How to Litter Box Train Your Puppy

Updated on September 8, 2017

Personal Testimony

I have personally done this, so what you’re about to read is my own experience. It’s not as crazy as it sounds, and dogs take to it really well. Why? Because they like having their own special place to potty. Just watch the next time you see a dog outside. Dogs have a tendency to poo in the same place each time.

The Puppy Pawtie Litter Box System.
The Puppy Pawtie Litter Box System.

What You Need:

  • A litter box, or something larger, if you have a large breed. I have a medium-sized dog and went with a crate-like box. It was about 3 inches deep. The important thing is you use something the puppy can EASILY climb into. You don’t want to set them up for failure by asking them to use an insurmountable obstacle. But neither do you want something that’s going to make a mess of your kitchen, or wherever you put the box. As he gets older, he may need a slightly bigger box. You can visit your local Home Depot and pick something up, it’s not hard to be creative in this area.

  • SAFE litter. Don't use the litter crystals you use for Garfield. Don't use clumping litter. Don't use any type of cat litter unless its 100% natural. Puppies eat everything, you don’t want him eating that. Go to the pet shop and get some Rabbit bedding, the compressed sawdust kind. It’s pellet-shaped and dissolves on contact with anything wet. That means if Fido eats this, it won’t harm him, nor will you have to worry about him choking on it. Also, don’t overfill the box. You only need a layer about 2 inches deep, maybe a bit less.

  • Newspaper. Once he knows you want him to use the box, he will try, but he might not always make it. If he starts tinkling as he nears the box, you still want him going on anything other than your floors. This is not just for aesthetic purposes, you don’t want him thinking it’s ok to potty on your tile or carpet. It’s ok, however, if he thinks newspaper is an acceptable alternative because the newspaper will only be near the box.
  • Pet stain remover. I recommend this as opposed to your regular household cleaner because it really gets rid of the pet odor, and they won’t want to potty in the same place once you’ve cleaned it with something intended for that.
  • Some kind of plastic fencing. Fencing isn’t a good word, but I don’t know how else to describe it. I used plastic paneling I bought at a DIY place and then formed a circle around the box. You don’t need this, but it helps to keep everything tidy. They held the newspaper in one place and gave my dog a target area. And on the rare occasion litter went flying, it didn’t fly very far.

Troubleshooting

Lead your puppy to the box as often as possible. Put him inside of it. Let him feel the pellets under his feet – this is important, as he will begin to associate this feeling with pottying, and will realize tiles and carpet do NOT feel the same way as the area he’s expected to potty in.

What about boy puppies—won’t they lift their leg and pee all over the box? No, male puppies don’t start lifting their legs until they’re closer to a year, and some not until much later – and some never do. He’ll be potty trained before he starts to do this.

Tell him to “Go potty” or something similar, and when he does, praise him for it immediately. Meaning, while he's going potty, not after. Tell him, “Good boy, go potty” several times, and eventually he will learn that you like it when he potties in the box. You should also be doing this when he potties outside.

If he potties elsewhere, you need to consider the why. Was he on his way to the litter box and just couldn’t get there in time? In this case, I would just pick him up and put him in the box and praise him once he’s there. If he just squatted and tinkled on your carpet without even glancing at the box, I’d say “NO!” very firmly, and pick him up and take him to the box immediately. If he continues to potty IN the box, lots of praising should follow. If not, eh, you have to let it go. Do NOT hit him! I will get very mad at you if you do!

Common Issues to Address

  • How will I make the transition from box to outside? Your dog should still be pottying outside when you walk him, but will probably be using the box more often than not. I weaned this habit by moving the box to the balcony. Once the dog realizes the box is outside, they learn to ask to be allowed out. When they are at the door, ask them, “Do you want to go potty?” or something along those lines. When they do go outside and use the box, praise, praise, praise. Doesn’t take long to make the transition at all. If you don’t have a balcony, you can do this by keeping an eye on Fido. When he heads for the box, intercept him and take him outside immediately, asking him the same thing I recommended above.

  • Can I use this as his primary means of pottying when he’s an adult? That should not be your goal. However, if you work all day this is a helpful backup so your dog doesn’t have to hold it forever. But I have to say, you really shouldn’t have a dog at all, if that’s the norm for you. That said, if your dog gets a lot of exercise before and after your job, I guess it would be a good solution for you.

  • Do not have ridiculous expectations! This is as much a physiological issue as it is training. He will not be able to hold it until his bladder muscles are fully developed. Generally, that’s 2 hours for every month – but that’s not a guarantee, by any means. Also, excitement plays a major role in this. My dog was potty trained very quickly, but still tinkled once in a while if really excited to see new people. It’s just something you have to deal with.

There you are: how to litter box train a puppy. It works, I promise. If you have any questions, feel free to post them in the comments. I’ll do my best to answer them.

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