It’s not always easy to live with humans if you’re a dog. First, you have to learn that humans don’t like it when you urinate or defecate indoors. Then you have to figure out how to get outside when you need to go! Since you don’t have opposable thumbs for opening doors, you’re in a bit of a predicament.
Sometimes it’s difficult for pet parents to tell when their dogs need to go outside to eliminate. Some dogs show obvious signs, but others aren’t as adept at telling people when they need to go out. If your dog falls into the latter category, don’t worry. There’s a way to help her let you know when she needs a bathroom break.
Does Your Dog Ask Already?
It’s possible that your dog already asks you to let her out-in dog language. Maybe you just don’t understand what she’s telling you yet. Hints that your dog might drop when she needs to eliminate include:
- Moving to a distant part of the room, into a corner or behind furniture
- Standing by the door
- Scratching at the door
- Approaching vertical objects, like walls or the legs of furniture, and sniffing and/or standing close to them, as if to left a leg (usually male dogs)
- Approaching you and staring, whining or wagging
If you see any of the signs above, quickly take your dog outside so that she can eliminate. If she does, calmly but enthusiastically praise her and give her a tasty treat right as she finishes up. Taking note of the specific behaviors your dog does just before eliminating might give you all the information you need to know when to let her out.
If Not, What Can You Do?
If your dog doesn’t give you any clear signs before eliminating indoors, or if her signs seem too subtle, you can teach her to do something obvious to tell you when she needs to go. For example, you might need to train your dog to ask to go out if her current method is to stand silently by a door. If you’re in another room of the house and can’t see her, you won’t have any idea that she’s “asking!”
One of the simplest methods is to train her to ring a bell that’s hung on a door. That way, you can hear her request even if you’re in another room. Once you’ve taught your dog how to ring a bell by touching it with her nose, you’ll ask her to ring the bell right before you open the door to let her outside-every time. That way, she’ll associate the behavior of ringing the bell with your letting her out. In other words, she’ll learn that ringing the bell makes you open the door.
How to Teach Your Dog to Ring a Bell to Go Out
Step One: Teaching Your Dog to Touch the Bell with Her Nose
Purchase a dog door bell or make your own with a couple of sleigh bells from a crafts supply store. Attach some kind of sturdy string to the bells. (You’ll use the string later to hang the bells on a door knob or on a hook next to your door.) Before starting your first training session, cut a number of tasty treats that your dog loves into raisin-sized pieces. You can use soft dog treats, chicken, hot dogs, croutons or cheese.
- Say “Touch” and present the bells to your dog. Hold them just an inch or two away from her nose. She’ll probably move toward the bells to sniff them. (If she doesn’t, you can rub a treat on the bells to make them a little more interesting.)
- The moment your dog’s nose touches the bells, say “YES!” and immediately give her a treat. Your timing of the “YES!” is important. Your dog needs to know she’s doing the right thing the instant she touches the bells with her nose. (If you use a clicker to train your dog, you can click instead of saying “YES!”) Repeat 10 to 15 times or until your dog readily touches the bells with her nose. (If you use a clicker to train your dog, you can click instead of saying “YES!” To learn more about this kind of training, please see Clicker Training Your Pet.)
- When your dog confidently pokes the bells with her nose as soon as you present them an inch or two in front of her, start to present the bells a little further away or off to the side each time you say “Touch.” Your dog will have to turn her head or take a few steps to touch the bells.
Spend three to five days practicing the exercise above, aiming for at least one practice session per day. Then you’re ready for Step Two.
Step Two: Teaching Your Dog to Ring the Bell on the Door
Use the string connected to the bells to hang them on your doorknob or on a hook next to your door. Get your treats ready and call your dog over to the door.
- Take the bells in your hand (with them still hanging on the knob), say “Touch,” and hold them out toward your dog.
- Right when your dog’s nose touches the bells, say “YES!” and then deliver a treat.
- Repeat 5 to 10 times or until your dog readily touches the bells as soon as you say ”Touch.”
After a short break from the above three steps, do the exercise again, but this time just point to the bells instead of holding them
- Say “Touch,” and point to the bells.
- As soon as your dog touches the bells with her nose, say “YES!” and give her a treat. If your dog doesn’t touch the bells, you might need to practice the first three steps of Step Two for a while longer. Repeat the exercise as described above, holding the bells in your hand when you ask your dog to touch them. After practicing for a couple of days, try just pointing to the bells again.
- Repeat the exercise 5 to 10 times.
Plan to practice Step Two with your dog for three to five days, just like you practiced Step One.
Step Three: Teaching Your Dog to Ring the Bell at the Right Time
Now you can put your plan into action. When you need take your dog outside for a potty break, ask her to touch the bells with her nose right before you open the door.
- Approach the door with your dog. Say “Touch,” and point to the bells.
- The moment she touches the bells with her nose, say “YES!” Then open the door and let your dog go outside.
Ask your dog to ring the bells every time you take her out. With repetition, your dog will learn that she has to touch the bells with her nose to make you open the door. So when she wants to go outside, she’ll go to the door and ring the bells. The first time this happens, praise your dog enthusiastically and immediately let her outside. You can also give her a few tasty treats after she eliminates, just to make sure she understands that you love it when she rings the bells to ask to go out to potty.
Playtime vs. Potty Time
Once they discover that bell ringing makes the door open, many clever dogs ring the bells whenever they’d like go outside-even when they don’t need to eliminate. If this sounds like your dog, you can teach her that bell ringing is only about potty breaks. When she rings the bell to go out, praise her, clip on her leash and take her directly to the place where you’d like her to eliminate. Don’t play with her. Just give her three to five minutes to urinate or defecate. If she does, great! Praise her again and give her a few treats before taking her back in. If she doesn’t eliminate, just take her back inside.
My Dog’s Still Eliminating Inside!
If you teach your dog to ring the bell to go out but she still makes mistakes inside, you might have a separate problem on your hands. It might not be that your dog doesn’t know how to tell you she needs to go out to eliminate. Instead, she might not fully understand that she should go out to eliminate. If you think this might be the case, please see one of our articles on house training for help: House Training Your Adult Dog or House Training Your Puppy.
There are several dog door bell products on the market. Some have multiple bells on a strip of fabric and are hung over the door knob or on a hook next to your door. With these types of products, you train your dog to touch them with his nose to make them ring. Other products, such as the Tell Bell™ or the Lentek Pet Chime, are a single bell or mound that you put on the floor or mount on a wall. With these, you train your dog to push them with his paw. All of these products usually come with training instructions.
Help Is Available
If you’d like one-on-one help training your dog to ask to go outside, don’t hesitate to contact a qualified professional, such as a Certified Professional Dog Trainer (CPDT), for guidance. Please see our article, Finding Professional Help, to locate an expert near you.