How can I train my dog to use a litter box?
Litter boxes are a great option for apartment dwellers, those who are unable to walk their dogs (or who worry about leaving them unattended in the yard), or simply small-dog owners who prefer this neat, convenient method.
Choose a litter box that has a “dip” on one side to make climbing in and out easy. (A cat litter box might be just the right size for your dog.) As to the actual “litter,” there are a few options. Some brands offer pellets, others something akin to shredded paper. Unfortunately, pellets can prove a health hazard if your dog tries to ingest them. And often, shredded paper just isn’t worth the mess.
For some pups, a better alternative is to place newspaper or piddle pads inside the litter box. Some owners prefer piddle pads because they are absorbent and easily disposed. If your dog has already learned to eliminate on paper or pads, the easiest method is to move them into the litter box. Yet another option is to place a square of sod in the box. As grass is a preferred substrate for many dogs, this is often a great solution — just replace the sod periodically.
To jumpstart the process, place a paper towel soaked in your pup’s urine (and/or a piece of his feces) in the box. Or, use one of the commercially available products meant to entice dogs to eliminate in a specific area. This will give your dog the idea that this is the place to go.
If you’re crate training your puppy, first thing in the morning carry him from the crate to the litter box. Put him in the box and wait. If he jumps out, place him calmly back in the box. (If necessary, place a leash on him.) When you see that he is circling, sniffing, or just has that I’m-about-to-potty look, coax him softly with a phrase such as “go potty.” By uttering the phrase while his focus is on elimination, you will create an association between the two, and he’ll eventually eliminate on cue. When he goes, praise him in a happy voice.
During the day, whenever your dog shows signs of needing to eliminate (e.g., circling, sniffing the ground), gently pick him up and hurry him to the litter box. If you find an accident that’s already happened in another area, don’t reprimand him; he won’t understand why you’re angry after the fact. Just keep up the coaching, and your dog will soon be using the litter box by choice. Once he has the idea, keep the box clean. Scoop regularly, replace litter at least twice a month, and clean the plastic bin with soap and water at least once a month.