Say No No to Wee Wee Pads (How to Potty Train Your Puppy the Right Way)
I am a dog trainer for a pet supplies chain, and I wish I could "Caution Tape" off the aisle with the pee pads in it, stick a wet-floor sign in front of it, throw up a ladder with some dangling electrical equipment, and then maybe place a guy in a biohazard suit with a sign that read "Ebola!" in front of it just to keep people away.
When I'm steering people away from products that I think are crappy (prong collars, rawhides, Science Diet) I have to be really subtle about it. But I wish I could launch a missile attack on the wee-wee pad aisle, I really do.
So why do I hate pee pads so much? Let me count the ways . . .
Are Puppy Pads a Good Potty-Training Aid?
No. Here's a quick rundown of why wee wee pads are a bad idea. While they might seem like a convenient solution, they'll only end up sabotaging your potty-training efforts.
- They teach your dog to pee in your house.
- They don't work for long-term use.
- They're not sanitary.
- Most dogs never get used to them and like to shred them rather than pee on them.
- They're expensive.
Pee Pads Teach Your Dog to Pee in Your House (Yikes!)
Essentially, if you buy pee pads and put them down on your floor, you are saying to your dog that you want them to pee in your house. No matter how well-intentioned you are in your approach to potty training, if you bring pee pads in your house, you are doing the wrong thing.
The one and only exception is for sick and elderly dogs that literally can't get up to go out. They probably won't use them anyway, but I'm mostly talking about puppies.
Commit to Potty-Training Your Puppy the Right Way
Puppies are the cutest little poop machines! For the first weeks of their lives, their mamas clean up after them, just like how your mama cleaned you up. But there comes a time for you to learn to take care of yourself. Potty training humans is difficult, but at least we speak the same language. Potty training a different species is even more difficult, but just as necessary, so think about that before you buy a puppy.
You're going to need to commit serious hours to potty train your puppy, and it is so tempting to buy those pee pads because they seem great. You think, "Aw, it's getting cold out, I don't want to make my puppy walk in the cold; we'll just use these for the winter." Or, "My poor puppy is all alone while I'm at work for 6 hours, I'll just put down these pee pads until I get home." Don't! Springtime will come and your dog will still be sh*tting on your floor. If you work five days a week, and that's not going to change, you won't be able to potty train on your next week-long vacation in six months; that's not how it works.
I want to give you the steps to successfully potty train, because I think it's that important. So many dogs are turned into shelters because they couldn't learn not to poop where they weren't supposed to. Lord knows, my Ollie tried my patience! (Read more about Ollie's story below.)
We were really patient with him, and I'm glad we were, because he's a great dog. I want to help other people realize that they have great dogs and that although potty training is frustrating it is essential. This is how to do it!
How to Potty Train Your Puppy the Right Way
I believe in crate training, although I come from a family who thinks it's heartless. I can't even talk training with my mom or my nana without them thinking I'm evil. But, it's necessary, and not cruel, and it is so, so much better than trying to potty train with puppy pads.
The only extra equipment you need (if you don't already have it) is a crate, enzymatic cleaner, a timer, gates, cardboard boxes in a variety of sizes, and a carabiner.
1. Introduce the Crate
The crate should be comfortable and cozy, because it is her den. I bet you like the comfy, cozy sanctuary that is your bedroom—that's what her crate should be. To achieve this, place a soft crate pad (not a wee wee pad!) on the bottom, and if you have a wire crate, put a blanket over the top to create a "cave."
Note: Remove these items if you've got a dog that is eating the mattress pad and blanket.
How to Size a Crate for Potty Training
At first, your dog should only have enough room to stand and turn around while inside the crate. If your crate doesn't have a partitioner to make it smaller, you can size up a cardboard box to place inside in order to limit movement. The idea is for her to not have enough room to pee in the corner, and then move to escape her own pee.
Most dogs will not eliminate where they sleep, but some might mark a little bit to get their smell inside. But you shouldn't see a full-out bladder spill from them while in their crates if the sizing is just right.
Never Use the Crate for Punishment
Introduce the crate as a happy place, and never use it for punishment. A crate is not a doggy jail. But whenever your eyes are not on her, she should be in the crate. If you take her outside and she doesn't produce, she should go right back into the crate. Again, not as punishment, but you need to make sure she has no choice but to pee outside so you can reward her as soon as she does.
Each time you put her in her crate, use your "Happy Puppy" voice and use a command word in a sentence such as, "Go in your house." Use treats to get her to go inside. Don't ever let her out while she is barking or crying; that will start bad habits.
