An option that many toy-breed owners use for their dogs is a litter box. A litter box provides the Chi the same benefits as a dog door (constant access to an area in which to relieve herself) without having to have an outdoor fenced patio or backyard. With a little patience and a lot of consistency in training, both puppies and adults can be taught to use the litter box.
From the Beginning
Litter-training your Chi involves defining boundaries to the pup or dog's space, just as with crate training. In fact, you'll use a crate from the very beginning. When your crated Chihuahua indicates she wants to relieve herself, take her out of the crate and put her in the litter pan, which initially should be right next to her crate. You'll want about an inch or two of litter in the pan, as well as a little of your Chi's waste or urine in the litter to help her understand what this is all about. Praise and treat her when she relieves herself — and don't forget to give the “Go potty” command while she is relieving herself. When she's out and about playing, try to place her on her litter pan every hour, and reward her when she relieves herself.
What if my Chi won't eliminate when I put her in the pan?
Try again in thirty minutes, and in the meantime, watch her carefully! If she looks like she might need to relieve herself, put her on the litter again.
When your Chi is regularly indicating to you when she needs to go and is comfortable using the litter pan, you can increase her space to a crate inside an exercise pen with the litter box. Continue to place her on the litter regularly, and watch closely for signs that she needs to relieve herself. When you're not present, return her to her crate. When she is consistently using the litter pan, you can try leaving the crate door open so she can use the litter box as she needs it.
The Older Housetraining Student
If an adult dog is housetrained, she is usually trained to relieve herself outside. In some cases, she may have been trained to use newspapers or a product that is referred to as a housetraining or pee pad (absorbent layers backed with a waterproof lining). In either instance, the approach to introduce the litter pan is generally the same.
Dog litters are designed specifically for dogs, which produce much more urine for their size than cats. Dog litter, therefore, is a very absorbent, odor-killing, pelletized product. If you own a cat, she probably won't be attracted to the dog's litter because it doesn't have the sandy texture cats prefer.
If your dog is trained to relieve herself outside, begin by placing the litter pan with litter in her favorite spot. Put a sample of her waste or urine in the litter to help her understand what is going on. Place her on the pan and use the “Go potty” command if she already recognizes this command, praising her and giving her a treat when she gets it right. If she hops out, put her back in and repeat your efforts. With patience, she will start to use the litter pan.
When she is using the pan reliably every time you take her outside to her special spot, you can begin moving the pan toward the house. As with all training, move slowly — as little as a foot at a time — until the pan is just outside the door. When you've got the pan to this spot, leave it there for a couple of days to reinforce its use. Then move it inside, continuing to use the “Go potty” command and the reward system.
Once your Chihuahua is using the pan just inside the door without any problems, slowly begin moving the pan to where you want it to be — again, as slowly as a foot at a time. The process will take awhile, but if you take your Chi's training slowly, she will understand what you want her to do. With few (if any) errors, she will be very reliable about using her pan, to the point where you can leave her alone in your home all day and not have to worry about a single mistake.
When working with a pee-pad trained Chi (or newspaper-trained), begin by putting a pee pad or newspaper in the litter box on top of a very thin layer of dog litter. Put your Chi on the pad or paper when you know she needs to go, such as when you've just let her out of her crate in the morning. (If she knows the “Go potty” command, use it!) Praise, reward, and repeat over and over. Every two days, tear off a piece of the pee pad or newspaper to expose more and more of the litter. Gradually, your Chi will make the switch from the pad or newspaper to the litter.