Medically Reviewed by Taylor Froiland, PharmD, RPh
Written by Adam McCown, PharmD
Bell training your dog can be a highly rewarding and fun experience for both you and your pup. It is also extremely useful. Using a bell allows your dog to both let you know when they need to go to the bathroom and gives them a mode of communication—other than barking—when they are hungry or need something else from you.
Essentially, bell training is for anyone who would prefer to hear a bell to barking or some other signal your dog may use. The question is, how do you go about training them to ring it?
How to Start Bell Training Dogs
The first step in coaching your canine to use a bell is to acquaint them with it. You should start by holding it in front of their nose and when they touch and sniff it, give them plenty of praise and a treat. If need be, you can prompt your dog to touch the bell by holding a treat behind it or putting a little bit of peanut butter on it. Repeat the process until your pup is excited to readily touch the bell. When he or she does touch it, say a word like “touch” or “bell”.
After your furry friend learns to touch it on cue, it’s time to hang the bell from the doorknob of the door you’d like them to go outside through. Encourage them to touch the bell and make sure to praise them and give them treats when they do. Keep repeating until they know to ring the bell when you tell them to.
Teach Them to Ring the Bell at the Right Time
The next step in bell training your puppy or dog is to help them learn specifically when to ring it. Encourage your canine to approach the bell and say your cue like “touch” or “bell”. When they do touch it, offer them praise, open the door, and take him or her outside. After repeating this process over and over, your dog will associate ringing the bell with being let outside and learn to do it whenever they need to go out and use the bathroom.
What you do next is up to you. If you only want your dog to use the bell at potty time, then you need to take a few extra steps. When he or she rings the bell, clip on their leash and bring them to the place where you want them to do their business. If they urinate or defecate, then give them a treat. If they don’t, take them back inside immediately.
If you don’t mind your dog using the bell for other purposes, for going out just to play or letting you know they are hungry, for example, then encourage them to use the bell more often. For some people, it helps them use process of elimination to determine what their canine is after. For example, if they ring the bell, you open the door, and they don’t go out, then you know the reason for their excitement or agitation is not to use the bathroom or to chase some critter they saw. It might be food or water.
Avoid these Mistakes
For various reasons, some people try to bell train their dog and fail. More often than not, it’s because they make one of several possible mistakes. Avoid doing the following when training your pup:
Don’t use a bell that is too loud – Sometimes dogs can be spooked or scared by a bell if it rings too loudly. If you can hear it anywhere in your house, it might be too loud. You can try dampening the sound with tape or cotton.
Not adequately rewarding your dog – Although perhaps seemingly simple, learning to use the bell properly at the appropriate times is quite a bit to learn for your pup. Be sure to always give them direction and praise and give them with treats and pats when they do it right.
Don’t always train when standing right by them – The entire point of training your dog to use a bell is to allow them to better communicate with you when you are not standing right there. That means that you have to incorporate being at a distance into their training. Once your dog gets the hang of ringing the bell to go out when you’re right there, try telling them to ring it when you are not near the door. Eventually, they will learn that they can ring the bell and be let out even when you’re not in their direct proximity.
Conclusion: Make Bell Training Fun!
Like when coaching your dog to do anything new, patience is critical. Always use positive reinforcement, never negative. Praise, treats, and attention—make it like a game for your pet so they enjoy learning and are driven to be successful at it. Keep training sessions brief and take frequent breaks when they get confused or frustrated.
A bell can be an excellent tool for you and your dog to take advantage of. Just hang in there and your pup will pick it up!