Does your dog need constant potty breaks, or do you worry that they’ll need to “go” when you’re at work? Perhaps you have a hard time getting outside yourself, so it’s not a simple task to let your dog out all the time. Dog litter boxes aren’t exactly the norm, but they can be a great option if you can’t always get your dog out when they need to do their business. From boxes with actual dog litter in a dog-sized box, to grass pads, to a box with pee pads inside, there are lots of alternatives you can use to train your dog to use a litter box that will be just-right for you both.
Can Dogs Be Trained to Use a Litter Box?
Yes! While litter boxes are more common for cats than dogs, there are still situations where giving your dog a box to do his business could come in handy.
Puppies and small dogs have small bladders, requiring them to go out every 2-3 hours. Sometimes they can hold it a little longer, but it’s best not to force them to. Adult dogs should usually need to go out as soon as you wake up and right before you go to bed. Then, sprinkle a couple of potty breaks in between.
If, for any reason, you have a hard time making it outside for your dog to go potty, a litter box for your dog may help avoid damage to your floors. Small dogs often have a hard time making it all the way to the door if it’s a decent distance away, so this option could help, too.
Choosing a Litter Box for Your Dog
So, you weighed your options and decided litter training is the best route for you and your pooch. Before you jump straight into the deep end of litter box training with your dog, run to the store and grab some supplies. Make sure you don’t head straight to the cat section. Doggy litter boxes aren’t the same as kitty ones. They’re usually a lot bigger and more shallow than the ones our kitties use. Unless you have a panther at home, this size litter box isn’t really necessary for a cat (even though your cat thinks it might be).
Dog litter boxes can be harder to find, but you can find them online if your local pet supply store doesn’t carry them. While you’re browsing the litter box section, there are a few factors you should keep in your mind, including:
Litter Box Size
The litterbox should be large enough for your dog to do their little before-potty twirl and to pace back and forth a bit. This helps them "go."
Litter Box Depth
The sides should be low enough for your dog to get in the box easily but high enough to keep the litter (and pee) in. If you have a male dog, you also need to make sure you grab one with high sides so he won’t spray pee all over the house when he lifts his leg.
No Litter Box Hoods
An open litter pan is important. Do you like cramped bathrooms? I’m definitely not a fan. I feel like I am in this super cramped, gross space when I walk into a bathroom that’s barely big enough to walk in. Even though a select few dogs may not mind, most dogs don’t like being shut inside their potty.
Choosing Dog Litter
Kitty litter and dog litter aren’t the same. Even though you might catch your cat using your dog’s litter box, the scenario doesn’t go both ways. Instead, look for newspaper-based pellets to use in your doggy litter box. They’re biodegradable, non-toxic, and super absorbent. Dog litter pellets are bigger than most cat litters and design for our dog’s bigger business.
If you’re not a fan of newspaper pellets, there are other options to be aware of:
Pine-Based Dog Litter
Pine pellets come from pine wood, as you probably expected. If you’re like me, you can smell the pine just reading this sentence. Pine pellets are all natural and help control unpleasant smells.
Corn-Based Dog Litter
Crushed corn cobs are used to make this litter, so it’s another natural option. It’s biodegradable and helps keep the icky smells away.
Dog Litters to Avoid
You'll see these products commercially available, but avoid them to keep your pup safe.
Silica-based dog litters are not recommended since they can be toxic and they’re too small.
Never use any kind of clumping litter for your dog. They can wreak havoc on your dog’s intestinal tract and cause emergency blockages that could be fatal.
To help reduce stinky odors, grab some baking soda and place it at the bottom of the box.
How to Train Your Dog to Use a Litterbox
Now that you have your litter box materials, it's time to set up and get your dog using it. Keep in mind that there are differences in training an adult dog and a puppy how to use the litter box.
1. Find the Spot
Like with cats, place your dog’s litter box somewhere that doesn’t have a lot of foot traffic. They don’t want to use the bathroom with an audience. If it’s not set up in the right spot, your dog won’t use it and it will make training much harder. If you have a nook or cranny that is at least a little spacious, that could be the perfect spot.
2. Set Up Their Litter Box
Line the bottom of the box with the litter so it covers the bottom fully. Continue filling it with litter until it feels deep enough to cover any poop. (I recommend about 2-3 inches deep.) If you have a bigger dog, add in a little more so they have room to move things around.
Put a waterproof mat underneath the litter box to catch any accidents.
3. Getting to Know the Litter Box
Before you direct your dog to use the litter box, they need to see it, smell it, and have it around for a couple of days. By having it around, they will learn exactly where it is once you begin the training steps. They probably won’t know what it is at first, but they’ll know it’s nothing to be afraid of. Reward your dog with a treat or praise just for approaching or stepping into the box for positive reinforcement.
4. Place Your Dog in the Litter Box
If your dog doesn’t walk right into the box, gently place them in the litter box and say your chosen command out loud. Most dog lovers prefer to use “go potty” or “use the box.” Then you can use positive reinforcement techniques, like treats, other rewards or praise, so they associate the litter box with wonderful experiences.
5. Continue the Pattern With a Routine
Now that you have introduced your pup to the litter box and they’ve been in it, you can start putting them in there routinely. If you know your dog uses the bathroom after they eat at 12:00 in the afternoon, then put them in there at that time. If they like to go potty as soon as you get home from work, there’s another great time. You know your dog’s routine and the signs that tell you how they just gotta go. Watch for those signs and put them in the box when you notice them, always using positive reinforcement so they aren’t afraid to be in there.
Puppies are different because they use the bathroom more often and they may not have be housetrained yet. Puppies will need to be placed in the litter box any time they eat, sleep, or play. This should continue until they learn the litter box is where they should go potty and while you’re learning what their schedule is. Keep in mind that their schedule will change as they get older, so you’ll have to monitor that.
