Bell Training Your Dog

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Bell Training Your Dog
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From: Drew Vogel drew@drewvogel.com

Subject: Bell Training your dog

With an early start and concentrated effort, it is possible to train your dog to ring a bell whenever they want to go outside to relieve themselves. Bell training is not difficult, but it requires a great deal of consistency and dedication during the training. Here’s what you need to prepare for the training:

  • Get a dog. 😎 (I chose a Jack Russell Terrier and named him Stanley.)
  • Get a bell (I got a “Large Brass Parrot Bell” at my local pet store).
  • Get a cord to tie the bell to your door (I used an old nylon leash).
  • Tie the bell to the cord.
  • Attach the cord to the door, at about dog-paw height (for Stanley, the bell is about 6 inches from the floor).

Recommended:

  • A crate for the dog. The crate should be large enough for the dog to stand up, lie down, and turn around in. If your puppy is going to grow into a big dog, you can buy a crate for the size they will grow to be, but temporarily partition it down to the correct size for your puppy. There are several compelling reasons to use a crate, but the most relevant to this discussion is that dogs are reluctant to mess where they lay, and this will encourage development of bladder/bowel control. However, be aware that puppies cannot hold their bladders for a full 8-hour work day! They need to be given the chance to relieve themselves frequently.

The Training:

I got Stanley when he was 5 months old and started bell training right away. I’ll be anxious to hear about successes with younger dogs.

At first, I fed Stanley only twice a day — once at 8:30am and again at 5:30pm. (Stanley is now a self-feeder. I don’t meter or time his feedings.) About 45 minutes after each meal, I’d take him to the bell hung on my back door. Then, I’d take his paw, hit the bell with his paw (VERY important — the dog must strike the bell, not you), verbally praise him, and take him outside. We’d stay outside until he did his duty or a reasonable amount of time (5-10 minutes) then it was back inside with loads of praise and a treat if he did his potty while outside.

Stanley was crate trained as well. I’m a big advocate of crate training — this allows the owner to leave the home without worrying about coming back to find an overturned garbage can, messes on the floor, or other signs of doggy-destruction, and a crate is like a little apartment for the dog — when Stanley is feeling tired or stressed, he’ll go lay down in his private space. I know that he likes having his own space a lot. Crate training assisted in Stanley’s training a great deal since dogs don’t like to mess where they sleep. When it’s time for me to leave for work in the morning, I say “Get in your box” and he goes right in and lays down.

However, some owners do not like the idea of crating their dog. In this case, consider creating a space where the dog stays when no one is home, for example, the kitchen with dog-proof barricades at the doors to prevent the dog from roaming the house. Dogs, when left on their own, feel the need to defend all of their space. If the dog has run of the house, they feel the need to defend the whole home. If they’re penned in the kitchen (for example), that is a more managable space. Even better with a crate.

If the dog makes a mess in the house, they get a firm scolding over the mess (never EVER push the dog’s nose in it!). Then, clean the mess with paper towels and take the soiled towels outside and set them where you want the dog to potty. Go back inside and get the dog, ring the bell with his paw, praise him for ringing the bell, take him outside, allow the dog to smell the soiled paper towels and praise him. Though this may seem a little odd to a human’s way of thinking, this makes perfect sense to the dog.

The hard part is this — a short time into the training, the dog begins to get the idea that ringing the bell means that they get to go outside. They want to test the idea. Every 30 seconds. I mean it. Every 30 seconds. And guess what? You have to follow the steps listed above each and every time during this, the most critical, training time. This is when the dog is learning and making the bell training their own, and when you’re most likely to get frustrated. You’ll certainly get your exercise opening the door for them! Stay strong and take the dog out each time — a little inconvenience at this point will lead to a well-potty-trained dog.

