Does your dog whine, bark, or scratch the door when it needs to go outside?
While these behaviors get your attention, they can be annoying and damage your doors. A better solution is to teach your dog to ring a bell hanging from the doorknob when it needs to go out. This allows your dog to clearly communicate its needs in a more pleasant way.
In this guide, you will learn how to teach your dog to ring a bell before going outside. This technique takes consistency and positive reinforcement, but it is not difficult to teach.
With just 10-15 minutes of training per day over a couple of weeks, you can have a dog happily ringing the bell to go out instead of barking or pawing at the door.
The training process involves three main steps:
- Hanging a bell on the door and getting your dog used to interacting with it.
- Rewarding your dog when it touches or nudges the bell.
- Only let your dog outside when it rings the bell using its noise.
Following these steps with patience and treats will have your dog ringing the bell in no time. The result is a win-win situation – your dog can clearly communicate its needs to you, while you don’t have to deal with excessive barking or scratched-up doors.
Teaching a dog this useful skill may take a little time and effort, but it is an easy trick that pays off in the long run.
What You’ll Need
To teach your dog to ring a bell to go outside, you’ll need a bell on a ribbon hung from the doorknob at your dog’s eye level and tasty treats to positively reinforce desired behaviors.
Bell on a ribbon to hang from a doorknob
The first step in training your dog to ring a bell is to hang a bell from the doorknob leading outside. Choose a bell with a clear, pleasant ring that will easily get your attention when rung.
Attach it to a sturdy ribbon or rope so that it hangs down to your dog’s eye level. The bell should be easily reachable and visible to your dog.
When hung properly on the door your dog regularly uses to go out, the bell will be in the perfect position for your dog to touch, nudge, or ring it with their nose or paw when wanting to go outside.
Treats for positive reinforcement
Treats are an essential tool for positively reinforcing desired behaviors while training your dog to ring the bell.
Always have treats ready by the door during training sessions. Use small, pea-sized treats that are extra motivating for your dog, like tiny pieces of chicken, cheese, or hot dog.
When your dog touches, nudges, or rings the bell, immediately reward them with an enthusiastic “Good dog!” and a treat. Consistently pairing treats with bell interactions teaches your dog that ringing the bell results in the reward of going outside.
Over time, your dog will learn to eagerly ring the bell for a trip to the yard. Treats create positive associations with the bell and reinforce the desired behavior.
Patience and consistency
Teaching your dog this new skill requires patience and complete consistency. It may take days or weeks before your dog understands what you want them to do.
Go slowly and stick to short, frequent training sessions of just 10-15 minutes. Reward even the smallest progress, like a glance at or touch of the bell.
With regular practice, your dog will connect the dots that the bell ring brings a trip outside. Stay positive throughout the process, even if your dog seems confused at first.
Don’t give up too soon. With daily repetition and upbeat encouragement, your patience and consistency will pay off in a well-trained dog.
To train your dog, first, hang a bell on the door, then reward any bell touching, open the door only for bell rings, and practice this process consistently every day.
Hanging the bell
Hang the bell at your dog’s eye level and encourage them to explore and touch it.
1. Place it at your dog’s eye level
When hanging the bell on the door, position it at the ideal height for your dog to easily see it and reach it.
Measure your dog’s height and hang the ribbon, so the bell sits right at your dog’s eye level. This ensures it will catch their attention and be within the paw’s reach when they want to ring it.
2. Encourage exploring and touching it
Once the bell is hung, actively encourage your dog to notice it and interact with it. Gently take their paw to touch it so it rings.
Reward with praise and treats for any interest or contact with the bell. Getting your dog comfortable with approaching and investigating the new bell is an important first step before formal training begins.
Reward touching the bell
Mark and reward any bell interactions with treats coupled with saying “outside” as the reward marker.
1. Mark and reward any bell interactions
Pay close attention to your dog any time they interact with the bell. When they look at, sniff, nudge, paw at, or ring the bell, immediately mark the behavior with an enthusiastic “Good dog!” followed quickly by a threat.
Rewarding any engagement with the bell helps build your dog’s understanding of what you want them to do.
2. Say “outside” when giving treats
Whenever you reward your dog with a treat for touching the bell, say the word “outside” right as you give the treat. Say it happily and consistently every time.
