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This is the 9th installment in my complete guide to house training series.
Paper training is almost certainly the most commonly used method of house training in the world, with many people using it exclusively as the only method they use.
But what’s true of paper training is it’s a very old, tried and trusted technique. But just because it’s traditional and well-known doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the BEST method.
In this article we take a look at how to paper train a puppy, who should consider using it and some convincing reasons why in fact it isn’t always such a great idea.
What Is Paper Training?
Traditionally, paper training is training your puppy to eliminate on old newspapers placed in an area set aside as a bathroom spot for your puppy.
Nowadays, many people use specially made puppy pads, litter trays and even fake grass or sod boxes in place of newspaper, but the method is still the same.
The idea is a puppy gets used to toileting on paper and stops going in places that they shouldn’t, and the paper absorbs and holds the urine and feces making it easier to clean up.
What Equipment Is Needed For Paper Training?
For paper training, all you really need is old newspapers, some food treats to reward eliminating in the right spot and some cleaning agents for the inevitable accidents.
But there are other options.
Many people choose to use ‘puppy pads’ that are absorbent pads, sometimes scented so they encourage your puppy to toilet on them.
Because small sided trays are available that hold the pads, it can make cleaning much easier compared to newspaper due to fewer spills.
There’s also the option of litter boxes much like a cat uses, and some ‘novelty toilets’ available. These can be effective, but to me they are completely unnecessary.
You will also likely need an x-pen, play pen or baby gates depending on how you choose to confine your puppy to a single room when you’re out of the home.
You can read my advice on the equipment, products and supplies you might need for house training and why by clicking here.
How Does Paper Training Work? What Is The Technique And Method?
The method relies mostly on three facts:
- Puppy’s get used to eliminating on the same surfaces they’ve regularly been on before.
- Puppy’s want to toilet in places where they can smell they’ve been before.
- Puppy’s prefer to toilet on softer, covered surfaces than hard and cold floors.
In essence, you cover a wide area, allow your puppy to eliminate there, slowly reduce the area that the papers cover then move the paper slowly to the spot you eventually want as a permanent toilet.
But of course there’s more to it than just that. Here are the necessary steps to follow when paper training your Puppy:
How To Paper Train A Puppy In 6 Easy Steps
Step 1: You want to decide on a place for your puppy’s bathroom spot. Choose a relatively small area where you can easily confine your puppy with a baby gate, or set up an x-pen or puppy play pen.
When choosing a room, opt for one with a hardwood, tiled or linoleum floor that’s easily cleaned and will not soak up urine in case of accidents.
Avoid carpeted areas as a puppy will prefer to toilet there with softness under their feet and not on the paper.
A kitchen, bathroom or laundry room is ideal.
If using an x-pen or play pen, lay a plastic tarpaulin sheet underneath to give a non-porous and easily cleaned surface to protect the floor underneath.
Step 2: Cover the entire room or area with newspaper (or puppy pads if you’re using them) and set up your puppy’s bed, water bowl and a few toys at one end of the room. Then bring your puppy in to the area.
With the area covered, they simply must eliminate on paper and simply cannot miss. This forms the idea in your puppy’s mind that they can and must eliminate on paper.
Step 3: Don’t leave dirty paper down long. Try to clean it as soon as it’s dirtied because you want your puppy getting used to a clean place and no dog wants to spend time close to lots of their own waste.
But when cleaning, keep a piece of the previously dirtied paper and use it to encourage eliminating in the spot you want.
Puppy’s like to eliminate where they’ve been before. Where they can smell a spot they’ve previously been, they’re drawn to that spot to eliminate again.
This is why it’s so important to avoid accidents, and why thoroughly cleaning stains and odors is so important to avoid repeat performances.
With paper training you use this in your favor by keeping some old soiled paper, and placing it in the area you would like your puppy to eliminate.
Usually at the far end of the room away from their bed and water, under one clean layer of paper.
Step 4: After a few days of following step 3, you should find that your puppy begins to eliminate close to that one area and the rest of the paper starts to stay clean.
Now you can slowly start to cut down on the area that’s covered.
Start by removing a third of the paper that sits under the area of your puppy’s bed and water.
Puppy’s have a natural instinct to potty away from their bed and water supply, so they will naturally gravitate toward the paper covered end of the room.
