Potty pad training your dog

Chihuahua puppy sitting on a plaid blanket

For small breeds, especially those living in high-rise apartment buildings or cold climates like our Minnesota winters, indoor potty-training can be helpful.

You can train your dog to go potty on a designated potty pad instead of outdoors like typical potty training.

Here are a few steps to help you get started:

  1. Restrict Fluffy’s access inside the house.  Keep her on leash with you, in a free-standing pen on an easy-to-clean floor (while supervised), or in a properly-sized kennel.  When she looks as though she’s about to pee or poop, say “potty” (or whatever word you choose) and take her quickly to her pad.  Give her lots of praise and a small treat when she “does her business” there.  Do not allow her free access to the house yet, as that will only result in making housetraining mistakes.  If she pees or poops in the wrong areas, she will return to those areas more and more.
  2. No punishment.  If Fluffy has an accident, simply take her quickly to her pad.  No yelling, no “bad dog” or other punishment:  all that will do is teach her to poop and pee when you are not around (when it’s “safe”).  Clean any soiled areas with an enzyme-based cleaner such as Nature’s Miracle and follow label instructions carefully.
  3. Set up her “alone” room.  When you can’t watch her, or when you are away from the house, leave Fluffy in a small bathroom with pads covering the entire floor:  leave her some water, toys and some bedding to lie on.  Do this for 2-3 days, then take away one of the pads (leaving all the others).  In two more days, take another pad away.  Two days later, remove another, and so on.  The idea is to wean Fluffy off of each pad until there is only one left in the room.  If she pees outside of the remaining pads, put the rest back and start over.
  4. Feed Fluffy on a schedule.  For dogs that eat twice a day, we recommend putting the food bowl down in the morning, wait 15 minutes and then remove it, regardless of how much or how little she ate.  She will learn to eat when her food is available, and be less likely to have accidents during the day. 
  5. Take her to her pad regularly and wait for her to go.  We recommend every 2-3 hours, as well as following sleep, play and eating periods.  Once again, reward her generously when she goes.  I would keep her on leash to prevent her from wandering away:  simply stand with her at her spot, on-leash, and ignore her until she goes.  Give her 5 minutes, then take her away from the spot.

Maintain this routine for about 2 weeks.  If she’s not having accidents at that point, begin to give her a little more freedom and continue to reward successful potty trips.  If she begins to soil again, go back to the steps mentioned above.

Need more potty training help? 

If you have potty training questions or your dog is struggling with these tips, contact our behavior pet helpline. For more helpful tips and resources for training and managing your dog's behavior, you can also visit our behavior resource library

AHS also offers a variety of dog and puppy training classes for all skill levels with our expert trainers. Whether you're looking to brush up on obedience skills, attend a puppy playgroup, or get your dog involved in a new sport, we've got a class for you.