How to Litter Box Train Small Dogs

We’re used to seeing cats use litter boxes, unlike dogs who instead make their way outside to do their business. Did you know you can also train smaller dogs to use a litter box? Heck, you could probably train a large dog to use one too, but that’s a whole other can of worms.

The reason litter box training can make sense for a smaller dog is because, well, they can fit inside the litter box easier than big dogs, but also because their poops are going to be a lot smaller and won’t stink up your whole house quite as quickly.

There are numerous strategies and thoughts about training smaller dogs to do their business in a litter box. Some people thinks it’s a good idea, some people aren’t a huge fan, and we’ll be taking a look at both sides of the coin. If you decide that this is what you want for your dog, then we’ll go over some of the most commonly accepted methods for achieving such a thing.


  • If you’re stuck in traffic after work, or decide to go out for a bit, you don’t have to worry about what type of a mess you’ll come home to if you don’t let the dog out soon enough.
  • You don’t have to worry about taking your dog outside in terrible weather.
  • It can be better for their health (urinary tract infections, etc) to not have to hold it in all day while they wait for you to take them outside, also their comfort.
  • You don’t have to spend your free time looking through the yard for their “business receipts”.


  • If you’re using pee pads, it can get expensive.
  • It can be confusing for your dog if you decide, down the road, that you’d like them to start going outside instead.
  • That doggy smell that you may or may not notice in your home will be somewhat intensified, even with diligent cleaning.

There are other pros and cons, but these are the main ones, for the most part. If you live in an apartment or anywhere else that outside isn’t easily accessible, it can make this an easier decision. If you have a home with a fenced in yard and a doggie door that they can use at their convenience, once again, that stacks the odds in the other direction.

The Big Decision

dog litterbox featured

Once you’ve decided which route you would like to go and which option best suits your lifestyle and preferences, it’s time to get to work! It’s important to keep in mind that it will be very confusing if you decide to start with one option, then switch to the other.

For example, if you start your pup off indoors, then decide you want them to go outside, and get upset with them for going indoors, they’ll have no idea what’s going on. They’ll think they’re doing what you want, and it can be hard to break those habits. You may consider investing in a training collar of sorts to influence and force an older dogs choices.

You’ll want to try to choose an area for your dog’s litter box and puppy pads that is ideally on a tile surface, or something else that you can wipe up easily. It takes a while for your dog to get used to hitting the pad, and there’s going to be some times where they miss the mark.

Getting an Early Start

Whichever route you go with, it’s important to start early and stick to it. Puppies will need constant supervision as you train them, but it’s well worth the effort. Think of all the time you’ll save by not having to clean up after them nearly as often, for years to come!

Puppies have very small bladders and can’t hold anything in for very long, so you’ll want to take them to their pads and litter box just 10-15 minutes after they eat and drink. Take them to their litter area, help them step over the edges to get inside if necessary, and then say a vocal command like “Potty time!” or some other cue that they’ll associate with this action.

After it’s all said and done, you can offer your dog a small treat as a form of positive reinforcement. If you catch them doing their business elsewhere, you can give them a mild scolding and take them to the proper area.

It’s not a bad idea to use a larger plastic bin to start with, rather than a shallower traditional litter box. Puppies can’t necessarily tell the difference between the pad or the ground right away, so they might get to the general area but still make a mess.

That’s why it’s important to be near them, to guide them, and to physically direct them to the correct area whenever necessary. As they get older, they’ll get the hang of it on their own, as long as there’s a solid foundation of training in place.

One Final Option

Alternatively, if you’re training your dog to go to the bathroom (so to speak) indoors, another option is to create a special area using a piece of fake grass. Some people believe that this helps simulate what it’s like to go outdoors, and can keep the door a little wider open if your living arrangements change or you simply decide you’d like your dog to go outdoors instead.

house training a dog with grass potty

If you haven’t started training your small dog from an early age, that doesn’t mean it’s impossible – it’s just going to take a bit more work and a lot more patience – but you can do it!

One final thing to remember is that with your dog doing that indoors, you’ll need to be extra diligent in cleaning up after them. Of course, you need to clean up in your yard as well, but indoors there’s a lot less leeway. You might not always smell it, because you’re used to do your dog and their odors, but other people will – especially if you’re in an apartment building where scents can creep into the halls.

When you train your dog to use a little box, there are a lot of pros and advantages you’ll discoverer beyond the ones we’ve already mentioned, so good luck and remember to enjoy the process as much as you can, and remember that it will all be worthwhile soon.


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