2. Set a Feeding Schedule
That is the simplest thing you can do. While humans process food in 24–48 hours, dogs do so under 24 hours. Food goes in, and right away, some thing's got to come out. Once your puppy is on a twice-a-day eating schedule, place his food down on the floor, set your timer, and give him 20 minutes to eat. Whatever is not eaten can be saved for the next meal.
Stick to 20-Minute Mealtimes
If you have a dog that likes to graze, be firm about the 20-minute mealtime. Whatever he doesn't eat in that time frame, he will be hungry for at the next mealtime. There are no anorexic dogs—when he is hungry, he will eat. Eventually, your grazing dog will get accustomed to a schedule. So, between 15 and 20 minutes after you've taken up the food, take your dog outside.
3. Designate an Outdoor Pee Place
Take your puppy, on leash, to the same place to pee. Business time first, then play. If you go out and take her to the pee place and she doesn't pee after 5 minutes or so, bring her back inside and try again a little later.
Reward With Gentle Praise and Treats
It's important to bring treats with you so you can treat her immediately after she's done peeing. Timing is everything. It's too late to praise and treat once you've brought her back into the house after she's peed outside. So when you treat, use your "Happy Puppy" tone of voice and smile.
Don't be too loud with the praise; you don't want to frighten her. Use gentle happy noises and smiles. Say, "good pee, good poop" or whatever, but give her a word to associate with eliminating so she can learn it (for the purpose of time management in the future).
4. Go Outside Frequently During the Day
When you start potty training, take your puppy outside as often as your schedule allows; every hour on the hour if you can. Let her see how happy it makes you that she's being a good girl. And always let her play a little bit after she goes.
When she gets the hang of it, add time in between going outside to pee so she can learn how to hold her bladder. Eventually, dogs can hold their bladders for 5 hours or longer.
5. Use Accidents in the House as Learning Opportunities
Keep your head about you. I know you just want to crumble into pieces because your puppy has just relieved himself on your oriental rug, but you have to remember he's not doing it on purpose, even if you think he's a vindictive little b*stard. If you don't catch him in the act, there's nothing you can do but take a deep breath and spray on some enzymatic cleaner.
What to Do If You Catch Your Puppy Peeing in the House
However, if you walk in on him popping a squat, that's actually great.
First, Don't Scream! But do make a loud noise to startle him to stop the flow of urine. Don't use his name and don't say "bad." If you frighten or embarrass him when he has an accident in the house, he'll still pee in the house, but he'll hide when he does it. You need to act as if it's all part of the day as normal.
Don't Dwell on the Accident. Pick him up or leash him and get him outside immediately. If he even puts a drop outside, treat and praise him as if the accident in the house never happened. Puppies only live in the moment, so try not to dwell on the things they did in the past.
Clean Up the Mess Right Away. Go in and clean up the mess right away with an enzymatic cleaner, but don't point at it or do anything else to make him feel guilty. He should always feel confident when eliminating so the act itself doesn't cause him stress.
Block Off the Room or Place. Once the area is clean, you need to block his access to this place in your house. If it's in a room that has a door, shut it or gate it off, and don't allow him back into this room until he is fully potty trained.
When that's not possible, cover the spot with a heavy piece of furniture or a weighted box. Tell your friends you're just doing some quirky redecorating. Puppies will always go back to the place where they were able to pee without interruptions. They are drawn back by not only the smell but by their visual surroundings as well. And they are more likely to pee on rugs and couches than hard surfaces, because the fabric will hide their accidents.
6. Use a Tinkle Bell (Advanced Technique)
If you have a fairly smart and observant puppy and you are particularly ambitious, you can use a Tinkle Bell. To use this, go to a hardware store and get a little bell and a hook to hang it on. Install the bell on the hook onto the wall next to the door you use to take your puppy outside from. Place it low to the ground so she'll have good access to it.
Note: Avoid hanging bells on doorknobs because if you use this door for regular comings and goings, the bell will ring and your puppy might be confused by it, and its purpose might be lost.
To make the best use of the bell, give the bell a gentle kick or tap every single time you take her out to eliminate. Don't ring the bell for playtime. Don't let your children (or childlike adult friends) ring it for fun. With precise consistency, your dog will catch on that the bell chiming means going out to pee, and she'll be able to ring it to tell you when she needs to go.
