A Litterbox ... for My Puppy?

Did you recently bring a puppy home? Feeling overwhelmed with potty training? Don’t fret, we have a solution for you!

Bringing a puppy home can be the most joyous, wonderful thing. But raising a puppy can quickly become daunting when it comes to housetraining, considering most puppies will need to eliminate every 1-2 hours when they come home around 8-10 weeks of age. This can lead to frequent accidents, many sleepless nights, and a lot of frustration!

Did you ever consider using a litter box for your pup? Using a litterbox can significantly speed up the housetraining process by drastically reducing potty accidents inside the house. The litterbox allows you the time to get used to and figure out your puppy’s potty routine. It also gives you peace of mind if you need to be out of the house for more than an hour without needing to rush back to get the pup out or coming back home to a mess! The litterbox also makes nights a lot easier because you won’t need to get up in the middle of the night (or get up multiple times) to let the puppy out.

How Does it Work/ Why Woes it Work?

Puppies usually have a natural instinct to keep their resting and feeding areas clean hence the “traditional” use of crates and x-pens for housetraining: to limit the puppy’s space and encourage them to hold their bladder/bowel. This instinct means puppies will naturally be drawn to a specific, separate area to potty so that their resting area stays clean.

Puppies develop substrate preference at a very young age. Substrate preference means that the surface on which your pup eliminates gets recorded as “toilet” and your pup will then look for that texture when they have to potty. We can use that to our advantage by providing a substrate in our litter box that doesn’t match any other textures inside the home but will be a very close match to textures found outside (grass, pine straw, mulch, etc.).

What You’ll Need

- Litterbox: An underbed storage bin (40 or 60 QT with sides no more than 8 inches tall) for large puppies. For toy or miniature pups, you can use a large kitty litter box

  • You can also substitute the litter box for a potty patch : a tray of artificial grass or real sod

- Litter material

  • DO NOT USE CLAY CAT LITTER. Puppies will try to eat it and it is TOXIC.

  • DO NOY USE PEE PADS – remember that substrate preference: pee pads feel like fabric and a lot of puppies will confuse carpeting and rugs with pee pads.

  • Large Pine pellets (link)

  • Shredded Newspaper or Newspaper pellets (link)

  • Dog litter (link)

  • Fake grass (Potty patch)

  • Or real sod

My personal preference is for large pine pellets as they’re easy to find in most pet stores. They have a pleasant natural odor and cover up smells well. I’ve also found that this material is the least tempting for puppies to play with or chew on.

- A Liner for under the litterbox (either waterproof fabric like a splat mat, or very absorbent like whelping pads) in case the puppy misses the mark by putting only two feet in or aims over the edge.

Setup for Maximum Success

The great thing about using a litterbox is that it also allows for a more flexible and roomier setup for your puppy rather than being limited to just a crate when they can’t be fully supervised. You will still want to be mindful of how much space you give your pup. Too much space and your pup might eliminate in random areas around the house. The ideal set up is a play pen includes:

- A sleeping area that should be 1.5x the size of your pup

- A feeding/drinking area

- A play/stretch your leg area that should be 1.5-2x the size of your pup

- The litterbox area

Introducing the Litterbox

With the ideal setup, most puppies naturally take to the litterbox because the litter box is the only suitable/appropriate area for them to potty in if they want to keep their play and rest areas clean.

Put your litterbox inside the play pen and let puppy explore on its own for a minute or two. If your puppy approaches the box to look or sniff, mark (say Yes!) and reward with a yummy treat. See if your puppy will try stepping into the box on their own. If they do, mark and reward every attempt to step in even if it’s just one paw.

If your puppy seems hesitant, you can gently encourage them by touching/tapping the sides of the litterbox or dropping a toy inside the box. Don’t force your pup in the litterbox though. If your puppy seems worried then take a break (take your pup to potty outside in the meantime) and try again later when your pup has had a chance to see/be around the litterbox for a little while.

Litterbox Maintenance