You’ll want to watch your puppy though and if they try to toilet in an area that isn’t covered by paper, you must intervene and redirect them on to the paper and praise them when they do relieve themselves there.
Any time they do eliminate on the paper without any of your help, you also want to praise them heavily. This rewards and encourages pottying on the paper.
After just a few of days of this, your puppy will quickly learn that they should only use the paper as a bathroom.
Step 5: As long as your puppy is regularly pottying on the paper, you should now begin to gradually, day by day, sheet by sheet, reduce the total area that the paper covers.
Remove the paper that is closest to your puppy’s bed and water area, leaving the paper covering the area farthest away.
If your puppy eliminates off the paper, you may have to go back a couple of steps and increase the area covered once more. This is quite normal, but usually means you went too fast.
Step 6: Once you’ve reduced the area papered to just a couple of sheets, you can now start to move the paper over to the final place you’ve chosen as your puppy’s bathroom spot.
For most this will be outside, but for some it will be inside.
Move the paper slowly, a little each day. Your puppy ‘should’ keep going on the paper.
If they make a mistake off the paper, most likely where some paper used to be, then either that area hasn’t been cleaned of odor from an earlier accident or you’ve gone too fast.
Go back a couple of steps and then progress more slowly going forward.
If your puppy’s chosen bathroom spot is inside, eventually the paper will be where you want them to go and your job is done (if it wasn’t already there.).
If outside, move the paper along a wall each day, toward the exit. And in the mean time (since the start), have some paper outside that you encourage your puppy to eliminate on too.
Eventually, the paper will be right beside the exit.
When your puppy moves to potty on the inside paper, take puppy outside to use the paper.
And eventually just completely remove all the indoor paper and your puppy will want to go outside. Though you will have to watch your puppy intently a few days to make sure they do get outside!
Is Paper Training Difficult?
In comparison to any other method of house training, paper training asks for the least effort from an owner.
Once a puppy has learnt to eliminate on paper, they go there of their own accord and an owner just needs to clean away the papers.
All other methods such as using a crate, constant supervision and umbilical cord training all need an owner to watch their puppy closely and get them to the bathroom spot as soon as they make moves to potty.
But with paper training, after the first few days you just leave your puppy to their own devices. It’s the most passive form of house training there is.
So yes, paper training is easy. But don’t think it’s the magical method that everybody would be silly not to use.
There are disadvantages and drawbacks to the method as I will bring to your attention now…
Disadvantages of Paper Training
Before you decide to use paper training, I’d like to bring to your attention the disadvantages of the method. Not to put you off, but just to make you aware so you can make an informed decision.
The main drawback of this method is you are training your puppy it’s OK to eliminate inside your home.
If you plan to have a permanent indoor toilet for your dog this is OK, but if your plans are to eventually have them toilet outside only, you’re seriously confusing your puppy and house training will take longer than when using other methods.
With paper training you will have more accidents from your puppy until a much older age when compared to other house training methods.
Secondly, your puppy learns eliminating on paper is what you want them to do and they become very good at this which presents a problem if you leave your daily newspaper lying around.
Or say you visit a friend and they leave a newspaper lying around in their living room? There’s a pretty good chance you’ll find more in the news than expected!
A third disadvantage is you have to clean away soiled papers many times each day.
You should clean the paper away as soon as it’s dirty for hygiene reasons but also because a puppy will not want to go in a spot that’s too dirty.
Therefore you will have to clean a few times each day and could avoid this with other methods that have you take your puppy outside to eliminate.
A fourth disadvantage is some puppies learn and begin to think they should ONLY eliminate on newspaper and nowhere else.
This is a problem when your puppy doesn’t eliminate on walks or out in your yard because there is no newspaper.
To prevent this, always encourage your puppy to eliminate outside by praising them heavily when they do.
Finally, and this is a matter of preference but worth pointing out for the main audience of this site.
Labrador Retrievers are a large breed that produce a lot of waste. A Shih Tzu or a Pug doesn’t produce much waste and cleaning up after them is easy, but I really wouldn’t recommend paper training for a Lab.
The sheer amount of waste causes quite a smell and is hard work to clean up multiple times per day.
Who Is The Paper Training Method Most Suitable For?
