Housetraining Tips: Should you use potty pads?

Potty pads can be extraordinarily useful for dogs with special needs. However, their use can also cause a host of unintended problems. So, should you use potty pads to housetrain your dog? Here are the pros and cons of these housetraining tools.

Foster puppy Chowder (available for adoption through Secondhand Hounds!) started off on potty pads as we addressed his fear issues.

Foster puppy Chowder (available for adoption through Secondhand Hounds!) started off on potty pads as we addressed his fear issues.

Pros:

  1. Potty pads are great for dogs with medical issues. They can be placed over the bedding of dogs with incontinence issues or used for dogs recovering from surgery who can’t walk far enough to toilet outside. Our own dog, Trout, uses potty pads when we need to leave her for more than four hours, as she’s unable to hold her bladder longer than that due to an autoimmune condition.
  2. Potty pads are excellent initial choices for timid or fearful dogs. When I foster a dog who’s considered a “flight risk” (a dog who would run away if they got off their leash and wouldn’t approach any person to be caught), I start them on potty pads while we build up trust. Placing potty pads in half of a room, with the dog’s food, water, and crate on the other half, allows the dog the freedom to toilet as they need to without the potential trauma of being leashed or handled by a person. I can then devote all of my training time with that dog to trust-building exercises such as hand feeding them, reading to them, and clicker training games. Once the dog becomes comfortable with me and is okay on a leash, it’s important to switch them to outdoor potty training to continue their socialization and build up positive potty habits.

Cons:

  1. Potty pads teach dogs to toilet on square, absorbent surfaces. This can cause dogs to make potty training “mistakes” on your rugs, bath mats, dog beds, or blankets – all of which resemble the substrate your dog has developed a preference for. If you want to use an indoor toileting option for your dog long-term, consider investing in a doggy litter box instead. The special litter doesn’t resemble anything in your home, which makes where your dog is supposed to toilet a much more black-and-white choice – and your training much easier!
  2. Using indoor housetraining options limits socialization. Puppies need to go to the bathroom all the time – every hour if they’re quiet, and sometimes as often as every 10-15 minutes when they’re playing. All of this makes for lots of great socialization during potty trips outdoors. Puppies who are trained to eliminate in their home are often deprived of this frequent exposure to life outside their house, and are at a much higher risk of developing issues such as fear or reactivity due to these socialization deficits. Unless there’s a legitimate behavioral or medical reason why your puppy should not be taken outdoors, make sure your puppy is getting exposed to the sights, sounds, and scents of the world outside your home multiple times every day, regardless of what sort of housetraining option you decide on.
  3. Potty pads encourage laziness. Training your dog to go potty outside requires effort on your part. You have to go out with your dog and most people correctly remember to give their dogs treats for going potty outdoors. Not so with potty pads! Dogs don’t “self train” on these, but many people expect them to. You still need to put the work into bringing your puppy to the pad and giving him a food reward for eliminating in the right location if you use potty pads, or you’ll end up with an incompletely housetrained dog.

So, there you have it! Unless your dog is highly fearful or has a medical issue, potty pads are a training tool you can probably skip. They add an unnecessary step to housetraining for most normally developing puppies and adopted dogs, and are likely to cause more housetraining “mistakes” as your dog struggles to differentiate between the potty training pad and your household rugs. I don’t personally use potty pads except for in the cases I mentioned above, and try to move dogs away from them as quickly as possible.

Have you ever used potty pads with your puppies or adult dogs? What were your experiences with this training tool?

17 responses to “Housetraining Tips: Should you use potty pads?

  1. I have tried them, but the puppies just want to chew them up! I thought they might be useful rather than take a very young puppy out in the pouring rain.

  2. I adopted a puppy who was trained on towels and puppy pads. She’s 3 yrs old now and if I don’t crate her, she will pee on rugs, dog beds or anything cloth on the floor. I can be gone an hour and let her out before I go, she will still go on something if I don’t crate her. At this point I don’t think I ‘ll ever be able to put a rug down again. I would never recommend them except for medical reasons.

    • Hi, try wee wee puppy pads, or All-absorb training pads. They have chemicals that will attract dogs to pee on that only. It has worked great for me. I have rugs and carpets, but they will only go on the pads. I have two adult dogs. Maybe also try putting down 6-8 pads, so they have some options. Sometimes I’m school all day, so I’d rather they just pee and poop as they wish, and I’ll simply replace the pads when I’m back. I think that’s the easiest for both of us. Minimal effort required

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  4. As a foster, I always want to bang my head against a wall when I find out that a dog was pee-pad trained… they inevitably pee on bathroom rugs, doormats, etc. And I can’t blame them for it! The worst is when I’m playing with a pup and they suddenly realize they have to go, and they go SPRINTING down the hall…. to pee on your bathroom rug. Or maybe the real worst is when you groggily stumble into your bathroom and step in a pile that was so ironically placed right next to your toilet (where that rug is). Haha!

    That being said, I do wish I pee-pad or litter trained my older dog as she started aging. She started getting weaker in her back end and though she’s not incontinent, she definitely needs to go out far more frequently (then my schedule allows). She now just pees by one of the doors but doesn’t seem to choose a specific spot near them, so we can’t prophylactically pad the area. She’s also going blind and deaf, so even giving her treats/praise to try to train her is getting a bit tough. Besides, I don’t want her to try to hold it and then fail in the end, predisposing her to chronic UTIs…. so we’re at a bit of a quandary.

    • Hi, try wee wee puppy pads, or All-absorb training pads. They have chemicals that will attract dogs to pee on that only. It has worked great for me. I have rugs and carpets, but they will only go on the pads. I have two adult dogs. Maybe also try putting down 6-8 pads, so they have some options. Sometimes I’m school all day, so I’d rather they just pee and poop as they wish, and I’ll simply replace the pads when I’m back. I think that’s the easiest for both of us. Minimal effort required

  5. I only used pee pads for the first 2 weeks when I was a puppy, until my vaccinations meant I could safely go outdoors. Even the garden was off-limits during that time as we had local foxes who occasionally visited.

  6. ah…. so that is why my adopted doggie uses all these places, I’m so relieved to connect the dots! especially the peeing on the sofa and the bed, and hér beds too, made me think there is something else going on, but as I have never used those pads myself I didn’t think of them. thank you!!

    she is a small dog, has probably been used for breeding quite a lot and this is how she was kept… she’s about four of five years old and has been with me for over a month now and I was getting a bit run-out of ideas…
    but, she can last for about two hours, so I’m a lucky one I guess ;)

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  14. Hi! I don’t know if it’s the best place for this stuff, but I would be so much interested in an article about your opinion of belly bands and ”diapers” in housetraining (NOT as the solution, but more as a tool to add to a housetraining program for some dogs). I don’t have any housetraining/marking problem with my dog, but I recently read some articles that mention those and I’m really curious if whether or not this something that I should keep in my toolbox.
    *Sorry if there are any mistakes, I’m a french canadian :)*

  15. great article , i agree training pads can be a great tool , as long as you focus on the transition away from them when the time comes. As you mentioned they are also great for dogs with certain medical conditions .

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