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At one point, if you had asked me if I would ever have a puppy pad in the house for longer than training purposes or emergencies, I would have said absolutely not. 

There is a strange double standard between dogs and cats, where we are far less put off by the idea of a litter box, even an open pan style one, for cats to use as their toilet, whereas dogs are destined to use the outdoors. Sometimes this is simply not possible due to living arrangements. Or it can be too complicated to be realistic. 

Apartment life is one such instance. Even the most well-meaning dog owners may discover running their dog down three flights of stairs multiple times a day to watch them sniff around and hopefully make use of the trip downstairs turns out to be slightly ambitious. Some dogs don’t do well with the stairs and so may even require being carried up or down them. 

Also timing the trips outside between the owner’s availability and the dog’s needs can pose more difficulties. Even in the best case scenario, this arrangement can be destined to fail. 

Both apartments and single family homes can have additional challenges, such as disabilities, or long work and commute schedules. In many cases, a doggie door is simply not an option. Perhaps the owner rents and cannot modify the house. Perhaps there are dangers to letting the dogs out unsupervised. Perhaps there are cats who are indoor only and would be at risk with an available doggie door. 

Even chip operated dog doors are not foolproof, considering they simply unlock when the dog is in the vicinity, which can easily be co-opted by the cat if they happen to be nearby. I’ve yet to find an option that would lock the door when the cat is present and even if such a thing were to be invented, it would further complicate matters by the dog not knowing when the door would be locked and unlocked. 

There are also dogs who have extremely small bladders or at least seem that way, and then there are dogs who despite our best efforts never fully get the concept of using the great outdoors. 

The honest truth is that sometimes we’re just not great at training dogs. I think this is a topic that we don’t talk about nearly enough, especially since it can increase hostility in training instead of us recognizing that we’re actually just not conveying to the dog in a way that they understand. Some dogs just don’t get it and we can continue to make the situation worse with our frustration. 

And then there are dogs like Mei Mei, the anxiety riddled chiweenie. 

Life with Mei Mei

Mei Mei does not like outside. She does not want to sun when the weather is nice. She doesn’t want to wrestle outside with the other dogs. She is not the least bit interested in what’s going on beyond the gate. And only in certain cases is she excited enough to go for a walk. But even that can become complicated. 

I admit it took me a long time to understand that Mei Mei’s issues stemmed from anxiety. She seemed to simply just not like outside and in true Mei Mei fashion, is exuberant in demonstrating her opinion. She will jump at the door, barking and generally causing a scene until she is allowed back inside. 

Once, I tried to out wait her, and I found myself sitting outside with her for eight hours, trying to coax her into going to the bathroom outside. I utilized high value treats, and put her with other dogs that have been trained, but nothing seemed to help the anxiety of outside. She simply would not go outside to use the bathroom. Even if I got her to stay outside with me, she rarely would use the grass. 

Once I understood her issue, I tried creating safe spaces in the backyard where she could go in peace, but I made no progress with that either. Mei Mei would stand by my leg on high alert and continue to request to go back inside. I tried making outdoors a fun and exciting place to be, but it has been almost seven years and she is still not convinced. 

I understand now that I simply was not equipped for a dog like Mei Mei, but I love my dog and we make it work. And a big portion of the success of our human-dog relationship is the invention of a reusable puppy pad.

What I Tried First

When I began to relent that it might be easier to just meet Mei Mei where she was, instead of trying to get her to be who I wanted, I found the long-term implications of using disposable puppy pads were not my preference. Not only is that terrible for the environment, but the cost could add up quickly, especially since using puppy pads for one dog would inevitably mean the other dogs would occasionally use them as well, as that is always the risk of a multi-dog household. However I will add that the other dogs retained their training more than I anticipated when I made this compromise with an eleven pound dachshund mix. 

Disposable puppy pads also tended to bunch up easily and would become wads of plastic and paper that served little function. They also tended to not last nearly long enough for consistent use. 

At one point, I tried finding some way to keep the puppy pads flat but most of the trays were not big enough or worth the investment. Besides, I wanted to move away from disposable puppy pads and since I had kept cats for much longer than dogs, my thoughts gravitated toward litter boxes for small dogs. I was delighted to learn that this was a thing that people sometimes did and with success. 

A popular method for dog litter boxes was to use a cement mixing pan from a home improvement store and fill it with a pellet style litter. This was significantly more expensive than the litter I’d been using for the cats but if that meant finding a solution that worked for everybody, I was willing to do that.

So I filled the pan with litter and introduced Mei to it. She is skittish about everything besides something to eat and so she was immediately hesitant. However, with some bribery and coaxing, she did step into the pan. Unfortunately, this extravagant litter did not hold her weight by any means and she sank down past her ankles, startling an already easily frightened dog. She flew out of the pan, flinging the litter everywhere, and had no interest in ever returning to it again. 

Not that it mattered much. If this litter was not going to hold her weight well enough, then the situation was only going to be worse because the dog she lives with is heavier and has stubby Corgi legs. I could already see a future full of litter all over the room. That day, the cats inherited the luxury litter which thankfully they were good sports about so it didn’t go to waste. 

I now had this cement mixing bin to utilize, so I lined it with my ever faithful disposable puppy pads. Without the depth of the litter, the container was simply too tall for a small dog to easily get in and out of. Using an X-Acto knife, I cut a half circle out of the side so she could easily step right in. 

Not only was this contraption terribly ugly, but I soon learned that without the litter, these bins smell terribly despite regular cleaning. The whole experiment was a failure and I replaced it with one I found meant for this purpose, similar to the one below.