During this time, Stanley and I were also doing light Alpha Training — training that establishes the alpha order in the household (essentially, who is the “boss dog”). To accomplish this, I would lay Stanley on his side on the floor in front of me, his back to my crossed legs, and I would gently hold him down for 30 minutes a day each day for a month or so. He could do anything he wanted while laying there — sleep, look around — anything except get up. Once 30 minutes had passed, I’d let him up, give him just a little bit of praise (nothing extravagant since he’s just obeying me, something he’s expected to do anyway), and let him go about his business. This type of training is essential for a well-behaved dog, and especially important if you have a dog that will grow large.

That’s the gist of this training. The alpha training and bell training is very much worth it — Stanley hasn’t had an accident in the house in a long time, and if he rings the bell to go out and I don’t respond within a minute or so, he rings the bell again. And again. It’s great!

Should you need any further help, or want to talk about the finer points of bell or alpha training, please let me know via email. Please let me know how it goes — it went so well with Stanley that I swear by the method. I’m anxious to hear your story.

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135 thoughts on “Bell Training Your Dog”

  1. I’m hoping you are still following this thread. I plan to crate train my new puppy as I did my prior lab. I thought I would try the bell too. With my lab, when he was fully housebroken, I did nit crate him all day anymore. If I bell train the puppy, what happens when I leave him out of the crate and I’m nit home to hear the bell. Will he wait? or will I come home to a mess? I plan to schedule my feedings to help with potty training. Can’t decide what to do.

  2. @christie : I recommend crate-training until your dog is reliably bell-trained, then experiment with leaving him out and, well, see what happens! If he leaves messes for you, crate him while you’re gone. Of my three current dogs, one is crated during the day for just that reason, while the other two are “responsible citizens”, so they get to stay out. Please let me know how it goes for you, and of any questions.

  3. I just adopted a 1 yr old female lab mix. She is very loving and gentle with people. I previously had two other pets in the house. A female yorkie and a 2 1/2 month old kitten. When you mentioned alpha training I thought you may have input in helping me get my smaller pets to trust the mid-sized lab mix.

    Because the lab mix wants to play, when she charges or chases the little pets, they are scared to death. My yorkie will growl and nip at the lab, but no biting. The lab is altered but my yorkie is not.

    Any advice on helping all my pets to be best of friends. Oh, the yorkie and kitten are very good companions.

    Thank you!

  4. I hope that things are calming down in your house since the addition of the new lab mix. I guess the first question for you is “who is the alpha animal?”. Once that’s been decided (it likely already has been decided — by your animals), just train to support that hierarchy. Dogs play — it’s what they do with all that energy, and it’s also how they determine/define alpha roles. What does the lab do when the yorkie growls or nips?

  5. I am having a problem. My puppy is bell trained and very smart. He is about four months and has it down… but many times he still rings the bell to just go out side. He loves to just stare at the birds.. what can I do so he understands that the bell is for potty and not for play ????

  6. I am considering adopting a rescue dog a 6 year old Yorkie She was used for breeding and lived in a crate ( hates it) She has been in a foster home and although very sweet is very shy and afraid. It took the foster mom 6 weeks before the dog would come to her and allow the foster mom to pick her up. But now sleeps with then and is responding but she is not yet house broken…… Do you have any experience with this type of situation and what are your suggestions…..

  7. Hi @amanda! It’s not uncommon for dogs to ring the bell just because they want to go outdoors. Once you’ve firmly convinced that he’s got the concept that bell=go potty, you can decide when he may want to go out for fun, or when he needs to go out for business.

    What I suggest is to respond most every time he rings the bell. Praise him for ringing the bell. Let him outside for a few moments (a minute or two), then call him back in. Praise him for coming when you call. When he rings the bell, goes out side, and goes potty, praise MORE. I think that will help. Please keep us updated on how it goes for you!

  8. My suggestion is to follow the steps outlined in the article. It sounds like she’s just never been housetrained, so in many respects she’s just like a puppy — a blank slate. You may have some “unlearning” to do, with bad habits she might have picked up in her crate-life before, but I suspect that she’ll respond to the training. Please keep us posted, and good luck!

