Litter box train your dog with these 5 tips


Dog in toilet paper

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As the snow piles up or the rain pours down, how many pet owners have had the thought: “What if my dog could do his business indoors?” Then, just as quickly, they shrug it off.

But as some out-of-the box — or in this case, inside-the-box — thinkers know, you can actually train little dogs to use a litter box. Surprised?

Granted, it’s not second nature for a dog, like it is for a cat to use a litter box. Still, here’s how to teach your canine to take potty breaks in the great indoors, and some caveats on why this remains an uncommon practice.


1. Start small

“I would not advise a client with a dog larger than 10 pounds to litter box train,” says Vicki Eberle, a dog trainer at highly rated Sit n’ Stay Pet Services in Hamburg, New York. “Even a dog who is reliably trained will be in the box and lift his leg or squat and go outside the box. It can be more frustrating to repeatedly clean up these messes than to take the dog outside.”


2. Get supplies

You’ll need to purchase a litter box big enough so your dog can turn around and squat comfortably. It should be easy for your pooch to get in and out, but the sides should be high enough that a male dog inclined to hike a leg will not hit the floor or wall nearby with urine. Basic options generally range between $20 and $50, though if you add hoods, self-cleaning options, and other bells and whistles, the cost can exceed $100.

Consider getting dog litter — yes, that exists — or something comparable. Craig Weindling, owner of highly rated Smiley Dog, a Seattle area pet food and supplies delivery service, recommends purchasing a pelleted litter product with coarser, larger granules than most cat litters, such as Second Nature made by Purina. “For dogs, I would strongly caution against traditional clay litter [which] can easily get stuck between or on a dog’s pads,” he says.

Costs vary by brand and can sometimes run slightly higher than cat litter. A 25-pound bag of Second Nature retails at around $20, but trainers say some cat litters with larger granules work for dogs, too.

Critics say using a litter box removes a built-in reminder to take the dog outside for exercise. The fix: keep a routine walk schedule even if the dog’s relieved.


3. Locate the litter box

Look for a private area that remains easily accessible, such as a bathroom on the main floor. Though it may be tempting to set the litter box out of the way, experts say that could cause your pooch to have more accidents.

Eberle says her dog and cat happily share a litter box. That’s not guaranteed, though. Other experts advise getting multiple litter boxes if you have a cat and dog or more than one dog. You want to avoid territorial feuds and other sharing issues that can lead pets to pee or poop on the carpet.


4. Start training your dog

Equipment in place? It’s go time. “The housetraining process is very similar to outdoor training,” Eberle says. “The only difference is you take the dog to the litter box each time instead of your designated potty area outside.”

For puppies, you should encourage them to go shortly after eating and drinking. For older dogs look for the signs that indicate they need to go, such as sniffing, circling or whining, and lead them to the litter box. Use a simple command such as “go potty” for old and young dogs alike.

Eberle advises only giving the dog five minutes to go in the litter box, so it doesn’t confuse potty time with play time. Once the dog does its business, shower it with praise and then give it the free time to romp around, she says.

It’s best to start as early as possible, but trainers say old dogs can learn new tricks. “It’s about changing old habits, which can be more challenging,” says Anthony Bracciante, head trainer and owner of highly rated Sit Means Sit Denver in Westminister, Colorado. “But, with attention, direction, positive reinforcement and repetition, you can affect change.”


5. Maintain good habits

This applies for owners and pets. You’ll want to clean out the litter box frequently — each time used is ideal — to keep odor to a minimum. You can use additives like baking soda, too, to help counter smells.

Clean up accidents with enzymatic cleaners, such as Nature’s Miracle, Eberle says, to eliminate the scent so it doesn’t draw the dog back to that area to go again. She and others encourage pet owners to litter box train on their own if they feel comfortable doing so, but suggest consulting a professional dog trainer if your pet doesn’t make progress and bad habits persist.

Finally, don’t alternate between taking your pooch outside to go and letting it use the litter box as this can also confuse the dog and inhibit proper training. You want your dog to find swift relief, not make a mess everywhere.


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This article was written by Michael Schroeder of Angie’s List.

MORE: In need of dog training? Here’s how to DIY and how to hire.