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Here’s How to Potty Train a Puppy on Puppy Pads

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Is there anything more exciting than bringing home a new puppy? The anticipation of watching that furry bundle carve out a place in your family. The overwhelming joy the first time you hear that adorable bark at your feet or puppy snores in your ear. Not to mention the emotional warmth of knowing you have years of watching them grow. And then that little bugger pees all over your brand-new carpet, and reality comes crashing down. Your puppy needs to be potty trained using puppy pads — and FAST.

Puppy 101

If you’ve never owned a puppy, or if it’s been awhile, potty training can feel frustrating and overwhelming. Why can’t your new furry family member exhibit better bladder control? You’re scrubbing the floors every time your turn around! Is it supposed to be like this?

Well, yeah. Where cats come with litter box instincts, dogs do not.

Puppies have ZERO bladder control until about 16 weeks of age. If your puppy is younger than that, expecting them to “hold it” is asking the impossible. Once they pass up that magic number, you need to do some math. On average, a puppy’s bladder holds out for their age plus one hour. That looks like this:

Age in months + 1 = Number of hours

5 months + 1 = 6 hours

That’s during the day AND night. Also, it’s not a hard and fast rule. If you have a small breed, their bladder’s also tiny. Expect your bitty dog to need more frequent potty breaks.

Calculating Potty-Training Times

Now that you know the MAXIMUM amount of time your dog’s bladder can hold out, let’s consider how frequently your puppy will actually need potty breaks. (Head’s up – it won’t be every 6 hours) Once you know how often your puppy has “to go,” you’ll have a better idea of what the potty-training process will look like.

Again, every puppy’s different. Breeds differ, and individual dogs vary. However, in general, puppies need a potty break the following times:

  • When they wake up in the morning
  • After meals
  • When they finish playing
  • Following naps
  • Before they go to bed at night

That equates to about every 1-2 hours. Make sure you have the time to invest to correctly potty train your puppy.

Tips for Potty-Training Success With Puppy Pads

To properly potty train your puppy, you need to invest your time and patience in the process. Leaving a puppy training pad out for your dog to stumble upon won’t work… believe me. Every dog is different, and the rate at which they potty train varies. If your last puppy learned within a week, you can’t expect this puppy to do the same. It isn’t fair.

So take a deep breath, do a quick meditation, and set yourself, and your puppy, up for success.

Stay Observant

First things first, make sure you know your puppy’s “tell.” Dogs exhibit various behaviors before using the bathroom. Keep an eye out, so you know exactly what your new puppy chooses to do. Common signs include:

  • Whining
  • Circling
  • Sniffing
  • Barking

As soon as you see any change in behavior, swoop in and transfer your puppy to the puppy training pad.

This means you need to supervise your puppy at all times. You have several options available to you:

  • Puppy Pen: Your puppy gets plenty of room to play, but they can’t roam throughout the house. Pens are easy to put together, and you can move them from room to room if you need to work elsewhere.
  • Puppy Gate: Again, you confine your puppy to a designated space. With a gate, they stay in the room with you. Just make sure your puppy can’t jump the gate or become trapped in the bars.
  • Long Leash: Tether your puppy to your waist or a piece of heavy furniture (light furniture gets dragged). Your puppy won’t get as much freedom, but you’ll know exactly where they are at all times.

Define Cues

Whether you elect to stay with puppy training pads or transition to the outdoors, setting a cue for your puppy to follow makes potty training easier. You can start teaching a vocal command right from the beginning. Just make sure you and anyone else participating in the potty training stay consistent, so you don’t confuse your puppy.

As soon as your puppy is on the puppy training pad and starts to “go,” speak your cue. Most professional trainers recommend using separate signals for pee and poop. It’s up to you, just make sure you’re consistent.

Develop a Routine

Cats aren’t the only ones who appreciate consistency. If you establish a routine, you’ll potty train your puppy with fewer hiccups. This is where all of that math and scheduling comes into play. Set timers for yourself to stay on track. (After all, your puppy can’t tell time)

It’s also crucial to keep the puppy training pad in ONE place. If you move the pad around the house, your puppy will get confused, and you’ll disrupt the potty-training process. You want your dog to know exactly where it’s okay to “go.” Shuffling that designated spot will create frustration – for BOTH of you.

