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You haven’t had Cooper long. In fact, he's still a puppy who spends his days napping and wreaking havoc. Now you can forgive him for chewing the carpets and going to the toilet on your clean floors. However, your cat doesn’t forgive so easily and your puppy doesn’t seem to be able to respect private space. You frequently catch him digging around in the litter box. Not only does this mean your cat doesn’t get any privacy, but it also means your puppy may pick up potentially harmful bacteria.
Training your puppy to stay out of the litter box is important, therefore, for several reasons. You don’t want your cat and new puppy going to war. That could result in injuries and hefty vet bills, not to mention two unhappy pets. This type of training will also get your puppy into the habit of respecting clear boundaries.
Thankfully, training your puppy to stay out of the litter box is pretty straightforward. Firstly, you will need to introduce a number of deterrence measures. This should limit that initial temptation. However, you will also need to find new and more exciting ways to stimulate and occupy your puppy. Obedience training will also be required to stamp out your pup's unusual and unsavory habit.
If your puppy is a good listener and already picked up some basic commands, then training could prove successful in just a week or two. However, if the pup is stubborn and particularly badly behaved, then you may need a few weeks. Stick with training and you’ll get back to a peaceful household with minimal animal confrontations. You also won’t have to worry about your vulnerable puppy picking up a range of expensive ailments from the litter box. Finally, you’ll assert your position as pack leader, affording you greater general control.
Before you get to work, you will need to make sure you have a few bits. Baby gates, a water bottle, and a deterrence collar will be needed for one of the methods below. You will also need a chain lock, a cat door and a couple of new ingredients for your cat’s diet.
Time is another important component of training. You only need to set aside a few minutes each day for training. However, the more people that are around to react if they do catch Cooper in the litter box, the sooner you will stamp out the habit.
Once you have all that, just bring patience and an optimistic attitude, then work can begin!
The Prevention Method
If your puppy can’t see the litter box, they will be less eager to get inside it. So simply moving it higher onto a cupboard or appliance may prevent the problem. Of course, you will need to make sure your cat can still comfortably get to it.
The other option is fitting baby gates to the room where the litter box is. However, because your puppy is small, you will need to make sure they can’t slip through the gaps. These gates can be bought from any number of online and local stores.
If you do catch your puppy in the litter box, go over and give a firm ‘NO’. Don’t terrify them, but make sure they know you aren’t happy. This should begin to make them associate the litter box with negative consequences.
Water spray bottle
If the firm ‘NO’ doesn’t do the job, then opt for the water bottle. Carry one with you at all times and then give a quick spray of water near the face whenever you catch them in there.
If your puppy is stubborn and you’re still catching them in the litter box, consider a deterrence collar. An unpleasant spray of citronella will be emitted whenever you hit a remote button. This will make them think twice before diving in next time.
The Access Method
Keep it clean
If you regularly keep the litter box clean, your puppy will swiftly lose interest. So if you cannot empty it regularly during it the week, consider an electric litter box. Quite simply, the sooner you scoop the mess away, the easier it will be to keep your puppy away.
A chain lock
You may also want to consider a simple chain lock across the door. They are quick and easy to fit, and Cooper won’t be able to get in the room at all. After a while of not getting access, they will quickly give up trying.
Fitting a cat door is another effective way to keep your pup at bay. The downside is that you have to cut into a door, but the upside is you don’t have to worry about your puppy being able to sneak in when they get older.
Dog-proof litter box
There are also a number of special dog-proof litter boxes available. They come with intelligent doors that swing shut so your puppy cannot enter. They also help keep the odor in, minimizing the temptation.
You may also want to consider altering your cat’s diet. You can try putting vegetable oil or canned pumpkin into your cat’s food. These have been known to make the litter a less appealing proposition for dogs.
The ‘Leave it’ Method
Hold a treat in your hand in front of your pup's face. Then issue a ‘leave it’ command. Give the instruction in a playful voice. You can then let him sniff and lick around your hand.
After a few seconds, your puppy will probably give up. However, this is the most time consuming stage, so don’t be put off if it takes them a while to give in. Eventually, they will stop and may even sit before you.
Once they stop, you can give a high-pitched ‘YES’ praise and then give them a treat. Really make them feel happy to let them know they have done something correctly. But note it is important you give your pup a treat from another hand and not the one in your closed hand.
Practice makes perfect
Now you simply need to practice this for several minutes each day. Make them wait for longer each time before you hand over a reward. Then when they have fully got the hang of it, you can gradually phase out the rewards.
By this point, your puppy will understand and respond to the 'leave it' command every time. Now all you need to do is use it whenever you see them heading for the litter box. Also make sure anyone else in the house reacts in the same way if they catch them loitering around. Soon enough the command will break the habit altogether.
By James Barra
Published: 04/19/2018, edited: 01/08/2021