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Imagine having all the joys of owning a dog but with the convenience of not having to take her outside to go to the bathroom. Does that sound too good to be true?
Although your Chihuahua will still want and need to be taken outside for exercise, you may prefer to not have to take your dog outside to use the bathroom. If you live up several flights of stairs in a big city, having a dog that can use a litter box is very convenient. If you have to be gone for long hours during the day at times and do not have someone to take your dog outside to go to the bathroom, having a dog trained to use a litter box can be essential. Perhaps you are older or have physical limitations that make it hard for you to get outside frequently; litter box training might be a huge help for you.
Many people utilize pee pads to train dogs to eliminate inside the home, but some dogs will confuse the soft fabric of the pee pads with other soft, absorbent materials in your home, such as an expensive living room rug or doormat. Using a litter box instead helps your dog to differentiate between his toilet area and the rest of your home. The rest of your home likely does not contain litter or gravel, after all. Litter can also be cheaper than pee pads, and you can purchase varieties of litter that mask the smell of poop and pee.
Litter box training is not functional for all breeds of dogs, but since your Chihuahua is small and will not grow to be too large later, litter box training can work wonderfully for him. After all, many Chihuahuas grow to be no larger than your average sized cat, and most litter boxes were designed for that exact size.
Expect this to take between two and five months for your Chihuahua to learn. He may learn to eliminate in the box sooner, but it will take him time to remember to go there when you are not helping him. It is very important to remain consistent while training this. The more accidents that your puppy has in your home, the longer and harder this will be to teach. Your consistency, attentiveness, and hard work will pay off with quicker training results.
Be careful not to give your Chihuahua any unsupervised freedom. It is extremely important that you watch him closely any time that he is free, and that you place him somewhere such as an exercise pen or crate when you cannot watch him. This is because the more that he is unsupervised, the more opportunities he will have for an accident to occur, and you will not be there to interrupt him and to show him where to go instead. Your puppy likely will not remember what he did once the incidence has passed, so any punishment after the fact will be ineffective. Simply pay closer attention next time.
Remember to be patient with your puppy. He does not understand what the difference between your rug and the litter box is. That is why you are showing him where to go, closely supervising him when he is free, and rewarding him for eliminating in the correct place. Because he is small, it will take him time to remember where the litter box is located and how to get there. To you it is just on the other side of the room, but to him, it is entirely out of sight and there are lots of obstacles in his path. This is why it is important to have him follow you to the box while he is learning. Eventually, he will memorize how to get there on his own and remember that it is there when he cannot see it.
To get started you will need lots of small treats. If your puppy is very food motivated, then you can simply use pieces of his own dog food in place of treats. You will need a litter box with the top removed and litter. If you are using the 'Scent' method then you will need at least four litter boxes, and possibly more if your home is very large. If you are using the 'Exercise Pen' method or the 'Scent' method, you will need a scent to add to the litter to encourage your puppy to eliminate while he is learning. For this you can either purchase a spray designed specifically for encouraging elimination or you can place your puppy's own poop in the litter box.
If you are using the 'Exercise Pen' method then you will also need an exercise pen or another enclosed area. Good options for an area are hallways or small bathrooms enclosed with baby gates so that your dog can still see out. You will need a non-absorbent bed to place in the enclosed area. Good options include foam pads that are covered with vinyl or nylon or raised cot-type beds. For both the 'Exercise Pen' method and the 'Crate Training' method, you will need hollow, food-stuffed chew toys, such as kibble-stuffed Kong toys. These toys can be stuffed with your dog's kibble, soaked in water until the water is absorbed, and then placed in a bag in the freezer to freeze overnight. They can also be stuffed with dry kibble and the opening partially covered with a larger treat, so that the food will come out slowly. If you are using the 'Crate Training' method, you will also need a leash for your puppy.
With all of the methods you will need consistency, patience, perseverance, attentiveness, and at times, a good sense of humor. Remember that your Chihuahua will not be a puppy forever. Enjoy the time spent training with him now. Before you know it, he will be fully potty trained and using the litter box on his own.
The Exercise Pen Method
Set up area
To begin, set up an enclosed area for your puppy to stay in. You can either use a size-appropriate exercise pen or you can block off a small room or area in your home using baby gates. Good options might be a half bathroom or a hallway. Place a non absorbent bed inside your puppy's area. Good options for non absorbent beds include foam beds that are covered with vinyl or nylon, or cot-type beds. Place several interesting toys inside the area, such as food-stuffed Kongs. Place your puppy's litter box without a top on it, filled two thirds of the way with litter, inside the enclosed area. Place the litter box away from your puppy's eating and sleeping spots. Remove any absorbent material, including mats and rugs, from the enclosed area. It is also important to choose a non-carpeted area for the puppy's room.
Add a scent that will encourage elimination, to the litter box. To do this, you can either purchase a spray designed specifically for encouraging elimination and spray the spray onto the litter. You can also pick up one of your puppy's poops with a plastic bag, place the poop onto the litter in the litter box, and then discard the plastic bag. Be sure to wash your hands after doing so. If using the spray, spray the litter three times a day for several days, until your puppy begins to eliminate there consistently. If using your puppy's poop, then when your puppy eliminates, leave one of the poops in the litter box at all times to encourage future elimination. You will want to continue to clean up all of the other pees and poops in the box though, to prevent your litter box from becoming so dirty that you puppy will avoid it.
