Can Your Dog Use a Litter Box?

If you live with a dog, you may sometimes nurse a little resentment for your cat-owning friends, whose entire bathroom-related duties are limited to scooping one or two litter boxes each day. Unlike them, you must brave blizzards, tornadoes, lightning and hail, or worse – and suffer early awakenings on your day off – to walk your dog on her favorite patch of grass.

Although we naturally assume dogs should be trained to relieve themselves outdoors, there are several circumstances in which a doggy litter pan can be both convenient and humane.

So can your dog learn to use an indoor litter box? Maybe so. One dog-sized litter pan has even made it to the pet marketplace so someone believes it is possible.

The Advantages of Litter Training

Animal behaviorists have long known that litter boxes – or simply newspapers – can be employed with some benefit for some dogs. In our pet culture, however, we automatically assume that puppies must learn to eliminate outdoors. Until they do, we provide newspapers or some other indoor litter substrate for their convenience and for our ease of cleaning. But why do we put so much effort into encouraging our dogs to graduate to an outdoor location? After all, dogs can be trained to use an indoor bathroom facility as we do. Think about it.

Also, if your dog has trouble walking any distance because of osteoarthritis or old age, or if she suffers from a medical problem, such as diabetes mellitus, which causes increased urination, a litter pan is certainly a humane alternative to having your dog hike long distances to an outdoor location, possibly after waiting uncomfortably for an escort. A litter box also can provide relief for any dog whose human companion works long hours.

Teaching Your Dog to Use a Litter Pan

How might your classically house-trained dog learn to use an indoor litter pan? First, consider the surface on which your dog most often urinates or defecates outdoors. If she's partial to grass or asphalt, using a similar surface would be best. Clay-based litter may be a reasonable substitute for asphalt or gravel but you may literally have to provide an indoor grassy surface – at least initially – for your yard-oriented dog.

As with puppies, consider the times your dog's most likely to urinate or defecate; when first waking in the morning; when you come home from work; perhaps soon after eating. At these times, take her to the litter box and encourage her to use it.

If your dog happens to eliminate in the house but in an inappropriate spot (while you're home), clap your hands to interrupt her and take her quickly to the desired location immediately. Of course, any elimination in the pan should be enthusiastically praised and otherwise rewarded the instant it happens. It also may be helpful to reward even mild interest and sniffing in the vicinity of the new "toilet."

Learning is Not Guaranteed

Which dogs will learn to use a doggy litter box most successfully? Although some adult dogs can certainly be retrained, it's easiest to teach this habit to a youngster.

Adults will learn most quickly if they occasionally have "accidents" in the house to begin with, because these accidents can be reoriented to a different location; such opportunities often arise in elderly dogs. If, however, your adult dog has been reliably housetrained, it may be difficult to convince her to eliminate indoors again – in which case you might want to keep your raincoat and galoshes handy.