  9. How about training them to ring to get back in?? I have a chihuahua and I’m afraid she will freeze to death some day if I forget about her as she sits outside and doesn’t bark OR scratch at the door. If I tied a bell on the outside doorknob it should work the same way right?

  10. Hi Jazz! I’ve never thought about that — I think in part because as a responsible owner you should keep your mind on your pet — but I suppose it could work, if you’d hear the bell when she’s outside and rings it. Let me know how that goes for you — and don’t let your doggie freeze! πŸ™‚

  11. We have a paraplegic 13-yr-old mutt, very bright, and unable to use her hind legs due to degenerative myelopathy. We take her out on a regular schedule, using a special sling I developed, but every once in a while she has an upset stomach or some other condition where she needs to go outside right away. She doesn’t exhibit any signs of wanting to go out when she needs to (except for sometimes panting heavily). Do you think bell training would work for her to alert us when she needs to go out?

  12. You probably shouldn’t own a dog if you can’t be bothered to take it outside to go to the bathroom. In conjunction with the crate/kennel training you should be taking your dog outdoors as soon as you let it out of the crate so it has a fair chance at not making a mess in your house. You should also be giving the “Potty” or “Bathroom” command when you’ve walked it down to the yard where you want it to go.

  13. Jeff… Thanks for your message. Wow! You’ve certainly got a special animal there! You’re awesome for developing the sling and taking care of her. If she’s able to get to the bell without too much difficulty, I think bell training is an option. However, I think it will be difficult… I think you’d probably have to train her to associate her ringing of the bell with the sling being put on here (basically, training her to ring the bell when she wants the sling on, because I expect she already associates sling=outside)… Please let me know how it goes, and send pictures if you’d like!

  14. We are starting to train our 13 wk old mini labradoodle. She does very well when she is in the dining room, which is gated so she can’t get out. We take her on a regular basis and she does well. I’m afraid to let her free roam because she tends to have accidents when she does. Will it work if we leave her in her gated area until it is time to take her out or should she be allowed to roam on her own? I know eventually she needs to be able to get to the bell by herself, but can we start the training while leaving her in the gated room and taking her out consistently?

  15. Thank you for this! I am about to get a Jack Russel of my own! πŸ™‚ He is 6 weeks now, so I have to wait a couple weeks till he is officially mine, I am so excited! This information is great, I am most definitely going to be using it, I will update you on how it is going! Thanks! πŸ™‚

  16. If I understand your question correctly, I think it should work to leave her in the dining room, ring the bell with her paw, praise her (for ringing the bell), and take her outside (praising her when she potties outside). If I didn’t understand your question, please let me know. Also, keep us updated on her progress!

  17. Hi, Drew! thanks for your response. Our 16 week old labradoodle is pretty much “free roaming” in the house now. We still have to consistently take her out, but pretty much accident free. We have been bell training for about 4 weeks now and she has yet to ring the bell on her own. She will bark to go out and potty, but no bell. We are sticking to it! I am surprised she hasn’t started ringing it on her own. I suspect it may be stubborness. πŸ™‚ Any more ideas?

  18. I am so excited about this blog! My boyfriend just bought me a 6 week old Boston Terrier for my birthday. He is now 8 weeks old and doing very well with both crate training and potty training! I’m going to try this method, since he rarely messes in the house (we take him out regularly) but doesn’t usually show signs of needing to go out. I have a teachers bell… Do you think that would work? Can’t wait to try this!

  19. I have a tiny min. Dachsund he only weighs 4 pounds. He is still having problems potting in the house :/ I do let him sleep in the bed with me and he pottys in the bed with me. It is very aggervating!!! I do have the bells hung up by the back door I just started with the bl training him yesterday but he has been potting outside. I do have a crate and I do put him in it durining the and I take him out several times a day.. I need help please!!! Thank u very much.

