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  • Liz MacHaffie

Ringing a Bell for Housetraining



Dogs can learn to ring bells or an electronic doorbell to signal they need to go out. Pretty awesome! We break this into four steps:


1. Teach your dog to nose the bell in your hand

2. Teach your dog to nose the bell on the door

3. Add the bell to your dog’s potty routine

4. Teach your dog to ring the bell no matter where you are


This can also be used just as a way for your dog to request the door is opened to go in or out. To do this, you'll need a bell on both sides of the door.


Teach Your Dog to Nose the Bell in Your Hand


  • Set up to train near the door you want to have the bell at.

  • Hold the bell in one hand and be ready to give treats with the other. (This hand should be behind your back or otherwise out of sight.)

  • Present the bell to your dog at nose-height (You can rub some treat on the bell to encourage her.).

  • As soon as her nose gets near the bells, mark with “yes” and give her a treat.

  • While she is eating, take the bell out of sight.

  • Repeat until she is readily touching the bell with her nose when you present it.

  • Keep your sessions short, 2-5 minutes at most.

  • Once your dog is touching the bell, we want to get her to nose it with some good pressure. To do this, continue to present her with the bell and only say “yes” and give a treat for the best, hardest noses. (At least 50% of her total attempts.)

  • Once she’s giving the bell a good ring 4 out of 5 times, you can move it to the door!


Teach Your Dog to Nose the Bell on Your Door


  • Hang your bell from the doorknob (or mount your electronic bell to the wall near the door).

  • Touch the bell in the same way you did when you were first training to encourage her to nose it.

  • As soon as your dog noses the bell, mark with “yes” and treat.

  • While she’s eating, remove your hand.

  • Repeat until she’s readily nosing the bell when you touch it. (Just a session or two.)

  • Begin to fade your hand away by gesturing toward the bell but not touching it and waiting for her to respond.

  • Finally, don’t gesture at all and just reward your dog for nosing the bell on the door.

  • As soon as she is successful at ringing the bell well 4 out of 5 times, move to the next step! (You don’t want her to linger on this step for too long.)


Add the Bell to Your Dog’s Potty Routine


  • When it’s time to take your dog out, bring her over to the bell and wait for her to ring it. Standing near it will often help. (You can cue her if needed the first few times.)

  • When she does, mark with “yes”, give a treat, and then take her right outside to go to the bathroom.

  • The idea here is to make the bell part of the “chain” of her bathroom routine. “I go to the door, I ring the bell, my leash gets put on, I go out and go to the bathroom.”

  • Repeat for 2-4 days.

  • On day 2, move your food reward to after she goes to the bathroom. (The idea is that the reward for ringing the bell becomes being let outside!)


Teach Your Dog to Nose the Bell No Matter Where You Are


  • The last step is to help your dog learn that she can ring the bell even when you’re not right there!

  • Each time you expect your dog needs to go to the bathroom, stand a few feet further from the door than you did in the last step.

  • Wait for her to ring it on her own.

  • Once she can ring it when you’re at least 5-8 feet from the door, begin to hang out further away. Try to have her successful with you anywhere in the room, then in the next room, then out of sight.

  • Before you know it, your dog should be ringing her bell no matter where you are!


Tips and Troubleshooting


  • Is your dog more inclined to use her paw than her nose? Great! Train her to use her paw instead. This lends itself best to an electronic bell placed on the floor or physical bells mounted over something it's okay for her to scratch (like a protective piece of plastic mounted to the wall).

  • During training, if your dog rings the bell, you must take her outside. If you ignore her rings, you will punish her and set back your hard work.

  • If you think your dog is ringing the bell because she’s bored, there are two good steps to take:

  • After she’s gone to the bathroom, remove the bell so she can’t ring it. (Just remember to put it back before she’s likely to need to go again.)

  • Assess whether she’s getting the physical and mental stimulation she needs. Consider adding in food toys, chew toys, scent games, fetch, tug, or longer walks if needed.

  • Contact us if you need help troubleshooting this. There are many more little tips and tricks that can help you and your pup get things right. This can be tricky to teach but it's really rewarding once it’s all done!

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