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How to Litter Box Train a Dog

Updated on September 25, 2015
Whitney05 profile image

Whitney has over 10 years of experience in dog training, rescuing and dog healthcare.

Can you Litter Train a dog?

If you have just gotten or are thinking about getting a small dog or puppy, you may think about training the puppy to use a litter box, as they have smaller bladders than those dogs of larger breeds, which means they just can't hold their bladder as long.

Using the litter box as means of house training a smaller breed dog, you will be able to feel comfortable leaving the dog at home all day without a potty break, while you are at work for say 8 to 9 hours or more 5 or more days a week.

Small dogs can be trained to use a litter box. They are actually great candidates for litter boxes because they have small bladders. Having a litter trained dog can be beneficial to allow the dog to "go potty" whenever they need to. This is helpful when you are at work and cannot let the dog outside.

What do I need to Litter Train my Dog?

For the most part, the main things that you will need include a litter box and some sort of litter.

The Purina dog litter boxes are perfect, and they come in three sizes- mini, toy, and standard. Otherwise, you can use larger cat litter boxes. Just make sure that if you opt for the hooded litter boxes, that you remove the hood, as it will be much easier for your dog to use.

As for the litter, you can use newspaper or potty pads, but you can also purchase commercial dog litter, which makes scooping a lot easier.

Second Nature Dog Litter

Cleaning Supplies

Be sure to have plenty of cleaning supplies handy, such as mops, Swiffers, and paper towels because whille training your dog, you are bound to run into a few accidents.

You will also want to consider brooms and dust busters to sweep, or vacuum loose litter  that your dog may kick around.


Be prepared for accidents when house and litterbox training. If you do not completely clean urine stains, the spot will become reoccurring spots that the dog will use. Simple Solution is a great cleaning mix that will help keep the urine smell out of your floors.

Litter Training Your Dog

You want to design an environment that is going to be hard for your pooch to fail, which means that you want to first pick an area where you want the litter box to go. Typically tiled floors work best for easy cleanups. Bathrooms or utility rooms work great.

You want to constantly monitor the dog whe it is not in its bathroom area, and if you cannot watch the dog, put him in his bathroom area or crate. If you see any common potty signals, incourage the dog to go to the litter box, but do not care him and rush him to the litter box, as this can cause fear.

You may want to develop a keyword or a phrase to tell the dog to, go potty in his potty area.

When you are working with your dog and getting used to the litter box, it's a good idea to figure out the best way to make the litter box more natural to your dog.

You can put newspaper and a small bit of litter just at the bottom of the litter box. You also want to add newspaper right next to the box, especially if you are already working with training the dog to use the paper.

* You may consider some of the commercial potty aid solutions during the early signs of training.

When getting the dog used to the litter box, you want to get him used to getting in and out of the box, but manually putting him in the litter box, giving him the potty cue when you put him in the litter box. Make sure to praise the dog.

The dog will probably get out of the litter box on his own, to which point you repeat the routine of putting him back in the litter box and saying the cue. You may even want to give the dog a treat.

Masure to stop when you notice any signs of stress or irritation, and repeat the process again later.

Eventually, you want to build up to saying the cue, and just gently guiding the dog into the box. When you are at this point, you will then be able to have the dog go to the box on his own with just the cue word/phrase.

Methods to litter training a dog

Although there are different methods of litter training a dog, to which it will be up to you to find a method that will work the best for you and your dog. Below you will find two methods that are pretty popular to training a dog to use a litter box.

  1. Paper to litter box for dogs who are already paper trained
  2. Crate training variation

Flickr Image by HopeQ8
Flickr Image by HopeQ8

From paper to the litter pan

If your dog is already trained to go to the bathroom on paper, whether newspaper or potty pads, this will make a pretty easy transition to the litter box.

Although the following stelps may sound a little much and time consuming, but you want to remember that you've already trained your dog to potty one way, and now you want to train him to go another. You want the transition to be gradual.

  • Start with cardboard boxes of different heights. It can be easier to use duct tape to change the side of the box.
  • Create a flat "pan" area with the paper (newspaper works better) by cutting out the bottom of a cardboard box and lining it with paper. You want the sides to be just barely above the ground just so that the papers are not completely flat. 
  • Slowly increase the height of the cardboard until you have the sides nearly as tall as the litter box that you'll be using. Sometimes this can take a period of several weeks.
  • Some people will line the outside of the plastic litter box with the cardboard so that the dog doesn't notice the outter difference.
  • When you change to the plastic litter box, you'll want to line the litter box with papers, making the transition that much easier for the dog.  
  • If you decide to cover the outside of the box with cardboard you want to slowly remove the cardboard once the dog is pretty full-proof at using the litter box lined with papers on the inside.
  • Over a period of a few more days start adding the dog litter a little at a time until yno longer need the paper.

Crate Training Style

The crate training method of litter box training a dog is pretty easy, as it uses the basic crate training techniques, which is nearly always effective as long as you follow the tips. Basically, the dog isn't going to potty where he eats and sleeps, which means it's pretty important to make sure that the size of the crate or crate area is the proper size.

You also want to make sure that yoru dog is already used to the concept of the litter box and understand that he's supposed to go potty in the box.

When setting up the crate or crate area you need to make sure that the area has enough room for a bed, food/water bowls, and his litter box. The basic concepts of the crate is still going to apply where the dog has just enough room to sit, lay down, stand, and turn around. The difference is that the dog now has a little extra room for his basic necessities and his litter box.

You want the crate area to be sturdy so that the dog can't jump over or hurt himself trying to escape. You can use an actual crate, just make sure that there is enough room for the litter box. If you decide to use a puppy pen or a larger cage, fill any unused space, so that the dog doesn't use the bathroom somewhere other than the litter box.

