I remember when my husband and I recently took a trip to a small lake up north. We stayed in a tiny cabin — just me, my husband, and our dog Rufus. Every day, as at home, we would take Rufus out for at least three walks so that he could get some fresh air and go to the bathroom.
The problem was that the only place to walk was on the beach, and the beach was covered with sand (naturally). You really couldn’t walk through the woods because there weren’t any trails, and there were high ferns and lots of ticks to be wary of. In the other direction was just a big, busy road that we certainly didn’t want to risk walking along.
Everything seemed fine as we prepared to leave — who wouldn’t like walking along the beach three times a day? The only problem was, I was concerned about Rufus and the sand. Would he be able to relieve himself in the sand? He was a particular dog, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if he refused to poop on the sand.
Why do I tell this rather boring tale? All of it is to say that if you ever wondered whether your dog would poop on sand — for whatever reason — I can help because I’ve thoroughly researched it (and I’m a vet tech).
Let’s take a look at several answers to this question as well as some variations of the question that you might have if you are in a similar position as I was.
Do dogs poop on sand?
So, the first thing you’re probably wondering is whether Rufus ended up pooping on the sand.
He did! Of course, I always had a small baggie with me to pick it up and dispose of it. Who wants to encounter dog poop while lying on the beach or enjoying a sunny day in the water?
The question of whether most other dogs will poop on sand, however, is still out there.
I’ve been working as a vet tech for over 10 years, and from my experience, I can say that most dogs have no problem pooping on the sand. Dogs that do have a problem with this type of surface and relieving themselves are generally smaller breeds. However, again, I haven’t seen this to be an issue very often.
Using a sand box as a dog potty area
A related question I sometimes get as to whether or not a dog will be comfortable pooping (or peeing) on the sand is whether they will use sand to relieve themselves at home — in a sandbox, for example. Many homeowners are interested in training their dogs to poop and pee in sandboxes so that feces does not end up all over their beautiful green lawns.
I totally understand this concern as (especially when you have children) you don’t want people running in and out of piles of your dog’s excrement when they’re outside.
However, I do not usually recommend sand as the material to use for a dog potty area outside. The sandbox itself (which is usually just four pieces of wood made into a box over your lawn), is totally fine. In fact, this is a great way to basically make a litter box for dogs outside.
Just don’t fill it with sand. Use a different material. I’ll talk more about this below. First, let’s discuss potty training outdoors.
How to get a dog to poop in a sandbox?
I’ll discuss the best materials for potty training areas up ahead, but for now, here are a few tricks for potty training your dog outside.
Keep the box
The idea of having a small box in your yard where your dog can go to poop and pee is a great idea. If you have a sandbox already set up for kids who don’t use it anymore, that’s a great start. You’re probably used to filling it with sand every year anyway, so this year, don’t fill it with sand, but use another surface instead.
Show your dog where you want them to poop
Start to train your dog to poop in your designated area by first leading them outside on a leash. Do this at a time when you’re pretty sure they’ll need to relieve themselves (for example, first thing in the morning after they wake up). Then, only take them to the potty area. Don’t let them be outside of this area where you want them to poop. This will hopefully make them go to the bathroom right there on the target spot. Give them lots of praises and a treat when they succeed.
Continue to use positive reinforcement
You’ll want to train your dog using positive reinforcement. Continue using a leash to take them to the bathroom (only in the designated area), and give them praises and treats when they succeed in the right spot. If they end up pooping outside of the designated area, you can decide whether to give them some negative reinforcement (“No!”) or to just say nothing. Over time, they should get the idea that they need to poop in only one area to win your praises.
What surface do dogs like to poop on?
So, again, I would not recommend filling your “doggy litter box” with sand. The concept is a great idea, and you can certainly figure out a way to train your dog to poop in just one certain area of your yard if you want. Just don’t use sand.
Why you shouldn’t use sand to potty train your dog
We’ll talk about this more below, but ultimately, sand can be dangerous for dogs. This is because, unintentionally, they might end up consuming sand, and this can actually cause an intestinal blockage. Moreover, many dogs have trouble pooping on sand. They simply don’t like it, and even though my dog Rufus was not one of these dogs, your dog may be one, and then you’ll have wasted a lot of time, money, and energy trying to potty train your dog with this material!
In addition, sand tends to retain moisture extremely well, so if your dog plans on peeing in the box, it’s going to stay there and start smelling fairly quickly. It will also take a long time to dry out, especially if it’s not sunny for a few days.
And finally, because sand is made up of extremely small particles, you may notice that your dog starts tracking it into the house (if they’re allowed inside), and this can mean tracking feces, urine, and other nasty stuff around.
Alternatives to sand for dog potty training
One of my favorite materials for dog potty areas is pea gravel. It’s bigger than kitty litter, but it’s basically the same concept. Each piece of gravel is super smooth, so dogs generally like to go to the bathroom here! It’s also going to stick around because it’s heavy enough not to get blown around by the wind and rain. Finally, it’s a relatively smooth substance and will easily stay separate from any urine or feces that rests on it. This makes it easy to clean up for you.
Another possibility is using mulch. Mulch is easy to obtain, affordable, and many homeowners already have some lying around in the garage. The only problem with mulch is that it often traps in moisture (like sand), so it may trap in odors as well. Also, some people don’t like the way it smells when it gets wet in general.
Finally, turf is a material that is also popular for dog potty training areas. You can easily get a piece of turf that will perfectly fit your sandbox or other potty training spot. Turf looks nice and natural, but it’s convenient because there’s no upkeep required. You can easily clean it off, hose it down, and replace it when needed. Some homeowners don’t like using turf for dog potty training areas, however, because if feces gets stuck in the turf, it can be sort of difficult to clean out. That’s why, if you do choose turf, you should plan on cleaning it relatively regularly.
Is it safe for dogs to play on sand?
It’s definitely safe for dogs to play on the sand. One thing to look out for, however, is your dog possibly eating sand. This usually isn’t a problem caused by your dog loving the taste of sand. Rather, dogs love to dig and play games in the sand, and sometimes, they can accidentally ingest some of those tiny particles.
How dogs end up consuming sand accidentally
Let’s say you’re playing a game of fetch with a ball. Every time you throw the ball, it gets sort of get lodged into the sand so that your dog has to use their muzzle and mouth to take it out. Each time they dig it out, however, the ball is probably covered with sand, and they are likely to get some around their muzzle and on their tongue and lips. If you throw the ball 10 times, you can see how a dog could easily end up with at least an eighth of a cup of sand in their stomach!
A similar phenomenon can happen if your dog likes to dig big holes in the sand, likes to drink shallow water that may contain a lot of sand, or ends up licking sand off of beach toys or his body, etc.
This is not good. Veterinarians generally call a scenario like this intestinal sand impaction, and it’s an emergency. Dogs can get extremely sick from consuming this much sand.
How, you ask? Basically, sand particles are so small that they tend to glom together when they get wet. This makes them form into a solid mass in your dog’s intestines, and this can actually block your dog’s intestinal tract.
If you think your dog may have consumed too much sand, see a vet immediately as you’ll likely need an emergency intervention.