How to Train Your Dog to Ring a Bell When They Need to Go Out

Dog with leash
credit: Chalabala/iStock/GettyImages

When I got my first dog, I also had a baby on the way. I knew that I would have to take some steps to integrate both puppy and baby together and into the new household. I was worried that dog barking would be a problem as my baby took naps, but I wasn't sure what to do about it. I looked into some training options and discovered that having my dog ring a bell when he needed to go outside would probably work well. Here are the steps to take if you want to train your dog to ring a bell when she needs to go to the bathroom.

Training your dog to ring a bell

Some websites, like Rogue Dog Training, suggest that teaching a dog to ring a bell when they go outside is a good way to start potty training your dog. The reason for this is that people can't always identify when a dog needs to do its business, so if the dog associates ringing a bell with bathroom time, they can let you know. This is true, but in my case, my goal was to reduce barking so that Cecil wouldn't bark unnecessarily while my baby was sleeping. My other goal was to make sure that he did not scratch at the door or carpet when he wanted to go outside like I had seen other dogs doing.

Good news: teaching my dog to associate the bell with going outside was not difficult at all.

Dog waiting at door
credit: Barbara Brady-Smith/Tetra images/GettyImages

Playtime

I first started with some happy playtime. I had the bell nearby but out of my dog's reach. I brought out the bell, let him sniff it, and when he reached for it with his paw, he got a "Good boy!"If he made the bell ring he got a "Good boy!" and a yummy treat. I repeated that procedure for a couple of days. Then I put the bell on a small hook by the door. (The type of bell you use is your choice. I used an actual small brass bell with a traditional bell shape and a knocker. You could also use a call bell, the type of bell that's kept on a desk that you ring to get someone's attention.)

With the bell on the door and treats in hand, it did not take long to get Cecil to associate ringing the bell with going outside. I took his paw in my hand and physically knocked the bell so it made a sound, told him "Good boy," gave him a treat, and then opened the door to let him out.

Ring at the right time

If you want to teach your dog to ring the bell when he has to go potty, the American Kennel Club says the next step is to teach your dog to ring the bell at the right time. In other words, at this point your dog associates the bell with treats and with going outside, but he may not associate it with going potty. He may just be ringing the bell because he wants to go outside and play, which, to be honest, is what my Cecil did a lot of the time.

To achieve this level of training, you must associate ringing the bell only with potty time. To do this, clip on his leash and take him to his "business spot" every time he rings the bell. If he goes potty, praise him and give him a treat. If you're out there for a few minutes and he doesn't go, bring him right back inside. Repetition of this step is key to making the long-term association that the bell means potty time.

Dog waiting at the door
credit: gollykim/iStock/GettyImages

Training time

Every dog is different, and much of the timing of success depends upon the consistency with which you practice. The process might take a few weeks or more. Choose your command, like "Outside" and stick with it. Set aside time each day to play with the dog and introduce the bell concept. Use the bell every time you go outside for a few days, and I predict it won't take more than a week or so before your dogs gets the hang of it.

Everyone in your household should use the same method and the same commands for the best and fastest chances of success. That Mutt says not to bell train while you are still potty training. While I believe you can teach your dog to ring a bell by using praise and a treat association even if they are already housebroken, I think this could be very successfully done while you are potty training at the same time. That's what I did, and it worked.