This tray would have worked better for a smaller dog like Noob, but it was still not quite right for Mei Mei. And I was still using the dreaded disposable puppy pads.

I needed a better long-term solution. I investigated using turf indoors. I looked at fancy solutions that had drains built underneath them. I looked at options that had walls built around them. Still, nothing met my needs. 

Realistically, puppy pads were working as a concept but I wanted ones that would not bunch up so easily, ones that could last longer than several disposable pads used at once, and if they didn’t have to be factored into the budget, that would have been a great perk. 

Reusable Puppy Pads

At some point, I got the idea to look for how to make a reusable puppy pad out of fabric, something I could easily sew together and then throw in the wash on a regular basis. As it turned out, these already existed. 

Reusable puppy pads are designed with layers that help wick away moisture, much like some gym clothes fabrics. They are also thick and have a liner on the back which helps prevent leaking through to the floor on a reasonable basis. The liner also prevents any significant bunching even when the puppy pad has been overused. 

The reusable puppy pads are designed to help control smell, which is a huge factor. In my research before purchasing my first reusable puppy pads, I realized that some products are sold as puppy pads as well as whelping pads, but not all whelping pads are suitable to use as puppy pads. 

My original set of puppy pads came from PetParents, though there are plenty of great options.

I started out with the smaller size puppy pads which seemed comparable to the disposable ones I had been using though they were a bit smaller. However, the second set that I purchased, I ordered a much larger size. Overall, I prefer those. 

Caring for Reusable Puppy Pads

After several years of life with reusable puppy pads, I have learned a few things about them.

Have multiple on hand. 

No matter how diligent you think you will be with them, you will inevitably need at least one extra. 

Hosing them off is not enough, not even to wait until laundry day. 

They need to be run through the washing machine. Just be prepared that when it’s time to swap out puppy pads, it needs to go directly into the wash. Otherwise, it will just sit around smelling inside or outside. You could possibly invest in a diaper pail or some other container that seals out the smells but the larger puppy pads would not fit well into one and it’s much easier just to run it in the wash. 

Thankfully, most modern washing machines are water and energy efficient. This helped ease my guilt that I would frequently wash puppy pads, but I usually have rags, mop heads, and other extras to throw in with them. Besides, the large puppy pads don’t need to be changed very often most of the time. 

Reusable puppy pads last much longer than I anticipated. 

I have had some for several years. And despite washing them on a regular basis, they are still holding up. Only the oldest ones have begun to pill a little from routine washing, but they still have much life left. With my first puppy pads, I didn’t expect them to last longer than six months, so they have far exceeded my expectations.

They will eventually start to smell–but there’s a solution for that.

The other truth is that even though puppy pads do a substantial job at reducing or even eliminating urine smells, they can only do so much. After a long period of time, they will come out of the wash still smelling unpleasant. 

At first, I tried airing them out in the yard without much success. I considered that meant it was time to replace them even though they were still physically well intact. Instead, I decided to try deodorizing them and found OxiClean with Odor Blaster.

This does an excellent job at removing the smells and making them usable once again. Following the measurements on the container, I mix the cleaner into a bucket of hot water. Then I submerge the already laundered puppy pad for eight hours. Afterwards, I wash them again in the washing machine. This time, they come out fresh and ready for another duration. 

The frequency of this routine will depend entirely on your needs but I find even once a month is excessive. I can get away with multiple months at a time before they start smelling strange again. 

This is a super easy solution. Also, I suggest keeping OxiClean with Odor Blaster on hand for other animal textiles to keep everything smelling as fresh as possible. 

Tip: It is important that the container states Odor Blaster and that it is not the original OxiClean. I learned this the hard way. The original OxiClean does not remove the smells from the puppy pad in any significant way. 

They do not stain.

Another great aspect of reusable puppy pads is I have found they do not stain. You can simply throw the hard waste into the toilet, similar to using disposable diapers for children.

Aesthetically more pleasing than disposable puppy pads.

On top of all the other perks of using a reusable puppy pad, the additional benefit is that the puppy pads look more like a simple rug and not quite as intrusive as disposable puppy pads. Combined with the fact that they don’t bunch up like disposable ones do so easily, they are significantly less unappealing than the long-term use of disposable puppy pads. In fact, many people who have seen them in my home actually think that they are a strangely placed rug. 

A jet mop is your friend.

While Mei is very good about using the puppy pad, she doesn’t always hit the mark. Therefore, I keep these on tile only. I would not use any method like this on carpet personally. 

Since I know that the puppy pad solution is not 100% flawless, I keep a jet mop on hand for quick spot cleaning.

Then I do a more detailed cleaning with an electric mop. 


When I brought Mei Mei home, this was not what I anticipated our life together would be like. 

But I also did not anticipate this.

Or this.

Or this.

I did not anticipate that when I come home after being gone, that she would spin in a circle with excitement. That when I worked out of the country for a month, she ran laps around the backyard hyperventilating because she was so excited I had returned. That the first night that her dog bed and my bed were next to each other, she woke up in the morning and peeked up over the edge of the bed with shiny eyes excited that I was still there in the morning and we were now close to being bed companions. 

Mei Mei has been a challenging dog in many ways that I did not anticipate when I brought her home, but I made the commitment to see her through this life. If that means meeting her where she is with all of her quirks, then that is part of the deal. 

Thankfully, reusable puppy pads have made this just a little bit easier.

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