Cute white puppy with black ears looking up and sitting on a white potty pad with blue trim on a light wood floor.

Why Don’t Dogs Use Litter Boxes? Life Would Be So Much Easier!

Wouldn’t it be nice if your dog would use a litter box just like a cat? Think of all the early morning and late night walks you could skip! In fact, some folks opt for adopting a cat instead of a dog just for that reason.

But if you are indeed a dog lover, you will figure out how to deal with this. The primary reason dogs don’t want to use litter boxes is that dogs do not bury their poops to hide it, containers are too confining, and dogs like to mark their territory. Dogs like to meander around and find the right spot, which means you can’t get out of that walk!

However, there are some ways to train your dog to pee and poop inside in a litter box if needed. Keep reading to learn more.

(Dog Tales is an Amazon Affiliate. This post contains Amazon links from which I may earn a commission for qualifying purchases.)

Why Can’t A Dog Be Like a Cat and Use a Litter Box?

If you have owned a dog and a cat, you probably noticed some differences early on. Cats are smaller than most dogs. Dogs like to explore large outdoor areas, pee and poop in several places. Cats will look for a small patch of loose soil to do their business, such as a sandbox, a recently tilled garden, or a flower bed. Cats are tidier than dogs and can utilize a smaller area to relieve themselves.

Therefore, using a litter box is much more natural for a cat, than a dog who tends to move around a lot more when pooping and peeing. Here are some other reasons:

Dogs Do Not Bury their Poop

Contrary to what some people think, dogs do not try to cover up feces when they scratch the ground. Dogs in the wild do not have as many natural predators as cats do; therefore, they do not worry about someone picking up on their scent.

On the other hand, cats are much more discreet for fear that one of the many animals who prey on them will discover where they hang out. Therefore, they need soft soil or clay litter for easy digging as they cover up their deposits.

Dogs Like to Mark Their Territory

White dog peeing on the ground in the park to mark her territory.

Unlike cats, who leave their deposits in small discreet areas, dogs walk all over the neighborhood peeing, and often pooping as they go. They do this to declare the area their territory and warn other dogs to stay away. In the wild, this was how dogs protected their packs, den, and eating places from other groups or strays.

Again, using a litter box does not work well for dogs since it is counter to their instinct to let everyone know they were there! Think of it as an organic fenceline.

Dogs Love to Meander Around and Pick Up Scents

How many times have you taken your dog for a walk on a cold night and prayed that he would speed things up so you could both get back to the warmth of your home?

But, no, your pooch prefers to take his time and sniff every fire hydrant, light pole, and grassy area before he finds the perfect spot or spots to do his business.

This is how dogs get information about their world and leave messages for other dogs. Please read more about this in my humorous post, A Dog’s Newspaper, to learn more about how dogs get the daily news.

In fact, when dogs scratch the ground they are not usually trying to cover it up. Rather, they are releasing hormones from small glands between their toes, which leave a scent for other dogs and animals to pick up. Dogs can tell a lot from these scents such as the sex of a dog, if they are healthy or sick, or if a female dog is in heat.

That is why dogs are always so curious and love to to sniff around so much. Your dog is not trying to be difficult, he is just checking out his environment and leaving notes for others.

Size Matters — Some Dogs Are Just Too Big to Use a Litterbox

Light Tan Greyhound standing in the grass

Think of a Great Dane, a Mastiff, or a Greyhound using a litterbox. Then think about how big that box would have to be, not to mention the size of the room needed for a litterbox. It would be huge! And it is very awkward and confining to a dog that large.

A smaller dog can adapt to a litter box when trained properly. A large enough box can be used so he will have less difficulty even though a litter box may not be his preference.

When You May Need to Use a Litter Box for Your Dog

Although your dog may not want to use a litter box, it is possible to train him to use it. In fact, it may be necessary in some cases to have another option other than going out for a walk.

For example, people who live in high-rise apartments may find it daunting to walk their dog in the wee hours of the morning or late at night. Most people who live in apartments or very small homes often opt for smaller dogs, which can make having a doggie litter box possible.

Some of the others reasons to have a litter box include:

  • Senior dogs who have trouble walking
  • Owners who sometimes have long work hours or commutes
  • Inclement weather
  • Puppies who need to pee a lot

In some cases you may be able to get by with simple pee pads if you are going to be gone longer than expected. This is especially helpful with new puppies.

But if you are going to use a litterbox as a regular backup option, then select a room such as a bathroom or a laundry room and get a tray-style option with drainage and special dog litter such as paper pellets or wood chips.

If you have an outdoor patio your dog can access, consider getting a larger box with an astroturf or actual grass cover, such as Fresh Patch to entice your dog to use it.

How to Train Your Dog to Use a Litter Box

Although puppies can be trained relatively quickly to use indoor options like pee pads, older dogs require more training. Again, remember that it is not a dog’s natural instinct to use a litter box or other indoor option other than your carpet!

First, begin by placing a yummy treat in or near the litter box and praise your dog when he picks it up. Do this several times to get him used to it and associate the box with a reward — a treat and your verbal praise.

Next, spray the area with something to attract your dog to the site like Potty Here from NaturVet. These types of sprays work 50-60% of the time, so treats and praise reinforcement will be necessary as well.

Finally, stay with your dog and don’t take him out at his usual time. Wait until he really has to go and encourage him to go over to the litter box. Do not scold him if he misses or does not get it at first. It will take some time, especially for an older dog. You may want to put newspapers or pee pads down around the entire area until he figures it out.

My dogs always prefer to wait and go while they are on their walk or out in their backyard. But sometimes, if I am away or forget to open the doggie door, they can’t hold it anymore and will pee on the carpet. So, begin training when you think your dog really has to go.

You can click on this link from PetHelpful that has a great post about training dogs to use litter boxes. Be sure to watch the embedded video as well.

In Summary

Dogs have different instincts than cats and generally do not like to use a litter box. Litter boxes simply are not big enough for a really large dog to use. However, smaller to medium-sized dogs can be trained to use them when necessary.

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