If you know you’re going to be out of the home regularly for many hours and cannot have a person popping into your home to take your puppy out, then paper training is the only solution for you.
It’s also a good method to use for people who aren’t able to get outside quickly and easily, such as people with mobility problems or those on the higher floors of tower blocks.
When a puppy needs to go, they need to go NOW and you will not have time to rush down 15 floors in a lift!
But it’s also a method that almost everybody has to use occasionally, and here’s why…
Almost Everyone Should Use This Method As A Backup Plan
I believe that everyone should use paper training to some degree, no matter which other method they prefer to use.
It’s a fact that almost everyone has to leave their puppy alone for 3 or 4 hours at very short notice at one time or another. A time when you won’t have arranged somebody to pop in every hour to take them outside.
And when a puppy is very young they cannot be expected to ‘hold it’ for 3 or 4 hours, so you cannot crate them. This is just plain unfair and very wrong.
But you don’t want them to have free run of your home either. You would come home to little puddles and piles everywhere (not to mention your puppy will likely chew everything in sight.)
So you should restrict your puppy to a single room such as the bathroom or kitchen, or maybe an x-pen in another room, and paper the area so they can relieve themselves while you’re gone.
If you take a little time to paper train them, when you return it will make the clean up so much easier for yourself.
Further Tips For Paper Training
Here’s a few hints and tips you want to keep in mind when learning how to paper train a puppy:
- Choose for your puppy’s living space a room with a hard, non-porous floor such as tiled or linoleum. This way, anything that misses or soaks through the paper is easy to clean. If such a room isn’t possible, use an x-pen and place a tarpaulin sheet underneath the pen to protect your carpets.
- Always start by covering the entire area where your puppy spends time, this way they will always start eliminating on paper, they have no choice. This gets them used to the idea as quickly as possible.
- Clean your puppy’s area regularly, daily at minimum, usually more. Although dogs like to toilet where they can detect by scent that they’ve been before, they also only go in a spot that’s relatively clean. If you leave it filthy, they will start a new bathroom spot.
- When you clean, keep a sheet of the soiled paper and lay it in the area you want your puppy to use. Not a filthy, dripping piece, but a piece that has at least some odor to it. The smell encourages your puppy to go in that spot again so this helps the process massively.
- Don’t get disheartened if you make good progress then your puppy seems to go backwards. No house training method is straight-forward, there’s always ups and downs, two steps forwards, one step back. Just stick with your program and you’ll get there eventually.
Paper training is the easiest of the house training methods in that it requires the least effort and concentration from the trainer.
But please be aware of the drawbacks described above as paper training isn’t necessarily the BEST method.
Paper training can and usually does slow down a puppy’s progress if you want them to eventually toilet outside. And a paper trained puppy usually has more ‘accidents’ later into life.
It’s the confusion of being able to eliminate inside for months, and then being told they can’t.
However, if you can’t get your puppy outside quickly, or have to spend time away from home during the day, paper training is pretty much essential.
But unless you’re going to have your dog using an indoor bathroom spot for life, you should use crate training or constant supervision to get your puppy to eliminate outside as often as you can while using paper training as a fall back plan only when necessary.
This is how I use paper training myself, as described in: How To House Train A Puppy
Crate training and constant supervision are the fastest way to meet success and a house trained puppy, but paper training does have its place in a complete house training plan.
My Complete House Training Program
This was part 9 in a 12-part series where I’ve tried to provide all the guidance you could possibly need and covered everything I can think of for you to be able to successfully house train your puppy or adult dog.
Please see the entire series linked to below:
- Part 1: House Training – The Ultimate Guide
- Part 2: Basic Need To Know Facts Before You Start
- Part 3: The Mindset And Approach You Must Take
- Part 4: House Training Products, Supplies And Equipment You will Need
- Part 5: Accidents Happen: How To Remove Pet Stains And Odors
- Part 6: Feeding Choices Make A Massive Difference
- Part 7: How To Use A Crate To House Train A Puppy
- Part 8: House Training WITHOUT A Crate: Constant Supervision
- Part 9: How To Paper Train Your Puppy Or Dog The Easy Way
- Part 10: Umbilical Cord House Training: What is It? How Does It Work?
- Part 11: Puppy House Training Guide – Step by Step
- Part 12: How To House Train An Adult Dog – And Solving Common Issues
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