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Should You Use Pee Pads with Your Dog?

Learn whether you should use pee pads and how you can teach your dog to ring a bell to go out. Yes, really.

By
Jolanta Benal, CPDT-KA, CBCC-KA,
October 25, 2010
Episode #081

You might call this my Supplementary Housetraining Edition, because it takes up three of the most common housetraining questions after the big “Why can’t I housetrain my puppy?”  One, “Can I / Should I use pee pads?” Two, “What about using a dog door?” and three, “How do I teach my dog to let me know when she wants to go out?” 

And one, two, three, here we go.

Should You Use Pee Pads with Your Dog?

Pee pads are not the spawn of Satan. Climate change notwithstanding, winters in much of the world remain cold enough that many tiny little dogs cannot comfortably walk outdoors no matter how well insulated those adorable coats and booties are. By all means, teach your shivering Chihuahua to relieve himself on pee pads in the wintertime.

Pee pads can also help sick and convalescent dogs, and superfearful dogs who haven’t overcome their fears enough to eliminate outdoors. If you have a puppy whom you must leave at home for longer than he can hold urine and stool, you can put pads in a corner of his pen and cross your fingers that he uses them while you are gone. If you live in a high-rise and your puppy can’t hold it first thing in the morning during a 20-story elevator ride, teach her to use a pad for that a.m. pee. If your puppy hasn’t yet had her vaccinations and you haven’t got a private backyard, teach her to use pads till she’s ready to set foot in public places. (You should still take her out for socialization, but carry her in your arms.)

Dogs Don’t Automatically Pee and Poop on Pee Pads

Pee pad manufacturers claim that the pads’ scent naturally attracts dogs to eliminate on them. Maybe so, if you’re using them in a small space, like a puppy pen. I hear from plenty of clients and readers baffled because their puppies sleep on the pee pads, pee next to the pee pads, and defecate behind the sofa. For a puppy or a tiny dog, a pee pad in the far corner of the room might as well be in Tibet.

How to Teach Your Dog to Use Pee Pads

Pee pads are good for tiny dogs in bad weather, and they can help in tricky housetraining situations.

So, you may have noticed that I spoke several times of teaching a puppy or dog to eliminate on a pad. Do this exactly as you’d housetrain in the usual, outdoor way: confine and closely supervise your pup between his frequent toilet breaks. Bring him to the pad on leash and give him a minute or so to eliminate. If he eliminates, he gets praise and a few minutes at large in the room with you, then goes back to his confinement area till the next toilet outing. If he doesn’t eliminate, put him back in the confinement area for five or ten minutes, then give him another shot.

Why not newspaper? Plenty of people use it with no problem. The catch is that once some dogs learn to love eliminating on newsprint, their love is lifelong. And which dogs are those? No way to know in advance. Nuff said.

Should You Use Dog Doors?

Next up, dog doors. Short answer: No--though not quite “Never.”

No, because Dogalini shouldn’t normally spend time outside unsupervised, even in a fenced yard. Kids tease, meter readers leave gates unlocked, squirrels tempt dogs to hitherto undreamed-of feats of climbing. No, because if the door just has a flap, Dogalini isn’t the only living thing that can get in. No, because if the door has an electronic sensor, it can fail and lock her out. No, because although housetraining isn’t supposed to be a muscle-clenching marathon, dogs do need to learn to hold it for a bit, what with car trips, vet stays, hotel rooms, potential moves to apartments, and on and on.

However! I know a woman who works 12-hour shifts. Her dogs are big, so they produce big stools and pees. A bit wince-making to come home to. She has a fenced yard. She lives in a remote location, where she can’t get a regular walker. Also, the remote location means a long commute, so her 12-hour shift stretches to nearly 14 hours away from home. That is a lot of leg-crossing for her dogs. And the remote location means no teasing kids; as for meter readers, she locks the gate and they have to return when she’s at home. I still worry about those tempting squirrels, but for this woman, the dog door is clearly the lesser evil.

How to Teach Your Dog to Ring a Bell to Go Out

Last, teaching your dog to let you know when he needs a potty break. You probably don’t need to do this, by the way – plenty of dogs will walk back and forth between you and the door, or stand looking at the door, or in general act restless. The catch is that you have to notice your dog’s pleas!

If you want to give your dog an unmissable way to signal you, teach him to ring a bell to go out. This should be easy as pie if your dog has learned targeting. Get your bell and tie a ribbon to it that you’ll use to hang it from. Pick a time when Zippy’s due for a toilet break but isn’t desperate, and head over to the door. Show him the bell and give your target cue; when he touches the bell, say “Yes!” and immediately leash him and bring him outside. If Zippy doesn’t know how to target, show him the bell and encourage him to nose it or paw it. The second he does, leash him and bring him outside.

Practice Ringing the Bell Whenever You Take Your Dog Out

Hang the bell by your door and practice having Zippy ring it whenever you take him out to pee and poop. After half a dozen reps or so, don’t give a cue. Instead, wait with Zippy and give him time to think--half a minute isn’t too long. Count it off inside your head to keep yourself from jumping the gun. If Zippy rings the bell spontaneously, great--take him outside to pee. If not, give him your target cue or encourage him to ring the bell, and continue practicing that way for another few outings.

Sooner or later, Zippy will ring the bell on his own when he needs to go out and you’re otherwise occupied. Reward him with a toilet break and congratulate both of you.

What to Do If Your Dog Rings the Bell at Random Times

Some smartypants dogs will ring the bell when they don’t need to pee or poop. Look, they love to go outside, so you can’t blame them for trying. On the other hand, you also can’t take them for a long leisurely stroll eight times a day. To avoid this problem, always bring your dog out on leash in response to a bell ring, even if you have a fenced yard, and limit the outing to a pee and poop break; then bring him indoors. You could also ask yourself whether Zippy is a little bit bored or underexercised. If so, you know what to do!

You can follow The Dog Trainer on Twitter, where I’m Dogalini, as well as on Facebook, and write to me at dogtrainer@quickanddirtytips.com. I welcome your comments and suggestions, and I may use them as the basis for future articles. Thank you for reading!

Image courtesy of Shutterstock

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