If they don't use the litter box immediately and have accidents, scolding your dog or puppy won't help train them faster — and could actually make training much harder.
6. Keep it Up and Stay Consistent
Over time, with consistent and patient training, your pooch will learn the dog litter box is where they need to relieve themselves. It’s almost the same process as regular housetraining when you teach your dog to go potty outside.
If you’re like me, you probably have a certain area where your dog should do his business. If my dog were to not use the designated spot, my kids would step in squishy, smelly mush while they’re playing and track it inside the house. It’s the same idea. You’re teaching your dog where you want them to use the bathroom and where they shouldn’t.
Using Puppy Pads or Newspaper in Your Dog's Litter Box
If you picked puppy pads or newspaper to go in your litter box instead, or you're transitioning from pads to litter, you’re still going to use the same process. If your dog already uses these, even better. Put the puppy pad or newspaper where you are going to put the litter box so they can get used to it being there.
Once you put the litter box in its place, you can push the puppy pad or newspaper into the litter box so it will have their smell attached to it. Let them keep using the litter box with no litter inside. If you’d like to change to litter instead of padding, add a little at a time each day until litter completely covers the puppy pad.
Cleaning Your Dog's Litter Box
Cleaning your dog’s litter box every day is important. Like your cat, your dog won’t want to use the litter box if it’s disgustingly full. They will take one look at that and think a big NOPE. All the time you have spent training could go right out the door. They’ll find a place to potty that is clean and isn’t full of ick.
Scoop out feces daily at minimum when your dog is using the litter box. Using a scoop or gloved hand, remove the soiled litter and dispose of it in a trash bag.
About once a week, unless it needs it before then, clean out all the litter and wash it with warm, soapy water. Rinse it thoroughly and give it time to dry to avoid bacteria or mold growth. Once it’s dry, you can go back through the setup steps again.
Every month, or if the box starts to be really stinky even after cleaning, it should be disinfected. After washing with soapy water, you can wipe it down with vinegar or another pet-safe disinfectant. If you do use vinegar, your dog won't be a fan of the smell while you're cleaning it, but the smell will fade once it dries.
Every 6 Months
Over time, even with regular cleaning and disinfecting, a litter box can absorb odors or become scratched and harder to clean. It should be replaced every 6 months or so for hygeine purposes.
Avoid harsh chemicals to keep your dog happy and healthy.
Easiest Dog Breeds to Litter Box Train
Some dogs are easier and more practical to train to use the litter box than others. Dogs like chihuahuas, yorkies, and dachshunds are usually easier to litter train since they're so small. You can easily pick them up and put them in the box when they're training and there's less waste to clean up.
Breeds known for their intelligence are also easier to train—including poodles and papillons.
Encountering Litter Box Problems
There are a few common problems dog owners can encounter in litter box training. Digging, dogs eating their poop, and smell are the top three. Luckily, there are actions you can take for all of them.
If your dog has a natural inclination to dig, like in terrier breeds, you'll need to find them an alternative area. The litter box is for going potty, not for digging their way to the center of the Earth. If they're just digging to cover up their feces, don't worry about it. That's normal.
Coprophagia is the scientific name for your dog eating their poop. (Yeah, I know...) If your dog is doing this, it could mean they have a nutrient deficiency. As a nutritionist, when I hear this issue, I recommend my clients to grab a test from ParsleyPet and AnimalBiome. They can share the results with their nutritionist or their veterinarian. You can also learn more about other ways to curb your dog's poop-eating here.
The odor from a litter box can get pretty gross. If you have cats, you know what I'm talking about. If you forget a day, it's downright gross. To keep the bad smells away, make sure you're cleaning your litter box enough and adding baking soda to the bottom every time it's emptied. If you're cleaning it every day and it's still stinky, try a different litter.
Frequently Asked Questions
Have more questions? Let’s get them answered!
Can Male Dogs Use a Litter Box?
Yes, but you need to make sure the sides are tall enough to catch their pee or else you’ll have a big puddle outside the box.
Can a Big Dog Use a Litter Box?
Yes, a big dog can use the litter box, but make sure you find one that’s big enough for them to have room to pace and turn while doing their business.
Should I Use a Litter Box, Pee Pad, or Grass Pad for My Dog?
This question is all about preference. Litter boxes are great for those who want to keep their dog’s ick tucked away.
Why Can’t I Use Cat Litter?
Cat litter isn’t safe for dogs and can cause major medical issues.
How Long Does It Take to Litter Train a Dog?
There isn’t an exact answer to this question. Some dogs will catch on within a few days, whereas others could take a few weeks. Every dog learns differently and has different preferences.
Can I Train an Older Dog, or Is This Just for Puppies?
Absolutely! You can train your dog to use the litter box at any age and it’s particularly helpful for older dogs who have a hard time making it outside.
How Often Does It Need to Be Cleaned?
Clean your dog’s litter box at least once a day for small dogs and as-needed for large dogs. Make it a rule that if you see soiled areas, you wander over to the box to clean it up. It doesn’t need to be immediate, but keeping it clean is key to making sure they keep using it.
What If My Dog Eats the Litter?
If they are eating the litter you picked, look for a different litter. That usually solves the problem. If it doesn’t solve it no matter which litter you have, visit the veterinarian to make sure there aren’t any underlying illnesses causing the issue.
Don't Give Up
Being patient is insanely important whether you’re teaching your dog to go potty outside or use the litter box inside. Your dog doesn’t naturally use a litter box and can’t mind-read to know where you want them to go. Take the time to let them know what makes you happy and your dogs will probably follow it because they want you to give them praise, love, attention, and affection.