent schedule whenever possible. Again, consistency is key with any training. Both you and your dog will eventually get used to eating and going to the bathroom at specific times, so try not to deviate from that schedule.
Keep in mind that smaller breeds generally have smaller bladders than others, even as they grow out of puppyhood. Depending on the breed size, your dog may always need to go more often than others. My Pekingese is a year old and still has to go to the bathroom every few hours.
Handling Accidents and Setbacks
Accidents are going to happen. As much as we like to imagine a perfect scenario where our puppies immediately ace training and magically control their bladders, it’s just not realistic. You have to be prepared to calmly correct mistakes and clean up accidents.
If you see your puppy start to pee or poop on the floor, don’t freak out. Clap or correct them to get their attention, but don’t shout. Calmly correct them by placing them on the pad. It’s best if you can catch them right before they do the deed so they can go on the right spot, but even if you don’t you’re still telling them where to properly go next time. If you do get them to the right spot on time for them to go on it, make sure you praise and reward them so that they realize that’s where you want them to go.
Puppy and a pee pad
If you lose track of your dog for a few moments and later find an accident, just calmly clean it up and watch them more closely. Your puppy is not going to understand if you suddenly get mad and punish them for it. Dogs live in the moment. They’re not going to understand why you’re yelling at them for a mess created a long time ago.
No matter how upset you may be at the moment, do not punish your puppy. You’re just going to confuse your poor baby and encourage them to go when you’re not looking next time, which is especially bad if you want to train them to go outside. It’s not a good way to start your relationship with your dog.
I hope I don’t have to say this, but just in case: do not hit your dog if you see an accident. You solve nothing and risk damaging your relationship with your dog in the long run, especially if it becomes a habit.
Puppy pad training isn’t just about keeping your floors safe. It’s the start of your and your dog’s training and the start of forming a bond of trust. Don’t risk messing it up in a moment of anger, especially over a tiny accident.
When accidents inevitably happen, it’s important to clean up quickly to prevent any permanent damage to the floor. If you don’t clean up properly, the accident can leave a scent, encouraging your puppy to go there again. If they can smell it, they’ll feel comfortable eliminating there again. Keeping a close eye so you can quickly catch accidents is key.
When cleaning up urine accidents, it’s important to use an enzymatic cleaner. These cleaners break down the uric acids in urine and clean well enough to not leave behind any scents. Just spraying water on the spot and wiping it off won’t going to stop your dog from smelling it.
If the accident is on a hardwood floor, you may be able to use a mop with your cleaner to quickly clean it up. My family uses a Wet Spray Mop that has a refillable spray bottle on it. You can fill this bottle with your enzymatic cleaner and quickly wipe up a mess and spray the mist to get rid of the smell.
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What Kind of Puppy Pads Should You Use?
When potty training your puppy, you may be wondering what kind of pads you should buy. There are hundreds to choose from in stores online and picking a specific type can seem challenging.
Disposable Puppy Pads
If you’re just using pad training as an intermediary until you get your dog going to the bathroom outside, the basic puppy pads will work. You don’t get many uses out of them, but they come in fairly large packages. They’re easy to use and easy to dispose of. Make sure the ones you buy are leak-proof and well-made.
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When picking the basic paper products, there are multiple sizes. If your dog is a large breed and a fast grower, or simply has trouble with missing the pad, I would recommend a larger size. Even though I have a small breed, I’ve used larger pads to give her more space to go. There’s no harm in picking a larger size just to be safe.
Reusable Puppy Pads
If you’re planning to keep your dog on pads for the long run, you might want to invest in some reusable pads. They’re more expensive than basic paper products, but they can save you money in the long run. You can get multiple uses out of them depending on the dog size. And best of all, you can simply put them through the washer and dryer. You can just keep cycling through these reusable mats without needing to constantly buy more.
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If you do get reusable pads, I recommend keeping some disposable ones on hand in case your dog gets the runs. You don’t want to have to replace them every hour when you only have a few of them and need to wash them after.
You Can Survive Puppy Pad Training
Learning how to pad train a puppy is a process for both the owner and the dog. It’s the first test of your patience and one of the first major training lessons your dog will go through. It’s not always easy, and there are going to be accidents and setbacks. The important thing is to stay consistent and calm to help your dog through it.
When you first start out, make sure your puppy is comfortable with the pad. Make sure you watch your baby and learn the signs that they need to potty, then pick them up and place them on the designated spot. Praise them like they just saved the world (they did save your floor) when they get it right and don’t scream at them when they get it wrong. I promise the praise will help them more than any scolding.
Make sure you have the materials on hand to clean up any messes, regardless of what kind of floor accidents happen on. Accidents will happen, so you need to be ready to calmly and effectively clean them up with an enzymatic cleaner.
Remember to take it one day at a time. Puppy pad training can be hard starting out, especially if this is your first time going through it. But it’s also a chance to start building trust with your new family member and learning about them.