This couples the reward with the cue word “outside” to help your dog learn that bell = outside. Over repeated rewards, your dog will begin to associate ringing the bell with getting to go outside for a treat and praise.
Only open the door for the bell rings
Ignore scratching and other behaviors but immediately let your dog outside when they ring the bell.
1. Ignore other behaviors like scratching
When training the bell-ringing behavior, be sure to ignore other typical door-scratching or barking behaviors your dog may resort to. Don’t give in and open the door if they whine paw at it, or bark.
Wait for the bell to ring, then immediately open the door. This teaches your dog those other behaviors don’t work anymore-only the bell does.
2. Immediately let your dog out when it rings the bell
The moment you hear the bell ring, enthusiastically praise your dog and open the door right away. Allow them outside as soon as they ring the bell properly.
This reinforces that the bell results in the reward of going outside. With repeated consistency, your dog will learn that ringing the bell causes the door to open.
Satisfying their need to go out will motivate them to keep ringing the bell in the future.
Stick to the training process daily and slowly shape the desired bell-ringing behavior.
1. Stick to the same process daily
Consistent, daily repetition is key when training your dog to ring the bell. Practice the same steps in the same order every time for short periods of 10-15 minutes, multiple times a day.
Dogs thrive on routine. Maintaining a steady training schedule with clear expectations and rewards will help your dog grasp what ringing the bell earns them faster.
2. Slowly shape the behavior
When teaching your dog to ring the bell, go slowly and take small steps. Don’t expect a full bell to ring right away.
Reward looking at, touching, nudging, or scratching the bell at first. Gradually shape the behavior towards ringing the bell harder and in a more deliberate manner before going outside.
Let your dog learn in increments with encouragement, never frustration.
If your dog is afraid of the bell, rings it too often, or refuses to ring it, remain patient, adjust your approach, and consistently reward progress.
The dog is afraid of the bell
If your dog seems wary, intimidated, or afraid to approach the new bell, don’t force interactions. Take it slower by hanging the bell farther away at first, then gradually moving it closer as your dog gains confidence.
Reward any curiosity, even just looking at the bell from a distance. Gently encourage touches, but don’t push too hard.
Desensitize your dog to the bell slowly with treats, praise, and no pressure. Work up to direct bell interactions on their own pace. Patience and positive reinforcement will help overcome any fears.
Dog rings a bell too frequently
If your dog starts abusing the bell system by ringing obsessively for treats, attention, or just to go out, try limiting access. Hang the bell higher so it’s not constantly available.
Also, be sure you’re fulfilling their needs when rung by spending adequate time outside and avoiding false rings. Only open the door for deliberate rings, not random paws swiping it.
Withdraw attention for excessive ringing. Stick to scheduled potty breaks. Consider rewarding with affection rather than food.
Consistency in addressing the underlying issues behind the behavior is key to curbing excessive bell ringing.
The dog won’t ring the bell
If your dog is struggling to understand or perform the behavior of ringing the bell, don’t get discouraged.
Revisit the fundamentals like positioning and build-up ringing through small steps again. Make sure the bell is very accessible and visible.
Amp up encouragement and rewards for any interaction with the bell at all. Shake the bell yourself while saying “outside” to help make the connection.
Consider a different style bell if the hardness to ring is an issue. Stay positive – some dogs take longer to figure it out. Stick with short, frequent training sessions to capture and shape progress.
Training your dog to ring a bell to go outside takes consistency and patience, but it is one of the most rewarding skills you can teach.
Once your dog has mastered this technique, you’ll no longer have to deal with excessive scratching or barking at the door. Your dog will be able to clearly and pleasantly communicate their needs.
Remember to stick to the training process daily, rewarding small steps and gradually shaping the desired behavior of bell ringing. Be aware of potential issues like fear of the bell ringing too frequently, and be prepared to troubleshoot with positive reinforcement methods.
With regular practice and upbeat encouragement, you can feel proud knowing your dog has learned this useful new skill. Both you and your dog will appreciate the clearer communication and politeness that comes from ringing a bell to go outside.
Celebrate every success in your training journey together. A well-trained dog is a joy for years to come.