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Understanding Dog Pee Pads and How They Work

Dog pee pads: let's face it, the idea is ingenuous, getting a dog or puppy to use a pee pad while the rest of the home remains immaculately clean is a dog owner's dream come true. Too bad though that soon reality hits hard when dogs seem to potty just about everywhere except on the pee pad! If you're dealing with this frustrating situation, rest assured you are not alone, countless owners get frustrated when their dogs totally miss the target and aim wrong. Is something wrong with the pee pad or is the dog just not getting it? Does Rover perhaps need a marksmanship class?Understanding better how pee pads work and how dogs perceive them, can help troubleshooting the problem.


Dog Pee Pads Under Scrutiny

What are pee pads for dogs? Also known as potty pads, piddle pads, wee-wee pads or training pads, dog pee pads are simply square or rectangular layers of absorbent material meant to soak up a dog's excretions.

Most dog pee pads are made of gauze over blue plastic which is meant to face down. Several brands also have adhesive tabs to help them adhere to the floor. For owner appeal, several brands now offer odor-eliminating scents so to reduce odors. 

There are a variety of pee pads on the market nowadays with different features and perks. The next question is though, do pee pads really work? Are they suitable for everybody? What can owners do to increase the chances that their puppy or dog will use them?

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Not for Everybody


Pee pads for dogs work may work for some owners, but they are not for everyone. If you have access to a yard and have time to invest in traditional potty training, your best bet is to start training your puppy or dog to go potty outdoors straight from the get-go.

It can be quite challenging to wean puppies off training pads after using them for quite some time as puppies tend to develop a substrate preference at an early age.

According to Karen Overall, puppies tend to develop a substrate preference at around 8 and a half weeks of age.

Not all people though have the fortune of having access to a yard, and some dog and puppy owners may find it easier to use the dog pee pads permanently (or partially, at least until the puppy is old enough to hold it for longer periods of time) for various reasons.

Here are a few examples of cases where dog potty training pads may turn useful:

  • Owners of those teeny pint-sized dogs who get chilled very easily when temperatures drop
  • Owners of sick, convalescent dogs who are weak or have mobility problems.
  • Owners of fearful dogs who are too afraid and uncomfortable to potty outdoors
  • Owners of puppies who are in the process of being potty trained but live in high-rise apartments
  • Owners of young puppies who must leave their pups inside for longer than they can hold it
  • Owners of puppies who don't have access to a backyard
  • Owner who have a health issue and cannot go easily outside

The Truth About Attractants


Many companies advertise how well their pee pads work courtesy of several attractants added for the purpose of drawing the dog to relieve himself on the pad. Not all attractants are created equal though and therefore not all of them may work.

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Some puppy pee pads are given a fresh grass scent. These pee pads can therefore turn helpful for dogs and puppies destined to use grassy areas in the yard in the future as a permanent substrate.

Pee pads treated with ammonia can aid in the potty training process considering the role ammonia has in potty training. Ever heard how using ammonia-based products to clean up soiled areas can cause a puppy to actually soil over the area more and more? Here's the reason why.

Ammonia is a byproduct excreted in urine, so when you clean up urine using an ammonia-based product, you are spreading the smell of.. yes, urine. So when the puppy feels the need to urinate, he'll pick the spot that smells like ammonia simply because the smell of urine tells him that's his peeing spot. Adding ammonia to a pee pad may therefore actually do the trick convincing him to pee on it, but there's a cheaper option as described below.

And what about pee pads treated with pheromones? Some pee pads are treated with synthetic pheromones while others sell pheromones in spray form to be sprayed directly on the pee pad. Pheromones are chemicals secreted by dogs that trigger responses in other dogs who smell them.

In this case the synthetic pheromones used in dog pee pads are crafted for the purpose of attracting the dog to pee over it in a similar fashion as when they sniff a fire hydrant or lamp post that has pheromones left by another dog.

While this may seem like an astute strategy, it doesn't always work. Indeed, many housebreaking pheromones-based sprays have awful reviews. And while some pups seem attracted to the pads, it's most likely because they can't wait to rip them up into pieces or turn them into their favorite sleeping spots! So for sake of effectiveness, even an old newspaper may work, but it might not fare well when it comes to absorption.

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Did you know? If you have plain pee pads with no attractant, you can make your own form of attractant by simply collecting with a paper towel a bit of your dog's urine from an area he previously soiled and passing it onto the pee pad. The scent of pee will tell your dog that this is his new bathroom!

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Strategies for Success


Many people assume that once you place a pee pad on the floor, the dog will magically pee on it every single time. Sorry, to burst someone's bubble, but if things were as simple as that, the process of potty training would be as easy as pie and dogs would start growing halos over their heads.

The truth is that dogs need to be trained to use the pads and it can take even a bit of time and patience. There are several strategies though that can help attain success.

  • Set your dog for success. Placing the pee pad in the farthest corner of the house is like sending your dog on a treasure hunt through a maze, especially for small pups. Make it easy to find.
  • Make going potty on pee pads easy, fun and rewarding while making going potty in other areas, difficult, boring and close to impossible (courtesy of management and supervision).
  • If you must leave for the day or cannot supervise you puppy, keep your puppy confined inside a small enclosed pen with the pad strategically located at the opposite side from his bed, water bowl and toys. Most dogs do not like to soil near where they sleep, eat or drink, so their best choice is to use the pad.
  • Choose a spot for the pee pads and make sure to keep the location the same. Dogs are routine-oriented creatures so if you start changing around the location of the pee pad they start feeling confused. If you really must change, do it gradually over several days moving it a few inches at a time.
  • Pick a location that is quiet and with not many distractions going on.
  • Keep the pee pad on a surface that is easy to clean such as tile floor. If you must use carpet, place some tarp under it to prevent urine from seeping into the carpet.
  • The minute your pup positions himself to eliminate on the pad, be sure to say “go potty”so that he associates that word with the action of elimination.
  • Always lavishly praise and reward your dog or puppy for using the pee pad.
  • Never scold your puppy for missing the pad or going somewhere else. Scolding makes puppies associate your presence with punishment causing them to potty secretly out of sight behind a couch or under a bed.
  • Clean up all accidents with an enzyme-based cleaner that dissolves any traces of residual odors. Remember that to a dog, residual odors of previous accidents act as reminders of the past which may trigger them to urinate on them once again. While we use our eyes to locate a restroom, dogs use their noses.
  • If you are using the pee pads temporarily and then you are planning to let your dog potty outside grass, your best bet is to use a pee pad that smells like grass, or even better, use one of those fake grass litter boxes for dogs that provide the scent and feel of real grass. Also, placing the pad gradually closer and closer to the door can be helpful if your final objective is to get your dog to potty outdoors.
  • Once your puppy learns to reliably used the pads in his enclosure, you can gradually increase his confinement area (keeping the pads always in the same place) until he graduates to being left loose in the house and remembering where to go.

"House soiling quickly becomes a bad habit because dogs develop strong location, substrate, and olfactory preferences for their improvised indoor toilet areas."~Ian Dunbar Dog Star Daily


  • Manual of Clinical Behavioral Medicine for Dogs and Cats, 1e1 Pap/DVD Edition, by Karen Overall MA VMD PhD DACVB CAAB, Mosby; 1 Pap/DVD edition (July 9, 2013)
  • Dog Star Daily, Housetraining, retrieved from the web on Sept 15th, 2016.

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