This new litter of Mini Aussie/ Mini American Shepherd puppies has been my trial run for litter box training and I am sold that it works much better than any other method I have tried. Previously, I have used disposable pee pads and washable pee pads, the latter being the best of those two methods. However, I learned that the washable pee pads sometimes led the puppies to believe it was okay for them to potty on their owner’s rugs since the fabric texture was what their feet were searching for as a potty area. The litter is like nothing else found in our home environment so they can’t be confused about what is “okay”.
I have a series of YouTube videos on litter training for anyone interested but thought I would outline the steps I have taken that have worked very well. As a retired teacher, I always have the desire to learn and also to teach. As I was researching litter box training for dogs, I found very little worthwhile information with sequential steps from puppy hood. Mostly folks show a picture of their final setup with a dog walking in to the box to potty. Well, how did they get to that point??
When my puppies are born, they sleep with their dam in a Perla bed which keeps them contained in a safe and warm environment. For the first 2-2 1/2 weeks they are unable to move out of that area and their mama dog keeps them clean and neat so potty training is a moot point. However, once they open their eyes and ears, they start to explore and before long their little legs start to take them out into the big world around them.
At the point that they are able to roll out of their Perla bed, I changed to the bottom half of a large plastic kennel lined with “vet bed” and left it open for the mama to come in and out. Across from the kennel bottom, I placed the other half of the kennel lined with bed pads that you find at the drug store or Walmart. I used a large clamp to hold the two together so there were no cracks for them to fall through. I gave them a ramp (rolled up towel) to toddle over into their bathroom area and gave them practice moving from one side to the other. I spend a lot of time with my puppies, so I tried to move them over and back many times during the day and before long they were starting to potty on the pad. Excellent–first step completed! The good part was that the mama dog could jump in and out gingerly when she needed to and the puppies were contained.
As the puppies have matured, they got some time out on the floor to play and explore, but when I wasn’t watching and during the night, I made sure the halves of the crate were clamped together so they had two options, sleep in their bed, or potty in their bathroom. Before long, I was waking up in the morning to their knowing the difference in the two areas. Slowly, I started to add the litter on top of the pee pad. At first it was very alien to the puppies and they weren’t sure what to do so I kept enough of the pad surface showing for their feet to feel what they were used to. This step, introduction of litter completed!
Once the first bold puppy learned to topple out of the bed at night, I had to change out the plan once again. I added a Sterlite under the bed plastic box to the pen area with a pad and just some litter covering the pad and many times during the day moved the puppies into that area saying “go potty” and giving praise. I continued to keep the other kennel half with a pad and litter available as well so there were now two areas. As much as possible overnight, I contained the puppies in their bed using my Iris fencing along side so they still had two options, sleep or potty. During the day, I moved the fence outwards for play and eating areas along with their potty places. During this step, I continued to make the litter deeper but still having some pad showing in places. It was amazing for me to see them moving on their own to the litter box, especially for their number twos.
Two of the babies had very short legs, so instead of getting a second Sterlite box, I took away the kennel bottom and added a plastic rabbit hutch tray again lined with a pad and litter. The short sides were easy to walk over and it was still large enough for the puppies to do their dance. At this stage the kennel area contained their bed, eating area, Sterlite litter box and rabbit hutch litter box. Lots more practice and by 4 weeks old, we are at nearly 100% on poops and 80% on peepees, which seem to be a little harder, especially right after napping. Some just can’t wait!
In another week or so, my plan is to phase out the rabbit tray and add the second Sterlite box because two will fit perfectly across the back of my Iris pen area. I’m predicting to be in the high 90th percentile on everything by then and little legs will have lengthened to make it easy for everyone.
I have continued to use the bed pads under the litter just because it is so easy to roll everything up and toss in the garbage. With six puppies, I like to change out the litter daily although I keep it scooped often. I’m thinking with just one puppy it wouldn’t be necessary to change the litter but occasionally, weekly maybe, and the pads won’t be necessary for the new owners.
Why would you litter box train a puppy/dog? I am an advocate for teaching a puppy to go outside to do their business, but those first few months or even long term, there may be times when no one is home and rather than have a mess why not have a puppy trained to have a place to go and keep the owners happy. Overnight, it is also really nice during bad weather to have options if you don’t want to take the dog out.
How will we transition? Easy! I am currently using wood stove pellets which are compressed sawdust and biodegradable. When the weather clears and the puppies are big enough to put on the ground, I will just put some of their litter out on the grass or garden area where I want them to learn to potty. They know the texture and the smell and will be drawn to the litter.
Wood stove pellets are sold at home stores like Tractor Supply, 40 pounds for $5, which I have stored in a plastic garbage can. I doubt they are available during the summer, so it may be necessary to stock up. I have also been told that the pellets that are used for horse bedding are similar and perhaps more compressed so I will also try those and evaluate the difference. If wood stove pellets are not available, actual dog litter made from compressed newspaper is available at Petco and other big box stores, but for a substantially higher price. Cat litter should NOT be used because it could be ingested. In my experience, puppies do not eat the pellets which has also been a pleasant surprise.
I am convinced that training new puppies to use a litter box will help the new owners and it certainly has made my life much easier and kept their area clean and neat. I’m a believer!