I hear “litter box” and instantly think of cats, as I’m sure most of you do — but what about dogs? Can dogs be trained to use a litter box? The surprising answer is yes. It’s not for everyone, but some pet owners have asked us about it.
Unlike cats, dogs normally need to go outside to relieve themselves. This may not always be feasible if you live in a tall building, work long hours or can’t make it to the door in time. Dogs can also get bladder infections if forced to “hold it” for long periods of time — but there is an indoor solution.
Litter boxes provide an additional place for your dog to go when needed. Note that it is not considered a replacement for going outside completely, but an inside aid to limit the need to go outside as often. Litter box training is easier for younger or smaller dogs, but it is possible with older and larger dogs. This can also be a suitable alternative when grassy areas are not nearby and your dog avoids concrete surfaces for this purpose.
Dog Litter Boxes
In the video below, a dog trainer talks about dog litter boxes. So watch this, and then I’ll tell you what you will need to get started:
What You’ll Need
You will need a litter box, obviously. Depending on the size of your dog, a regular litter box will do as long as it is a few inches deep. There should be enough room for your dog to walk around and choose a spot. For male dogs that lift their leg to pee, some pet owners have used a covered litter box with the top and opening cut out. This way the back and sides will (with luck) catch any spray missing the box while still keeping an open feel.
Larger dogs will need larger boxes, and some pet owners have used large travel crates and cut out the top and front for this purpose. If you start with a puppy that will grow larger, expect to replace the box size as the puppy grows. Keeping the same small box for a growing dog will almost guarantee that accidents will happen.
Filler is important. Don’t use regular cat litter in your dog’s box. Some cat litter can cause health problems in dogs that ingest poop. If your dog is already used to going on puppy pads or newspaper, start moving these into and around the litter box. The scent and material should let your dog know that this is an acceptable place for relieving himself.
Once your dog gets used to the area, you can switch to dog litter (affiliate link) — yes, this is a product! — made just for litter boxes for dogs. Most of them you find will be similar to rabbit filler; they will look like small pellets that turn to sawdust when wet and are biodegradable.
Use the same product; don’t change litter types or materials once your dog is used to it. This can cause confusion or accidents to start happening around the house.
Fencing-in the area or making a barrier offers some privacy and keeps the contents contained. Plastic lattice sheets or gates near openings can be used for this purpose. You don’t need to do this, but it will help keep the area clean.
Everything Is in Place – Now What?
If going indoors or on newspaper is new for your dog, you will need to train the dog to become familiar with the area. You can also soak some newspaper in his urine or bring some feces from outside and place it in the box to show that this is acceptable. If you dog motions for you to let him out, try leading him to the box area to familiarize him with the process. If your dog does use the area, offer lots of praise.
Accidents can happen, so have cleaner on hand and show the dog the litter box area. Rubbing the dog’s nose in the urine is most certainly not recommended. There can be several reasons for the accident, such as not making it to the box in time or missing the box while going. A firm “No!” and placing the dog in the box will help reinforce the proper area for peeing. If the dog goes once in this area, offer praise.
Once the dog gets used to the newspaper or if using pads, you can slowly start incorporating the dog litter with the existing items. Each week start using less newspaper and more litter until all that is left is litter. Use reinforcement by using words such as “Go potty,” and praise the dog every time the litter box is used.
Try also doing this when the dog goes outside so the association between the act and both areas is consistent. You may consider placing the box closer to the door the dog uses to go outside to reinforce the association. Tiled areas are best for cleaning up accidents, but if carpet is the only flooring, you can put down newspaper or plastic underneath the box. Try not to move the box’s location too much so you don’t confuse your dog.
Can I Quit Letting the Dog Out?
While indoor training can be the only means for your dog to potty, don’t have unrealistic expectations.
It is great as a backup so your dog doesn’t have to hold it forever, but you should still set aside time to go outside for potty and play. This method can be great for small dogs with small bladders or older dogs that may need to go more frequently — and you are helping your pet’s health by not making him hold waste in his system for longer than necessary.
With the right materials and some patience, you too can have your dog using the litter box as part of a regular routine.
- Keith Turbyfill: How to litter box train your dog
- ASPCA: Advice for multiple-animal households and litter
- Carol Osborne, DVM: Dog urine problems
Photo: stella sia/Flickr