Bell ringing for house training really works

Monday, May 02, 2016 7:17PM

House training any dog, regardless of age is all about limiting the dog’s space, keeping your eyes glued to her, and making the only option for eliminating to be outside. Some puppies seem to house train in just a week or two. Others take longer, but remember, house training won’t just happen, you have to teach your dog.

Regardless of whether you have a new puppy or just adopted a dog from a shelter or rescue, you should limit their space and not give them access to your entire house. Limit their space by the use of baby gates, crates and leashes.

Yes, leash them in the house. Tethering them will mimic what a crate does without having to crate them. Dogs are hardwired, just as all animals are, to keep their sleeping space clean. They won’t want to eliminate where they have to eat or sleep, thus, they won’t want to eliminate where they are tethered.

Ninety percent of our board and train business – where dogs live with us during training – has been dogs needing house training. We’ve had 4-month-old puppies to a 3-year-old lab. Most of these dogs (not the puppies) had a signal to indicate the need to go outside to eliminate, but the owner didn’t recognize it. In these cases we train the dog to ring a bell to indicate they need to go out. No one can argue with the sound a bell makes.

The steps are fairly easy. Once you feel like your dog is beginning to understand that the doggie bathroom is outside, hang your doggie bells someplace that you can hear them. They do not need to be next to the door. Our doggie bells hang on our kitchen wall, so we can hear them in the kitchen. We also have a set downstairs near my desk, but again not hanging at the door.

There are three rules:

Everytime the dog rings the bell, she must go outside to the potty area.

Everytime the dog rings the bell she must be leashed to go outside, even if your yard is fenced.

Everytime your dog rings the bell, you must take her out, leashed, to the potty area, even if she just came in from eliminating.

First thing in the morning, before you take your dog out, put a very tiny amount of spray cheese whiz on the bell, then with your dog on leash, walk her to the bells and point to the cheese. Most dogs will follow your hand. When she sniffs or licks the bell and it rings, say “outside” and take her to her outside potty area. This is important: Do not play with her, do not walk her all around your yard. Just stand in the potty location and wait until she eliminates. It is not necessary to treat her after eliminating, since the act of eliminating is a reinforcing behavior.

Your goal is to have bell-ringing mean the dog needs to eliminate. If she rings the bell and you let her run loose outside, then bell ringing equals playtime. Even if your yard is fenced in, take her out on a leash.

Anytime you are going to take your puppy or dog out to eliminate, they must ring the bell and they must be on leash. For the first week, it will be necessary to apply a very small amount of spray cheese wiz on the bell. Remember, dogs can smell a grain of sugar in an Olympic-size swimming pool; don’t smear gobs on the bell. Once you come back inside, wipe off the bell to prevent false ringing.

During the second week you are going to “ask” your dog this question, “Do you understand that in order to tell us you need to go to the potty, you must ring the bell?” Be patient and wait for her answer. Continue to limit her space and keep her in view at all times. There is no magic number on how many days you need to load the bell. Be observant of your dog’s behavior. She may start to ring it on her own sooner than you think. Other dogs may take a bit longer. If your dog is anything like the dogs we’ve trained, they seem to get the idea during the dinner hour. Just as we sit down to dinner, regardless of the time, the dog starts to ring the bell on her own.

Here is the third and most important rule: Everytime the dog rings the bell, regardless of whether or not she has just come in from eliminating, you must take her out, leashed, to the potty area. No exceptions. Most dogs, once they make the connection that ringing the bell gets them outside, they will go through a phase of constant bell ringing.

Now the dog is asking you this question, “Human, everytime I ring that bell, you will take me outside? Can I play? Can I chew on sticks? Can I run to my neighbors and play? Will we go on a walk?” Your answer must be no. You can only potty. This is why it’s vital that the dog/puppy is leashed, so you can immediately bring her inside if she’s just fooling around. This phase shouldn’t last long, maybe one or two dinners.

Once you are through this third and final phase, you should be able to trust your dog that bell ringing indicates the need to eliminate. When you travel, whether to a dog-friendly hotel or a family member’s home, bring the bells with you. Be sure to orient the dog to the location and you can rest assured that the dog will continue to hit the bell as an indication of the need to eliminate.

Although these three rules seem easy, they can be tricky to implement. 1. Every time the dog rings the bell, take them outside to her potty area. 2. She must be leashed when going to the potty area. 3. When your dog asks the question, “Can I play outside when I ring the bell, your answer must be no.” Bell ringing is only to eliminate.

If you put a bit of extra time and energy into house training, your dog you’ll reap the benefits all of their life.

Certified Professional Dog Trainer Denise Mazzola is the owner of Denise Mazzola’s Everything Dog. She has been training dogs and people for over 20 years. She offers private lessons, group classes in Rindge and Swanzey, board and train, as well as day training services. She lives in Keene with her partner, Amy Willey. They share their home with five dogs and three daughters. For more information, see www.everythingdognh.com.