How to Pad-Train Your Dog

| Pad-training Penny was one of the best decisions I ever made! It has made traveling with her so much easier than I could have imagined! However, pad-training is definitely not a good option for every dog, especially not for very large dogs or males that lift their leg. A lot of trainers actually disapprove of pad-training because it can be extremely difficult for many dogs to learn – this is one of those things that you shouldn’t try without truly knowing your dog. As with most training behaviors, the younger the dog is, the easier it will be to train – this doesn’t mean you can’t pad-train an older dog, just that it will most likely take a lot more patience! I always like to remind you guys that I am not a trained or certified dog trainer, this is just the information that I’ve learned through my own research and practice, plus the steps I took to successfully pad-train Penny.

PS – These methods can also be used to train your dog to use an indoor grass patch!

What is the Point of Pad-Training?

I’m sure some of you might be wondering why someone would want to train their dog to go to the bathroom inside and that’s okay! Like I said before, this is definitely not for everyone or every dog, but for some people it’s a great option. For me personally, I knew we would be taking Penny almost everywhere with us, which would include air travel and other peoples’ houses, so I thought it would be a great way for all of us to have consistency. Since she has been using potty pads since she was a puppy, Penny now knows that wherever we are, if I put out a potty pad, she uses it if she needs to go. Pad-training is becoming a very popular option for parents of small to medium dogs who live in apartments or high-rises that don’t have fast access to an outdoor space.

What Results Should I Realistically Expect?

Your dog might not be pad-trainable – Like I’ve said several times, this is a very particular skill that can some dogs just aren’t able to learn and that is completely okay! Be patient with your dog and don’t be too upset if they never really catch on. As long as they have an appropriate outdoor bathroom routine, you’re still one of the lucky ones. Not all dogs are equally intelligent, but all of them are equally deserving of love!

Your dog might only use a potty pad at home – Yes, I have taught Penny to use a potty pad to pee on command and in any location. However, this is something I started working on during her first 6 months of life and was very consistent with. This level of communication between me and Penny took many many months to cultivate. Many of the other pad-trained dogs that we know will use potty pads correctly at home, but often still have accidents in other places. This is still considered success for the majority of dogs.

They probably won’t be able to poop on a mat with 100% accuracy – This entire tutorial is pretty much about training your dog to urinate (go pee) on potty mats. Teaching them to defecate (go poop) on the mat can be A LOT more tricky because dogs have very specific qualifications for where they do their business. An article on Wired says, “[a]ccording to a 2013 paper published in Frontiers in Zoology, it may be that dogs attempt to align themselves with Earth’s magnetic field before pooping. Specifically, they seem prefer to defecate along the North-South axis if the magnetic field is stable.” This innate desire to align with the Earth’s magnetic field is why your dog searches for the perfect spot and then spins around in circles before pooping. It’s also for this reason that training a dog to poop on a potty pad is significantly more difficult than teaching them to pee on it. Penny always starts pooping on her pad in the designated area, but often walks while she goes, so I still have to pick up poop and clean the floor most of the times she goes… Lately, we’ve been trying to encourage her to poop outside for this reason.

Choosing the Right Pad:

There are several brands of dog potty pads on the market, but some are definitely better than others. Look for one that turns liquid into gel because it helps your pet avoid making footprints if they walk through it. They all have different absorbency levels and some have adhesive tabs that stick the whole pad to the floor. The larger the pad is, the better your pet’s aim success rate will be; the ones I have always used are roughly 4 square feet. Try not to change sizes on your pet too often to avoid accidents!

At home, Penny pees on each pad at least 3-4 times before I throw it away and put down a new one.

Get the Ones We Use:
Top Paw by Petsmart, 150ct

Unfortunately, this post is not sponsored by Petsmart and I do not work there or receive goods and/or money from them.

An Important Reminder About Dog Behavior:

Dogs only associate an interaction with going potty during the act of going potty. This is the reason that the old adage of “rubbing your dog’s nose in it” doesn’t work very well as a training method. If you want to shape your dog’s behavior, you need to praise them literally while they are going to the bathroom in the correct place or scold them as they are actually going to the bathroom in the wrong place. If you come upon the mess as they are walking away, the window for training has already passed.

Indoor + Outdoor House-Breaking

Some dogs that grow up using potty pads won’t go outside anymore… To some people, this might be totally okay, but personally, I feel like the training is incomplete when that’s the case. If you don’t take your dog out and about like I do, try to walk your dog outside at least once a day, even if it’s just letting them sniff around for a few minutes. If they only ever have the option to potty inside, that’s all they’ll ever think about doing. You should always encourage your dog to use the bathroom outside like their instincts are telling them to!

Before I even started pad-training Penny, I wanted her to understand that it was always okay to go potty outside, especially on grass. When she was a young puppy and we were in the house, we strictly followed the pad-training schedule that I talk about below. However, if we were out of the house, I always gave her many chances to walk on grass, dirt, or mulch, giving her a lot of praise whenever she did go potty. Now, if Penny is inside and has to pee, she goes over to her mat, but if she’s already outside, she’ll just go where she wants to out there. In my opinion, that’s a completely pad-trained dog!