Make sure your puppy’s treats are close to the pad. You don’t want to hunt them down when it’s time for the reward. Keeping the puppy training pad and treat jar in one place makes your life MUCH easier.

Keep everything on schedule, down to food and playtime. If need be, draw up a timeline for your new puppy. Get others in the household to help out. Assigning tasks to individual family members makes everyone part of caring for the puppy, and you’ll see your dog pick up on potty-training faster.

Potty Training Your Puppy With Puppy Pads

There are two methods for potty training your puppy with puppy training pads. One utilizes crate-training, and the other uses a single room. Neither option is better than the other; it’s up to you which you prefer.

Potty Training Your Puppy with a Crate

Crate-training provides a lot of benefits. Your puppy gains their safe space, which is invaluable if you work. Dogs won’t soil their sleeping spaces. If you can’t keep your eye on your new puppy, the crate works well as a safe place for them.

  1. Make sure you purchase the correct size crate. Your puppy should lie down and turn around, but NO MORE. If the crate’s too large, they WILL go to the bathroom in it.
  2. Large crates with dividers allow your puppy to grow with the crate (avoiding the need to buy more crates down the road).
  3. Make the crate a happy place. Put treats inside, place their food and waters bowls in the back, and give them a toy.
  4. Reward your puppy every time they enter the crate. NEVER use the crate for punishment!
  5. As soon as your puppy comes out of the crate, take them to the puppy training pad. Give your cue.
  6. Reward your puppy for “going” on the puppy pad.

Potty Training Your Puppy in a Room

You can either close your puppy into a small room (usually the bathroom) with a puppy gate, or you can set up a puppy pen. Either way, make sure the area is clear of any potential hazards to your puppy.

  1. Cover the entire floor with puppy training pads.
  2. Make sure your puppy has food, water, bedding, and some toys.
  3. Reward your puppy when you see them “go” on a pad.
  4. Remove and replace soiled pads promptly.
  5. Every 2-3 days, remove one of the puppy training pads, shrinking the available “potty area.”
  6. Eventually, your puppy will only have a single pad left in the room/pen.
  7. If, at any point, your puppy “goes” off the available pad, cover the floor again and start over.

Coping with Accidents

When potty training a puppy using puppy pads, it’s a given that accidents will happen. They’re upsetting and frustrating, but they’re part of the potty-training process. The best way to handle such hiccups is PATIENCE.

If you catch your puppy mid-accident, DON’T yell. You’ll scare them, and you can cause further problems. Instead, speak firmly or clap your hands. Odds are you’ll interrupt them. Carry them to the puppy training pad. You DO need to reward them if they finish. This reinforces the proper location. If they don’t continue to “go,” you’ve at least set the reminder of, “Hey, this is your potty spot.”

If you don’t catch the accident, don’t do anything. Yelling or showing your puppy the mess won’t contribute to their potty training. They just can’t make the association. It WILL encourage your dog to “go” when you’re not around to avoid the hysterics. (THAT association they can make!) Instead, clean everything with an enzymatic cleaner to prevent further soiling in that area. Then step up your supervision.

Patience, Patience, and More Patience

Potty training a new puppy on puppy training pads takes work. Slowly moving those pads toward and out the door takes time (if you go that route). Just remind yourself: all that time and energy is bonding you and your puppy.

The patience WILL be worth it. Down the road, when you look back over all of the memories your family’s shared with your dog, you’ll remember and laugh. Trust me, the time you invest now will pay off in the end.

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Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy

Andria Kennedy worked as a Licensed Veterinary Technician for 10 years, focusing on Emergency/ICU and later Cardiology, as well as volunteering at both the Philadelphia Zoo and Virginia Living Museum for over six years. She's now a freelance writer, but she gravitates toward writing projects with a focus on animals (once an animal-lover, always an animal-lover). She lives in Virginia with her fiance', three cats (one "works" as her personal assistant), and a Greyhound who thinks she's a big cat — all of them rescues.

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