  20. I rescued an approxiamately 10 month old shitzu-poodle. He is very loving and appears to be housebroken if we take him outside regularly. DO you think he is too old to bell train. I have hung a bell on the door at paws reach, but when we go to the door he is resisitant to ringing the bell and fights to get away. Got any ideas?
    Also, at times he comes up to us and stares at us and kind of makes little sounds, we arent sure exactly what he wants.
    We are new to this doggy business, never having had a dog before.
    Some people suggest we stake him outside rather than take him ourselves.
    Not sure which way is best. But we livein Michigan and it is already snowing, and because he is a fairly small dog, we worry about letting him outside unattended.

  21. Hi Joanie! Thanks for your message, and congratulations on your new dog! Welcome to the world of “dog-people”!

    To answer your first question: NO! It is not too late to bell-train him!

    It is not unusual for the dog to be anxious when you grab his paw and strike the bell with it. Just keep on (gently) doing so, and praising him the entire time. The first step is to overcome his fear of the bell, then to associate the bell with going outside, then outside with potty, and etc.

    If he’s staring at you and making noises, ask him if he wants to go outside, then go ring the bell with his paw, praise him, and let him outside. If he is already “telling” you by whimpering at you, then let’s work on associating that with bell->outside…

    I agree that staking him outside isn’t great, especially with Michigan’s cold winter.

    Please let me know of any questions, and how it goes for you!

  22. Hi Renee! Thanks for the update, and it’s GREAT to hear that your labradoodle is mostly accident free! AWESOME!

    Keep working with her and the bell, even if she barks to go outside. We want her to learn that while she CAN bark to let you know she wants to go out, the process of ringing the bell before going outside will always happen… Eventually, she’ll sort it out. Still, it could be stubborness, too! Keep at it, and give me an update!

  23. Hiya Jes! Glad to hear you’re progressing along. I’m not sure what you mean by a “teacher’s bell”… What I have is just a brass bell hung from a nylon leash from the doorknob… What does your bell look like?

  24. Hi Kimberly! How old is your mindoxie? It could be that overnight is just too long for him to go without pottying…

    Make sure he goes outside AND POTTIES just before you two go to bed, to make sure he’s as empty as possible. Keep working with the bell training and let me know his progress.

    One caution about doxies in high places (like beds): Doxies have bad backs. They like to jump off things (fearless little critters that they are!), including beds. Jumping off things can hurt their back, which can be life-ending for them. Our doxie (not a mini) came to us because he was paralyzed from the neck down, from jumping off a couch. He is now a “floor dog”, meaning that he’s never OFF the floor (in bed, on the couch, etc), and we carry him up and down the steps.

  25. I bell trained my Yorkie puppy successfully! The problem now is that he uses that bell for everything, to go out to potty, to go out and play, because he wants a treat, etc. Is there any way to break this habit?

  26. Congratulations on bell training your Yorkie! That is EXCELLENT!

    Don’t worry (yet) that he’s ringing the bell constantly… Consider this time as when he is imprinting the idea that ringing the bell==go outside. For now (and not forever!), try to let him outside as often as you can when he rings the bell. Soon, you will be able to curtail his trips outside as you learn when he needs to go out for potty, etc.

    Trust me… This is a critical part of the training — your dog is learning and validating the bell=outside association.

    Please keep at it, and let us know how the training goes.

  27. During training, yes, you take her out every time she rings the bell. It doesn’t need to be a LONG trip outside… The training intent is to imprint that “ringing the bell == go outside”. Repetition is how she’ll learn that! Once you’re sure she’s grasped the concept, you can begin training her to be selective when she rings the bell.

  28. Will this work for an older dog? We adopted a dog from the streets, and we think she might be about 1.5-2 years old.

  29. It should work, given enough time & patience. You may need extra helpings of both time and patience if she’s already learned habits that must be unlearned. My advice: give it a shot. Be patient, and let me know of any questions! Good luck!

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