Make sure the first time she rings it on her own to praise her and take her out immediately. When she goes out and produces, give her even more praise and treats. If she starts ringing the bell just to go out and play, remind her that ringing the bell means business time. Leash her and bring her to the pee place; when she's done she can have some playtime.
Keep a Potty Journal. Usually, accidents occur when the puppy simply couldn't hold it any longer. Keep a potty journal if you need to in order to keep track of how long your dog can go before an accident. If you are leaving your puppy at home while you go to work, make sure that he goes out right before you leave and first thing when you get home.
Try the Umbilical Cord Approach. Make sure comings and goings are as calm as can be or you might get some excitement squirts. If he's running away from you and you find him pooping in the closet, keep him on leash and clipped to you with a carabiner. This is called the Umbilical Cord Approach. He won't have the chance to give you the slip, because he's attached to you. You'll be better able to predict when he's about to go, and it's a great bonding technique.
Assess the Situation. If you are still having trouble after 3 weeks of this strict routine, take a better look at the situation. When are the accidents happening, what proceeds them, what happens after? Answering these questions will greatly increase your chances of success.
Boost Your Dog's Potty Confidence. If you have a submissive pee-er, don't make direct eye contact with her while she's peeing; just bring her outside without adding to her stress, and concentrate instead on boosting her self esteem.
Try to Ease Separation Anxiety. If you have a dog that has an accident the second you leave her, this is probably from separation anxiety. Work with her on her being ok when you leave. Try some calming techniques, always use the crate, and give her some toys to play with to occupy her time. Kongs are great for this purpose. Think mental diversions.
Consider Neutering Your Dog (If You Haven't Already). If you have a dominant dog who's peeing to test limits, use the Umbilical Chord Approach to re-establish yourself as the alpha. Also, an intact male might be having accidents that aren't accidents at all to him. He might be marking his territory. Catch him in the act and redirect him outside. Also, neutering can cut down or completely wipe out this behavior altogether.
Good luck, pet parents! If you only remember one thing, let it be this: Be consistent! Whatever it is that you're doing, if it's working, keep doing it and never stop.
Our Story: Potty Training Ollie
We got Ollie, our little Rat Terrier while I was pregnant with Delaney. When we got him, he was extremely nervous and submissive. He was afraid of us, afraid of the car, and afraid of outside. It was like he wasn't a dog at all. He did lots of submissive peeing, and I was constantly running up and down two flights of stairs to launder peed-on couch cushions and throw rugs.
This went on for months. I would go to take him out, and he'd empty his bladder before I could get his leash on him. If I called his name, he'd pee. If I made eye contact, he'd pee. The good news is, he's mostly overcome this hurdle.
There's no leash anxiety because he wears a light leash around the house all day long now. I pick the end of leash up and say, "Let's go!" and he follows me right outside, no qualms, no accidents. We broke through his submissiveness through potty training, by positive reinforcement and building his self-esteem. We can look at him and touch him without major accidents, he's friendly with people now, and responds to commands.
Avoid Turning Your House Into a Potty
As you can see, in order to succeed at potty training a puppy, you have to put the work in. Writing about our success story with Ollie makes me think of the less-than-successful "attempts" made by some of the people who have attended my class.
Once, a lady with a small-breed puppy signed up for my 6-week class, showed up the first day and never came back. Why, you ask? I started off the class by asking about how potty training is going, because that's usually what people ask about first. The class spoke about their successes and this lady just laughed.
I asked her about her puppy's progress. "I'm not here for potty training, I'm fine with our arrangement," she replied. I asked her what the arrangement was, and she said, "Wee wee pads." I said, "Ok. How is that working out? Does he always pee on the pee pads 100% of the time?"
The answer was no. In fact, this dog had peed or pooped in every room in her house. She said he favored going under the dining room table, so she was looking for a domed-shaped crate to put pee pads in so that he could do his thing in private. When asked what happens when he goes outside, and if he produces anything on walks, she said that she hadn't taken him on walks yet. I'm pretty sure this lady didn't really want a dog, she wanted a cat. Small dogs are still dogs. They have all of the same instincts and drives of larger dogs.
Dogs only need a few things to survive in our world: shelter and sustenance, exercise, affection, and structure. She only wanted to give this guy two of those. The lady was only in my class to get her puppy to stop biting her; but if I was him, I'd bite her too. Not everyone who chooses the pads are like her. Most people are well intentioned, but the use of pee pads for puppy training is a bad idea no matter how you slice it.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2010 tallglassofsass