This is a very handy trick to teach your dog. If your dog is used to barking when asking to go out, it’s not always easy to tell if he’s asking to go out or if he’s just barking at the leaf that just attacked the window he was using to spy on squirrels. This is especially the case if you are in another part of the house. Training him to ring the bell to ask to go out makes his request very clear to both you and him.
This really can be taught to any dog, no matter how old or how well house trained. Dexter (my dog) originally knew to ask for a bathroom break by barking. When he was about 6 months old, I realized how old the barking was going to get and how it’s difficult to know at what he is barking if I was in another room, so I trained him to use the bell instead. You could also use this technique right off the bat in your house training, however, I’d recommend waiting until your dog is fully (or at least 80%) house trained before adding the bell. Take it one step at a time, like you were building up any other trick sequence!
Once your dog knows how to ask to go out and is consistent about going in the same place (and isn’t having accidents in the house), place a bell or any other noisemaker that’s easy to use near the door that you use for bathroom breaks. Make sure the bell is at a level appropriate for your dog – he should be able to easily nudge it with his nose to activate the noise. Bells tend to work the best because it doesn’t take much to make them ring. I just strung two medium sized bells from a craft store together on a piece of leather thong. I put one of those easy – release hooks on the wall (I rent, so this is easier than filling in a hole when I move!) and hung the bells at Dexter’s nose level.
To start training, you ring the bell right before you step out the door (AFTER you put his leash on
or whatever you do before you open the door and let him out, whether it’s asking for a sit or just opening to door to let him nose through) for a bathroom break.
You should plan on ringing the bell for a couple of days before asking him to nose it.
If you’ve already taught your dog to target objects, that skill will come in handy here! Ask the dog to target the bell right before you go outside. Ask the dog to touch the bell before he is allowed outside (again, AFTER the leash is on).
You want to do it after the leash is on to better facilitate the dog corroborating the bell with the
ONLY ring the bell when you are going outside for a bathroom break. You don’t want your dog to associate the bell with walks or car rides or anything other than the bathroom break.
Once he’s offering a ring after you put on the leash pretty consistently, you can ask the dog to ring the bell in order to go out. This is the awkward part of the training. Your dog might be confused at first, since the old way he asked to go out doesn’t work anymore and he’s not really sure what to do.
If he isn’t even trying to hit the bell but he’s asking to go out, then you might need to help him out. Point to the bell, ask him to target it, etc. Once he hits it, make a BIG deal out of it and take him right out. Note that the leash isn’t on the dog yet.
At this stage, you want to wait for the dog to ask to go out using the bell and then you can put the leash on and take him out.
You may find that he reverts back to the old way of asking before trying the bell, or he might use the old way and then expect you to ring the bell or tell him to ring the bell.
You should only “help” him a few times. After that, it’s a waiting game. At this point, he knows what you are looking for…;he just needs to do it! You’ll see that the time between the old way and the bell diminishes and, eventually, disappears as he transfers his asking strategy to the bell.
It doesn’t take long to train a dog to do this. For example, it took Dexter only two days to completely use the bell and cease barking. For him, it just took a day of me asking him to target the bell before I opened the door. Of course, results may vary, it may take more time for you and your dog, but be patient, the method works!
Katy Howe, MABCR Volunteer
©Mid-Atlantic Border Collie Rescue 2009