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how to get your dog to use the dog litter box

Dog Litter Box 101: How to Get Your Dog Started on Indoor Peeing

We all know cats are typically the fur family members to use a litter box. But what about dogs? Are there any good arguments for training your canine friend to use a dog litter box? 

And what’s better? A dog litter box? Or an artificial grass pad?

3 Reasons to Use a Dog Litter Box or Artificial Grass Pad

Walking your dog outside is a good way for them to do their business while providing valuable bonding time. So I rarely advise parents to skip this opportunity. That said, there are a few instances when using a dog litter box is preferable. Is it right for your dog? Let’s find out!

1. You live in an apartment or high rise.

If you live in a place where you can’t easily get your dog outside to use the bathroom, a dog litter box may be a good choice for you. If you have to descend many stories in an elevator before reaching the outdoors, a litter box might be the answer. 

This is especially true if you have a small dog, or tiny tinkler as I call them, since they often have more difficulty holding their urine than bigger dogs. This leads to more accidents in the house, and bigger frustrations, which puts a damper on your relationship. I wrote an entirely different article that goes into more detail about why your dog is peeing in the house

2. You live in a climate where the weather is severe.

Now, I’m not talking about a little bit of rain. While many dogs don’t prefer going outside when the weather is anything but clear, it’s not going to hurt them. 

But if you live in an area that sees several feet of snow or perhaps that is primarily paved and gets very hot, an indoor dog litter box might actually be safer for your pet. 

3. You or your dog has mobility issues.

If either you or your dog has mobility issues, a dog litter box might be a good option. For example, if your dog can’t get around easily because of an injury and perhaps you have a lot of stairs to navigate before heading outside, a litter box will help them.

Or, if perhaps you’ve been injured or in need of mobility aids like a wheelchair, a litter box will help you rest easy knowing your dog has a place to do their business. 

Get the free urine marking ebook today!

Dog Litter Box or Artificial Grass Pad?

There are companies, like doggybathroom.com that provide modern litter boxes for dogs. The high sides and vertical pee pads help contain your dog’s mess. All you need to do is change out the pads and keep the inside clean. This can be a good option for medium-sized dogs that raise their leg to pee. 

Photo of a Golden Retriever sitting on a pee pad

The downside is the cost. The pee pads are disposable and will need to be replaced frequently. Also, the texture of the pee pads is not unlike a towel or other textile in your home, so it’s more likely your dog will pee where you don’t want them to. What about artificial grass pads? I favor these over pee pads because they replicate your dog’s natural instinct to pee outside. They’re reusable, so it’s better for the environment and for your wallet. The initial investment for a grass pad like this one is minimal. You can buy extra grass pads to swap out while you’re cleaning dirty ones. 

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Can You Train a Dog to Use a Litter Box?

Whether you choose to go with a litter box or a grass pad, will your dog really use it? This is the million doggie bone question. Can you actually train a dog to use a litter box? In many cases, the answer is yes, you can.

Now, it’s worth noting that litter boxes are best suited for small to medium-sized dogs. Trying to contain a Bull Mastiff in a box while they do their business would be quite a feat! And for large dogs who raise their leg to pee, the sides of the litter box would have to be very high to avoid soaking surrounding objects.

Whether you’re using an actual box or artificial turf to train your dog indoors, the methods are basically the same. 

Step 1: Find the Right Spot

Ideally, you’ll place your dog litter box on an outside space, like a covered balcony or porch. But if it has to be indoors, you can place it in your bathroom so it’ll be easy to clean. 

Step 2: Let Your Dog Know This is Their New Spot

Just like when you train your dog to pee outside, you need to indicate that this new area is their pee spot. 

You can do this by getting a paper towel or pee pad containing a little of their urine and placing it where you want them to go. It doesn’t have to be a lot but do this as consistently as possible until your dog gets the idea that it’s ok to pee there. 

Step 3: Praise Them for Using the Right Spot

Again, just as you would do if training a dog to go outside, be sure to give them lots of praise and some training treats when they do their business in the right spot. 

This takes consistency and patience, and you can probably expect some other indoor accidents while you’re in the process. But with time, your dog will understand how to use their new pee spot. 

Step 4: Keep it Clean

While you want your dog to understand that this is their new spot, you don’t want it to get gross enough that they won’t use it. And of course, you want your home to be sanitary. There are some specific steps to cleaning your dog litter box or artificial turf that we’ll go over in just a bit. 

How to Clean Your Dog Litter Box or Artificial Grass Pad

Supplies: 

Whether you’re cleaning your dog litter box or artificial grass pad, the recommendations are essentially the same. For litter boxes, you’ll first need to throw away used pee pads. 

Next, you’ll need to use a good enzyme cleaner like this one. Why an enzyme cleaner? Because normal household cleaners don’t eliminate the bacteria that cause the stink. 

kinderbean works better than other cleaners on pet waste

Here’s where we get a bit science-y. Urine contains biological elements like bacteria that need to be neutralized by enzymes that eat the bacteria. When left to do their job, these enzymes will turn this bacteria into water, which then evaporates. No bacteria, no stink! 

However, this is the important takeaway: you need to saturate the area with the enzyme cleaner and then let it work to do its job. The spray and wipe away approach will not work because the cleaner has not had enough time to eat the bacteria, preferably 8-12 hours. So here’s what you do: 

For all large hard plastic surfaces, apply the enzyme cleaner generously, making sure it covers the entire surface, even areas that you may not expect urine to be. Using your rag, gently spread the cleaner over the surface so every inch is wet. Let it air dry. 

For smaller items, like small grass pads, rinse the area off in the sink or tub. Then fill the sink or tub with warm to hot water and add 1/4 cup of Kinderbean No Stress Mess Eraser. Let soak overnight. In the morning, rinse everything thoroughly and let it air dry. 

The enzyme cleaner will eliminate the odor and your dog will have a fresh place to do business again!

The Tail End

It’s always preferable to cater to your dog’s natural instincts to go outside, but if that’s not possible, you can absolutely train your dog to go inside and keep your home smelling clean and fresh. 

Does your dog have pee problems? Do you have a tiny tinkler or an anxious pee-er? Download my free “pee book,” Everything You Never Wanted to Know About Your Dog Peeing Indoors!

Get the free urine marking ebook today!

Kristen Levine is a nationally acclaimed pet expert and influencer with over 30 years of experience in the industry. She's helped millions of pet parents provide the best care at every stage of their pet’s life.

Her blog, Pet Living with Kristen Levine has been featured in Pop Sugar, Good Housekeeping, New York Times, USA Today, and more.

She's also the founder of FWV Fetching, the first marketing agency exclusively serving pet and animal health companies.

Her early work with the SPCA led her to a lifelong career in the pet industry, advocating for pet adoption and rescue as well as for pets and their parents here on her blog and in the media.

She’s frequently booked on satellite media tours and national shows, like FOX & Friends, Good Morning America, and Daytime, to talk about pet trends and new products.

Insanely passionate about pets since she was a little girl, Kristen has had more than 30 pets in her lifetime — including dogs, cats, goats, donkeys, a horse, a gerbil, mice, and chickens!

Today she lives in Florida with her dog Tulip, cat Olivia, and husband Paul.

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