When you are at home, pay attention to your puppy when he is in the enclosed area. If you see him eliminate in the litter box, then right after he finishes eliminating, calmly praise him and offer him a treat.
After two weeks of spraying or leaving a poop in the litter box, if your puppy is consistently using the litter box and is not having any accidents in other places inside of the enclosed area, then try removing the poop and stopping the spraying. If your puppy continues to use only the litter box for eliminating, then you no longer need to add scent to it. If your puppy has an accident and eliminates outside of the litter box, then continue using scent for two more weeks, then after those two weeks try removing the scent again. Do this until your puppy only eliminates in the litter box.
Increase enclosure size
When your puppy no longer needs the scent and has been using the litter box with no accidents for at least one month, then you can experiment with gradually increasing your puppy's enclosure size. Increase the enclosure size no more than two times the current size at a time. For example, if your puppy is using an exercise pen set up in your kitchen as an enclosure, then double the size of the enclosure by blocking off the openings in part of the kitchen, then allow your puppy to have freedom in that part of the kitchen. If your puppy does well with that, then you can allow your puppy to have freedom in the entire kitchen area. If your puppy does well with that, then you can include both the kitchen and the dinning room in your puppy's enclosed area. Do this until you have worked up to as much freedom as you wish for your puppy to have in your home. If you puppy has any accidents, then the freedom was too soon. Go back to the previous area size that your puppy was successful in, and practice there for longer before increasing the size again.
Add a second box
If your home is very large and you find that your puppy has accidents when he is located far from the litter box, even though he seems to understand the concept well and has worked up to lots of freedom in your home, then you may need to add a second litter box in the far part of your home, to help your puppy find an appropriate place to eliminate when he is in that part of your house.
The Scent Method
Set up litter boxes
To begin, purchase at least four litter boxes, remove the tops, fill them two thirds of the way full with litter, and place them in four different areas in your home. You want every section of your home to have a litter box that is close enough for your puppy to see or at least easily remember where it is. If you home is very large, it is best to focus on only one level of your home at a time and block off the other sections. If your home is carpeted, then you will need to block off the carpeted areas as much as possible until your puppy begins to prefer eliminating in the litter boxes.
Add scent to each litter box to encourage your puppy to eliminate there. To do this, you can purchase a spray from your local pet store designed to encourage your puppy to pee or poop, and spray the boxes at least three times a day. You can also add scent by placing one of your dog's poops in each litter box. When your puppy poops in the box, leave the fresh poop and clean up the old one each time. Always clean up pee.
Every two hours, encourage your puppy over to a litter box. Praise your puppy for sniffing, touching, or stepping into the box. If your puppy seems fearful of the box, then offer him a treat whenever he explores the box. Only offer a treat for exploring the box if you puppy is afraid though. If your puppy chooses to eliminate in the box after smelling it, then softly praise him, and when he finishes, offer him two treats, one at a time. Be careful to keep your voice soft and kind when you praise him, so that you do not distract him or scare him.
Give supervised freedom
If your puppy does not eliminate in the litter box when you bring him there, supervise him in your home for the next thirty minutes. After thirty minutes, encourage him back over to the box. If you are using the spray and he seems distracted whenever he is in the litter box, then you can reapply the spray while he is still outside of the box. If he still will not go, then repeat this process every thirty minutes until he goes.
While your puppy is free, watch him carefully for signs that he is about to eliminate. This is especially important if it has been more than two hours since he last pooped or peed. Signs that your puppy needs to go can include: circling an area, sniffing the ground, squatting, lifting a leg, whining, pawing at you, barking at you, or trying to sneak away in order to eliminate out of your sight. If your puppy does any of those, quickly, but gently so as not to scare him, pick him up and carry him over to the litter box and place him inside it. If he eliminates there, praise him softly, and when he finishes offer him two treats, one at a time.
Continue to bring your puppy over to the litter box every two hours, until your puppy will occasionally go over to the box to eliminate on his own. If he goes on his own, follow him over quietly and reward him when he finishes. When your puppy begins to go on his own, then change the frequency of your trips taking him, from every two hours to every two and a half hours. If your puppy continues to be accident-free, and even increases the frequency of his trips to the box by himself, then increase the time between taking him to every three hours. If your puppy begins to have accidents at any point, then reduce the time between your trips by thirty minutes, until your puppy is making progress again.
When your puppy is consistently going to the bathroom on his own, then eliminate one of the litter boxes and space the other three slightly closer to where the removed box was. Choose the box that your puppy tends to go to the least. If your puppy does well going to the remaining boxes, then, after one month, remove another box, and space the remain two closer to where the removed box previously was. If your puppy does well going to the remaining two boxes without any accidents, then you can try removing the second box, so that there is only one box left. If your home is very large, then your puppy might need more than one box. If this is the case, then you will want to leave two litter boxes, with one litter box on each level or in each section of your home. That way your small dog does not have to go too far to find one.