Pad-Training a Puppy (Younger Than 1 Year)

Pad-training a young puppy is all about consistency and will require nonstop, around-the-clock daily work for a while, so if you want to see results in a timely manner, you really need to commit to this. To summarize, puppies go to the bathroom after pretty much everything they do and you need to be ready for every single one of those potential training windows. First, decide on your training phrases – you’ll need one that you want to use throughout your dog’s life when you want them to go to the bathroom, another one to praise them for going to the bathroom, and one to scold them for going to the bathroom in the wrong place.

Phase 1 – Teaching Them What to Do:

Put a few potty pads out in your bathroom or another small space where you can close the door. I’ll say it again: puppies go to the bathroom after pretty much everything they do. As soon as your puppy wakes up in the morning, take her into the bathroom, close the doors, put her on the potty pad, and sit on the floor with her, repeating your training phrase until she goes to the bathroom. You might be in there for 10-20 minutes every session before your dog goes to the bathroom, but this is great bonding time for both of you! Every time your puppy goes potty correctly, with all 4 paws on a pad, you give extreme praise by showering your dog with positivity, like clapping, kissing, squealing, and lots of pets. Whenever she attempts to go correctly, with 2 front paws on a pad, but still misses the pad, verbally praise her for going potty, but don’t get too excited about it. If she misses the pads entirely, it’s important that you simply do nothing. Don’t praise her, but don’t scold her either. Just clean up after her and get ready to try again next time. Do not scold her for peeing in the bathroom, even if it’s not on the pad, but if you happen to catch the puppy while she is currently peeing somewhere else in the house, you can verbally scold her.

Basically, you’ll need to repeat all of the steps listed in the paragraph above several times throughout the day. Close the doors and sit in the bathroom with your puppy until he or she goes pee, about 0-5 minutes after each of the following events:

  • When the puppy first wakes up, in the morning and after every nap
  • After the puppy’s first meal of the day
  • After each play and/or snuggle session
  • Before bed time
  • Every time the puppy wakes during the night

Stay consistent with this routine and your puppy will eventually catch onto the idea that they’re supposed to pee on the potty pad! I can’t tell you a timeline for this or anything because it depends on both the trainer and the dog being trained.

Phase 2 – Teaching Them Where to Go:

At some point, once your puppy has more or less mastered the idea that they’re supposed to pee with all 4 paws on the potty pad, you can start leaving the doors to the bathroom open. You should be able to lessen the amount pads on the floor as well of time you sit with them in the bathroom, transitioning to just bringing them to the bathroom, giving the command, and having them go pee, versus having to wait until they go on their own. Continue to be consistent with your training phrases and over-the-top praise whenever the dog pees 100% on the potty pad.

As your dog starts to get better at this whole process, your puppy should able to use just one potty pad instead of several of them all over the bathroom floor. At this point, you should leave that pad in the same place that you started training, so that your pet is now walking into the bathroom on their own to use the potty correctly. Once you both get comfortable with your dog knowing when, where, and how to use a potty pad, you should stay in that comfort zone for several weeks at a minimum without moving the pad from the place where you first starting training.

Phase 3 – Moving the Pad:

After several weeks of your dog correctly urinating on the potty pad in the bathroom where you originally started training, you can begin to relocate the pad if you need to. Depending on the size of your house and/or the size of the area your puppy has access to, you’ll probably need a pad in each main room or area. When moving your dog’s potty pad, baby steps are key. Imagine a line from the training bathroom to the place you want the potty area to be. Then, every other day, you move the pad a foot or two closer, along that imaginary line. If your dog keeps using the pad with accuracy as it moves, keep moving it. If your dog misses the pad (often by going where it used to be), don’t move it again until they get it right. Use praise to encourage your dog to use the pad as expected until you’ve moved it to the final spot.

When we first pad-trained Penny, we lived in a small-ish apartment, so we just left the pad in the bathroom we used for training. Once we moved to our first rental house, I experimented with several pad locations before settling on the best spot. At our current house, Penny only has one potty pad in the hallway by our bathroom because she knows that’s her designated pee area. If I forget to put a new pad down, there’s a high chance she will pee on the floor in the place where the pad should’ve been. It is probably worth noting that Penny still has the occasional pee accidents around the house, but it’s almost always on the same rug, which leads me to believe that there’s some scent in that specific rug that’s causing her to mark…

Phase 4 – Using the Pad in Public:

Once you feel like your dog has mastered peeing on the potty pads in the comfort of their own home, you can start bringing them with you and giving them the option to use it. When we’re out and about, Penny prefers to go potty in grassy spaces outside, but if we’re at someone’s house or in an airport, it’s so helpful to be able to whip out a pad and have her pee on it!

Pad-Training an Adult Dog (Older Than 1 Year)

Training a dog who already has an established potty routine to use a pad is difficult, but not impossible! However, it’s not something I have done myself, since I trained Penny as a true puppy. Here’s what I would suggest: first, observe your dog for a while and try to make a schedule of their bathroom habits. Once you know what parts of the day or after which activities they usually do their business, buy a brand of potty pads that have a pheromone attractant smell, which helps encourage dogs to mark their scent. Put a pad very close to the door that they’re accustomed to using when they go out to the bathroom. If this applies to multiple doors, put a pad near each door. If you can, try to carry or guide your pet to the potty pad when you think it might be time for them to pee. Otherwise, it’s just up to you to keep a close eye on your pet so that you can praise them if and when they use the potty pad correctly. Please be cautious that many professional dog trainers will advise against pad-training because it’s so difficult and time-consuming to teach.

Be Patient, Consistent, and Positive! Good Luck!!