If your busy lifestyle makes it difficult to be home at certain times to let your small dog out, consider training him to use a cat litter box. This is a simple solution for busy professionals and for city dwellers who do not have much outdoor space for their dogs to use. If your dog is already paper-trained, you need only make the transition from paper to litter box. If your dog is accustomed to going outdoors, however, you may need to use a crate-style training procedure.
Preparations for Litter Box Training
Select a litter box to use for training. Many pet stores and online retailers sell litter boxes designed especially for small dogs, but large cat litter boxes work as well. You can also use just about any low, open plastic container.
Place the litter box on an easy-to-clean surface, such as tile or wood. In order to prevent any confusion later, plan to keep the litter box in this same position long-term, rather than moving it once you have trained your dog to use it.
Teach your dog to get in and out of the litter box by making it into a game. Place your dog on the floor next to the box, and wave a treat in the air over the box. Say a command or word that you want your dog to associate with the litter box and give him the treat when he hops in. You might choose to use a word or command such as "box," or "go potty."
Choose a filler for your litter box. You can use regular cat litter, or purchase specially formulated dog litter available online and in some pet stores. Some dog owners prefer to just use newspaper or house-training pads.
Limit your dog's range during the training process, so you can monitor him closely. Keep the dog either with you, or in the area where the litter box is stationed.
Section off a small area to create a crate-like environment for your dog. Use pet gates or latex lattice to enclose the area, and place your dog's bed, litter box and food bowls in the area. The enclosure should be high enough that your dog can't jump over it. The area enclosed should be large enough that your dog can stand up and turn around comfortably, but there should be no open space available for the dog to soil.
Place your dog in the crate area during times when he is most likely to need to potty. These times include immediately after eating and after waking from a nap.
Watch for signs that the dog has to go. He will begin circling or sniffing around. If your dog begins to display these behaviors, use the verbal command you taught him in Step 3. Place the dog in the litter box if he does not go there on command.
Wait for your dog to use the litter box, then reward him with lots of praise and some treats.
Allow your dog to leave the crate area once he has used the litter box. Leave the door to the area open. Let your dog be free to move about, but limit him to areas near you. You must be able to monitor him closely throughout the training period.
Continue the process until your dog begins to use the litter box on his own. Encourage him with your command phrase to use the litter box, and reward him when he does. Eventually, your dog will begin to go to the litter box voluntarily when he needs to relieve himself.
Limit your dog's range when you leave the house, and leave the door to the crate area open. This will ensure that your dog has access to his litter box in your absence, and it will minimize the risk of accidents elsewhere in the house.
Transitioning from Paper Training
Lay a washing machine pan flat on the floor in the area where you previously paper-trained your dog. Line the pan with newspaper. If you do not have a washing machine pan, cut the sides of a large cardboard box down to no more than 1 inch high.
Give your dog at least two weeks to get used to the washing machine pan or large cardboard box. The box should be large enough for your dog to step into it and turn around comfortably. Because your dog is accustomed to using an open, paper-lined area to do his business, you will need to gradually get him used to going in a confined space.
Use your command phrase to encourage your dog to use the box or washing machine pan, and reward him when he does.
Transition gradually into using boxes with taller sides, working toward using a box that resembles the shape of your litter box. Increase the height of the cardboard box walls by 2 or 3 inches every few weeks until it is the same height as the litter box.
Allow your dog several weeks to get used to using the large cardboard box once it reaches the height of the litter box. Like the litter box, your cardboard box should include the edge that the dog has to step over.
Begin decreasing the length and width dimensions of the box over a period of several weeks, giving the dog at least one week to adapt to each adjustment. Keep the height of the box the same as you decrease the other dimensions.
Place the bottom of your litter box inside the cardboard box, and line the bottom and sides with newspaper. Give your dog a week or two to get used to this, then clip the hood onto the base of the litter box. Cut off the top of the hood so it remains open.
Remove the cardboard from around the litter box slowly, gradually transitioning to the point where only the litter box remains.
Transition your dog from using newspaper in the litter box to using your preferred filler material. If you want to use training pads, the transition should be fairly simple. To transition into litter, start by sprinkling a small amount of litter over the newspaper. Gradually add more, until the paper is entirely covered with litter.
If you intend to use a cat litter box for your dog, cut the top off the hood so it remains open. This will make the box easier for your dog to use, and more convenient for you to clean.
If your dog ends up soiling his own bed instead of using the litter box during crate-style training, change the bedding immediately. Sprinkle a few pieces of food on the dog's bed. Dogs have a natural aversion to soiling their bedding area, so if the dog learns to associate the bed with food, he will not soil it.
If you are not consistent during the training process, the results will not be consistent. Once you have selected a location for the box, do not change it, and try not to change the type of filler you use. Always use the same command phrase, and praise your dog for using the box every time you witness it.
Do not rush your dog. If you try to force him to make changes too quickly he may revert to having frequent accidents, and you may need to start the process over.
Accidents will inevitably happen during the training process. If your dog begins to go outside the litter box, quickly pick him up and put him in the box, then use your command phrase. Do not rub your dog's nose in the accident or punish him. Just teach him the proper behavior, and reward him when he succeeds.
Items You Will Need
- Litter box or large plastic container
- Dog treats
- Dog or cat litter
- Dog training pads
- Pet gates or latex lattice
- Dog bed
- Food and water dish
- Washing machine pan
- Cardboard boxes
- chien, chihuahua, image by Monique Pointaire from Fotolia.com