Once your crate or crate area is set up, you'll want to put the dog in the area during his typical potty times, such as after the dog wakes up and after meals. Make sure to leave the dog in the area until he potties.

It's best to stay nearby so that you can catch the dog in the litter box and praise him right after he uses it.

When your dog starts to be pretty full-proof at using his litter box, you can give him more freedom in the house, but make sure that you have the crate or crate area left open so that the dog can get to his litter box. You want to keep this set up until you are 110% sure that the dog has the hang of the concept.

Continue this method until the dog goes to the litter box on his own.

Litter Box Troubleshooting

  • Review how you have everything set up. Make sure that your dog doesn't have a choice where he's going to potty. It's the litter box or his bed.
  • If the dog potties on his bed, wash the pillow or blanket immediately, and then put treats or food on the bed, as a dog isn't going to potty on an area where food is.

  • If the dog doesn't use the litter box when crated, spend more time training the dog about the concepts of the litter box, in order to reinforce the cues.

  • Use treats and LOADS of praise when you see yoru dog using the litter box. Eventually, you'll be able to wean him away from the treats.

  • If the dog uses the box to pee, but not poop, you'll want to consider that the dog is one of those dogs that just doesn't like to do all of their business in one area or that he just needs to walk it out. Just keep working with the dog reinforcing the basics.

  • Use a thin later of litter instead of the 1 to 3 inches that is recommended, as this will make things easier to scoop.

Remember that litter box training isn't going to be an overnight house training method. It's going to take several weeks, if not longer to successfully train your dog to use a litter box. Just make sure that you are constant with your training, and you do not get overly frustrated with your dog.


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    • profile image


      21 months ago

      My dog, a Cavalier used her litter box , but over the years she constantly had

      Urinary tract infections. So beware if you have a female Dog! I spent a lot on

      Veterans bills, and when I got rid of the litter box ; no more infections. But you can absolutely train the dog to use one.

    • profile image

      Pup mon 

      24 months ago

      My dog will go to his litter box on his own so i think he is potty trained. But then the next time i see him pee on the floor, or find poop in the house? Is he almost potty trained? Or no? I give him lots of praise whe he does go tho.

    • profile image


      7 years ago

      how can l get my Bishon frise puppy 2 poo in his litter tray he will pee but poo's on the floor away from tray

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I have a shih tzu. I am trying to litter box train and I have a puppy pad beside it just in case. She gets in her litter bow and pplays or lays down but will not potty in it! I move her out when she plays or lays in it but im not sure what to do now ...

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      I had a lot of success by noticing where my puppy peed when he first started to pee in the house. I then put a LARGE area of newspaper there (well it was about 2x3 feet). Everyday I would move the section of newspaper a few inches toward the door and slowly decrease the size of the area. Whenever I was around I also would say "potty" as he was going. Either pee & poop would elicit me repeating "potty, potty, potty, potty" in a even tone and pace (no shrill talking or excited-ness) until he would finish. I would immediately stop and then say "good boy" in a higher tone with excitement. After getting the newspaper patch close to the door, I would then watch him and say "no" (low and slow tone of voice), then "out" and open the door. I associated ONE word with "OUT" was when I opened the door, and he'd run out by himself. I continued my "potty, potty, potty" as he would be peeing outside too. My dog learned very fast like this. I can now ask my dog questions like, "Go potty?" "Ears rubbed?" "Hungry?" "Water?" "Go outside?" "Go for a Ride?" Etc. I go through the whole list of of what he knows and when I get to the right one, he will admittedly toss his head and do an excited "yes" growl. He somehow figured out that whenever he needed to go "potty" the door would always get opened, but if he just wanted to go "out", sometimes I wouldn't let him....then he had to go "potty" a lot more....but once outside he wouldn't ever do anything. He's too smart for me I think!

      The less syllables the word had the quicker he learned to associate that word with a certain thing - by doing a specific type of whistle or noise he learned even faster. I used the one word association to a certain action/object on friend's dogs with success for the most part. MOST dogs want to please you, they just get confused by what you "tell" them.

    • profile image


      8 years ago

      Oh my gosh! Thank you so much. You're such a great help :)

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgia

      I'm not really sure. Just make sure you get him out as soon as you see him and put him on his proper bed and treat and praise him for being in his own bed, not the litter box.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      my dog hangs out in his litter box? because we set it up like it is explained here, he only can chill in his bed or in the litter box. so sometimes he sleeps in his litter box. thought?

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgia

      A crying puppy isn't going to affect litter box training. More info would be needed to help in that instance- why is the pup crying, when is the pup crying, etc. A puppy that always follows you would be an easy puppy to house train because if it's always by your side then you'll always be able to notice the signs that he has to go potty before an accident occurs.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      How would you train a tiny puppy in a litter box if he always keeps crying? Also, how would you train a pup if he never leaves your side (always follows you?)

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgia

      The kennel should not be used for the potty. Never leave a puppy or dog thaty ou're house training unattended. Don't leave the room, and don't turn your back.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I am trying to train my dog a yorkie to go potty in the bottom of her crate as a litter box, with newspaper on the bottom,I keep bringing her to it when I think she needs to go and giving her a command, but she keeps peeing on my floor wheever I turn my back or leave the room. I'm loosing my patience.HELP!!!

    • Whitney05 profile imageAUTHOR


      9 years ago from Georgia

      It may be a little confusing for the dog. It's something you would have a harder time training both at the same time. I'd suggest one then training the other.

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      I would like to get a very small dog and train it to use a litter box. However, I would also like to train it to "go potty" in the back yard when I am home. Would this be too confusing for the dog? And if teaching the dog to use both the litter box and the yard is feasible, can I simultaneously train it to use both areas, or should I concentrate on one at a time?

    • profile image


      9 years ago

      helped me with my pug thanks


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