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Bell Training: How To Potty Train Dogs Using A Bell

May 28, 2021

bell training how to potty train dogs using a bell

Potty training is an essential training step for any puppy or new dog who moves into your home. There are many different methods, but potty training using bells is one of our favorites.  

Teaching your dog to ring a bell (using his/her nose or paw) is far superior to hearing the dog bark or whine. This potty training method is also helpful for dog breeds that are more difficult to potty train (toy breeds, Bichon Frise, Jack Russell, etc.) 

Things To Know Before Potty Training Your Dog 

There are several things to keep in mind before potty training your dog: 

  • Always use positive reinforcement when training your puppy or dog. NEVER use punishment when potty training a dog 
  • Working with a professional dog trainer via in-home training sessions or doggy boot camp is a great way to jump-start potty training and has better success rates 
  • It can take four to six (4 to 6) months - and some dogs take upwards of a year - to fully potty train a dog. Designating a potty area is helpful. 
  • Adult dogs may take longer to train if they are used to bad habits from a former owner’s home 
  • Smaller dogs are more difficult to train because for a small dog an area of your house is larger than what a bigger dog would perceive. They may feel lost and will just pee. 

Do you live in an apartment or townhouse where the dog has to be indoors alone for much of the day? That’s no problem. You can combine potty training with a bell when humans are home, as well as alternative potty training methods, for the best of both worlds. Visit our post, 10 Tips to Make Potty Training a Dog in an Apartment Easier 

What Is Bell Training? 

When we bell train dogs, we teach them to ring the bell with their nose (some dogs wind up using their paws and that’s just fine) when they need to go outside. There are three different types of bells. The bell that hangs on a ribbon, a palm bell that sets on the floor (Tellbell), and bells that stick to the door and when pressed act like a wireless doorbell, (Mighty Paw Smart Bell) 

Once your dog has learned to use it, you’ll tie or place the bell on or near the door at a height/location that’s easy for your pup to access, after which you begin working to associate ringing the bell with going outside to pee or poo. Before you know it, you’ll hear the bell ring and can let your dog out  - no more messes in the house. 

Step One: Begin the bell training by hanging the bell at the exit door 

Suspend the bell safely on the doorknob or very close to the door your dog uses to gain outside access. Decide what bell command you want to use to get him/her used to ring the bell at the door. We tend to use “ring the bell.” And always use this door to take your puppy outside to go potty.          

Step Two: Teach the dog to ring the bell 

Now, you’ll teach the dog to ring the bell. As with any dog training sessions, your puppy should have been exercised or played with so s/he is calm. Trying to train an anxious dog, or a dog with pent-up energy leads to negative outcomes. Also, connect with your own state of mind; if you are anxious or frustrated, stop the session so it doesn’t transfer to your dog. 

Day 1: You are first just trying to teach the puppy to ring a bell. After you have hung the bell on the door they will be going out. Place something on the bell so the puppy wants to lick the stuff off of the bell. You can use peanut butter, cheese, or Kong stuff’n paste. While the puppy is licking the stuff off of the bell. The bell will ring and you say, “Good ring the bell”. Initially, they see you place the stuff on the bell. You are standing right next to the bell and you say, “Ring the bell”. Again when they ring the bell you praise them for ringing the bell. After they have licked all the stuff on the bell you can give them an additional treat 60% of the time. Immediately take the puppy outside to go potty. 

Day 2 & 3: Put something on the bell without them seeing you put the stuff on the bell. Bring the puppy to the bell knowing they have to potty and say, “You got to go outside? You got to go potty? Ring the bell.”  Give the puppy a couple of seconds to try to make a decision. If the puppy gets confused you can tap near the bell and eventually, the puppy smells the stuff on the bell and begins to ring the bell. Throughout the next two days, you have them ring the bell with something on the bell as you slowly back farther away from the bell. You can give them an additional treat for ringing the bell 40% of the time. 

Day 4 & 5: You no long place anything on the bell. You will once again need to stand near the bell.  Ask the puppy if they need to go outside and stand there and wait for the puppy to ring the bell. If after a minute the puppy still hasn’t rung the bell then tap near the bell. If they know the word “touch” you can tell them to touch. You can reward them 60% on day 4 and 40% on day 5 for ringing the bell. You don’t want your dog to expect a treat every time s/he rings the bell. Instead, you want to transition this training to what it’s meant for, potty training! Once the dog rings the bell by themselves with you standing close to the bell slowly start moving farther. away.   

Again you can also tell them touch for ringing the bell and this is a similar process to one of the first commands we use when beginning agility training, “touching the nose to your hand or a target.” Starting bell training to potty train your dog will also support your bonding time when beginning some of the first fun agility training exercises

Step Three: Associate ringing the bell with being taken outside (no treat) 

As we stated in our post about potty training dogs in apartments, puppies and dogs are also most likely to urinate and/or defecate:  

  • Within moments of waking up and moving around  
  • After a nice play spell  
  • After eating time  
  • When visiting a new location (a result of curiosity, marking territory, and/or nervousness)  

Your potty-training routine should accommodate their abilities and patterns to minimize frustration and false expectations. Adult dogs can typically go a few hours at a time. 

When it’s time to take your dog out for his/her normal potty time (not just to go outside), give the dog the command to ring the bell. Now, instead of using the treat as a reward, you’ll simply say, “yes!” or “good girl/boy,” and then open the door and let the dog out to go potty. As soon as s/he’s done, let the dog back in and give ample praise. 

The Bell Is Only For Potty Time 

If your dog starts using the bell as a way to get outside, but not to go to the bathroom, it’s time to correct the training. In that case, begin using a leash and snap it on after the bell is rung. Lead your dog to the normal potty place. If s/he goes, use lots of positive verbal reinforcement and pets. If s/he doesn't’ go within the first couple of minutes, take the dog right back inside with no words and a neutral state of mind. You can also place the dog in the crate for 20 minutes to a half-hour. This is not a punishment, but rather prevention of accidents. In other words, the puppy told you that they had to outside to go potty. Over the course of several days or a week, your dog will learn that the bell is only used for going outside and relieving him/herself. 

Good luck with using a bell to potty train your dog. If you’re having a hard time, feel free to contact us here at Alternative Canine Training and we can schedule a session in your home or ours to get you and your dog back on the right, positive, potty training track.

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