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How to Train Your Puppy to Ring a Bell to Potty

Ringing true

After you have housetrained your puppy, you might find it useful to train her to ring a bell when she wants to go out to potty. Believe it or not, this is not a difficult trick to train if you follow the instructions below. Your puppy will learn to ring the bell only when she genuinely needs to go to the toilet.

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This bell ringing trick is best for pups that are already at least 95% toilet trained. If your pup isn't already toilet trained, go ahead and teach her how to ring the bell, but wait until your pup is toilet trained before continuing with the subsequent steps.

This is not a behavior you want on cue (command). What you want is for your dog to learn that ringing the bell gets her outside when she needs to go to the toilet and at no other time.

Getting started

The first step is to shape the bell ring that you want. (We assume here that the reader knows a little about clicker training and can shape a target behavior.) This is done by presenting the bell in front of your pup's nose and clicking and treating when she touches the bell, even if by accident.

cute puppy

If your pup isn't interested, put the bell behind your back, wait a few seconds, and then present the bell again. When your pup has a really, really good idea that you want her to touch the bell, stop clicking and treating the quieter rings and only click and treat the louder rings (this is known as selective reinforcement).

Building up

Next step is to present the bell when you know your pup needs to go to the toilet. Present the bell near the door, click when she rings it, and then open the door (no treat). Put the bell away until the next time your pup needs to go to the toilet.

After a while your pup will figure out that "hey, every time I ring the bell I get let out to potty!" When your pup is anticipating ringing the bell before you let her out (demonstrated by looking at you or looking at the bell when it is not presented), then it's time to start leaving the bell hung up on the door.

Timing is everything

What you want is for your dog to learn that ringing the bell gets her outside when she needs to go to the toilet and at no other time.

You should have a pretty good idea of when your pup will need to go to the toilet. If you hear the bell at that time, race over and open the door. If you hear the ring at other times, ignore it. Don't respond to the bell and your pup unless you're at least 80% sure it's because she needs to go to the toilet.

Some dogs will find bell ringing intrinsically reinforcing, regardless of what happens after the bell is rung. These dogs are not easy to teach to ring a bell only when needing to toilet.

Remember, use no cues in this training! Don't prompt with your hands or give verbal hints of what you want your pup to do. Those signals will only add confusion, and you'll probably find that your pup starts looking for and depending on the cues.

"Still bodies, quiet mouths."

Use your clicker to communicate!

[Editor's note: Reprinted with permission from Positive Petzine.]

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