If your home is large and you blocked off areas earlier, then you can now include those areas in your puppy's space if you wish for your puppy to go there. To do this, gradually add the space from those blocked areas back into the rest of your home, where your puppy has been spending his time. A good way to do this is to move a baby gate farther and farther into the blocked space. or to add one new room at a time, until you have eventually added all of the rooms that you wish for your puppy to go in. Make sure to keep this process gradual so that your puppy can practice going back to the litter box to eliminate from those new areas, and does not eliminate in the new space.
The Crate Training Method
Introduce the crate
To begin, introduce your puppy to the crate by leaving the door open to the crate and placing lots of treats inside of and in front of the crate for your puppy to find. Do this often so that your puppy will go into the crate frequently to check for treats. When your puppy is comfortable going into the crate, then stuff a hollow chew toy, such as a Kong, with kibble and place the toy inside of the crate for your puppy to chew. While your puppy is eating the food out of the Kong, close the door to the crate. Open the door again when your puppy finishes eating and is being quiet. If your puppy starts to cry, wait until he is quiet for at least three seconds before opening the door.
Increase crate time
When your puppy is comfortable having the crate door closed behind him, then leave the door closed for gradually longer periods of time. Increase the amount of time by five minute increments as your puppy does well with the current amount of confinement. When your puppy has finished eating the food out of the Kong, then drop a treat into the crate every five minutes while your puppy is being quiet. Do this until your puppy can remain calm in the crate for thirty minutes.
Space out the treats
When your puppy can remain calm in his crate for up to thirty minutes, then gradually extend the time between treat rewards. Do this until your puppy is only receiving a treat once every thirty minutes. When your puppy has reached this point, then gradually increase the amount of crate time again. Repeat the process of increasing crate time, then increasing time between treat rewards, until your puppy can remain calmly in his crate alone for up to one and a half hours. Always provide your puppy with interesting and safe chew toys whenever you place him in the crate though.
Set up the litter box
When your puppy can remain in his crate for up to one and a half hours, then set up your litter box in an area where your puppy will be able to easily access it and remember its location in the future. If your box has a top, then remove the top. Also ensure that your box is not placed on anything absorbent, such as carpeting or a floor mat. If your box is placed on something absorbent then your puppy may be tempted to eliminate there instead.
Introduce the litter box
Bring your puppy over to the litter box and praise him whenever he sniffs it, touches it, or walks into it. If he seems afraid, then give him a treat for any efforts at investigating it. Only give treats at this stage if your puppy is afraid though. Do this until your puppy will go into the litter box without fear.
Crate your puppy
Leave your puppy in his crate for one and a half hours. After that time has passed, take your puppy out of the crate and attach a leash. Quickly walk your puppy over to the litter box and encourage him to step into it, or gently place him in it. Tell him "Go potty" while he is standing in it, and then stand still. Allow him to sniff the litter box and decide to go to the bathroom. Use the leash to keep him from exiting the box.
If your puppy goes, then praise him when he finishes, and offer him three treats, one at a time. While his bladder is empty you can allow him forty-five minutes of supervised crate-free time in your home. After the forty-five minutes pass, then place him back into the crate until the one and half hour mark, then after one half hours, repeat the process of walking him over to the litter box. If your puppy does not go when you take him to the litter box, then take him back to the crate, and place him inside for thirty more minutes. After thirty minutes has passed, then bring him to the litter box to try again. Repeat this process until your puppy will eliminate in the litter box.
When your puppy will consistently go potty in the litter box quickly when you tell him to 'go potty', then gradually increase the amount of time between potty breaks to two hours. When your puppy is doing well for two hours between litter box trips, then gradually increase the amount of free time that you give him after eliminating. Do this until he is able to be free for the entire two hours. If he has an accident, then reduce the amount of free time by thirty minutes and practice that for at least two weeks before trying again if he is accident-free.
Increase time again
If your puppy has been accident-free for at least three weeks, then gradually increase the amount of time between potty breaks, as well as supervised free time, to three hours. If at any point you cannot supervise your puppy, place him into his crate. If your puppy has any accidents, then decrease the amount of time by at least thirty minutes, until your puppy is having no more accidents. Practice at those times for at least three weeks before trying to increase the time again. Most puppies can only hold their bladder for the number of their age in months plus one. So if your puppy is three months old, then the maximum amount of time that your puppy will be able to go between breaks is four hours. Never exceed your puppy's maximum number of hours during the day, even while crating him, or he will be forced to eliminate in his crate.
If your puppy begins to go to the litter box on his own to eliminate while he is free, then follow him over there and when he finishes eliminating, praise him and offer him a treat. Continue to take him to the litter box every three hours until your puppy will go on his own every time. When your puppy will go on his own every time and he is no longer having any accidents in your home, then your puppy has successfully learned to use the litter box. He no longer needs you to go with him. Congratulations!
By Caitlin Crittenden
Published: 02/06/2018, edited: 01/08/2021