Litter Box Training Your Small Dog

You may know from experience that it can be quite a challenge to potty train a small dog. Small dogs have smaller bowels and bladders, yet have to process more food and water for their size than larger dogs. As a result, they may need to eliminate more often—and that means more responsibility for you. It's not surprising that house-training failure is the #1 reason small dogs lose their homes.

That's why many owners of small dogs have adopted the litter box as their training method of choice. Those who support litter box training say it can virtually eliminate "accidents" since these dogs are free to go to the bathroom anytime during the day as needed. Litter box training provides greater convenience for owners, too. There are no inconvenient trips outside, no braving the cold, wind, and rain, and no tracking in dirt and mud. Owners simply clean the litter box once a day.

How to start litter box training

Look for a litter box designed especially for small dogs—they're available through most pet retailers. You can also use a large cat litter box, or use almost any type of low, open plastic container. You'll also need bags of litter.

Just as in outdoor training, you should take your dog to the litter box when he first wakes up, after he's eaten, and periodically throughout the day. Watch him carefully for signs that he needs to go, such as sniffing around or circling, and quickly take him to the litter box. Always immediately praise him enthusiastically if he goes in the right spot. As with any type of house- training, accidents may happen. Be prepared with cleaning supplies and a generous amount of patience.

The bottom line

Keep in mind that dogs do not have the instinctive behaviors of cats for using a litter box and burying their waste. While many dog owners succeed with litter box training, you need to be aware of the risk: some litter box-trained dogs may continue to have accidents off and on for life. If possible, also train your young dog to eliminate outdoors on grass, sod, or other outdoor surfaces. This can provide essential house-training insurance for down the road.

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