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How To Bell Train a Dog: A Step-by-Step Guide

Learning how to bell train a dog is a practical and effective method to teach your dog to communicate their need to go outside for potty breaks. By associating the sound of a bell with going outside, you can empower your furry friend to let you know when nature calls.

This guide will walk you through the process of bell training your dog, getting you well on your way to a happy, house-trained pup. This process falls inline with operant conditioning. To understand operant conditioning further this study from the NIH is a helpful read.

Setter dog holding yellow leash in its mouth at home.
Photo credit: YayImages.

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How to bell train your dog

One thing that can really help with the bell training process is to condition your dog to go to the bathroom on command beforehand.

Bringing the dog outside to the same spot and allowing him to go to the bathroom there is a good starting point. Using a conditioned reinforcer like a clicker and rewarding the behavior when it’s done in the correct location outside is also good practice. Make sure to follow the “click” immediately with a treat just as you would when training on the e collar.

After repetitions of this, begin to overlay the word “potty” or “outside” followed by the conditioned reinforcer and food reward.

Gather supplies

To bell train a dog, start by obtaining a small bell and a string to hang it on the doorknob or somwhere close to the door. Choose a bell that makes a distinct sound but isn’t too loud or intimidating for your dog.

There are many companies that are now selling bells specifically for this purpose such as this one for just $6. In addition to the bell, you should also have a clicker. Figure out which treats your pet loves and make sure you have a supply ready to go. Don’t feed your dog foods such as bologna but stick to more wholesome treats whether store-bought or pieces of the their favorite dog safe fruit.

Introduce the bell

Introduce the bell to your dog by letting them sniff and investigate it. Encourage positive associations by offering treats and praise while they interact with the bell. Don’t try to force your dog’s nose to the bell, just reinforce the behavior by giving your dog a treat every time they sniff or touch the bell in the beginning.

Once your dog is comfortable with touching and hearing the bell you are ready to start the next phase.

Start at the door

Hang the bell at your dog’s level near the door they usually use to go outside. Use a command like “outside” or “potty time” consistently when you take them out.

You can condition either word by clicking and rewarding just after saying the word as your dog is outside going to the bathroom. 

Add the command 

I start by holding the bell just off the door and have found the dog will naturally investigate it when you do this. After your dog gently nudges the bell trying to smell it, immediately open the door and take them outside while reinforcing this action with a treat.

After numerous repetitions I stop holding the bell and wait for the dog to offer the behavior on their own. Consistency is key in bell training. Take your dog to the same door and use the bell each time you go outside for potty breaks. Reinforce the training by using treats and praise consistently.

Chihuahua dog waiting for owner to play and go for a walk with leash.
Photo credit: YayImages.

Avoid false positives 

Be mindful not to reinforce unnecessary bell ringing. Only open the door when your dog rings the bell for a legitimate potty break. This is the tricky part.

You have to know your dog and how often they need to go out. Every pet will be different. I will always bring my dog to the same spot and request them to go to the bathroom immediately after opening the door and letting them outside.

They need to be leashed for this to work because they should not be permitted to sniff or go off and do what they want otherwise they will ring the bell simply when they are bored and want to go outside. Smart breeds such are notorious for this and can easily manipulate bell training. Bell training a dog takes time and patience.

Some dogs may catch on quickly, while others may need more time. Stay patient, and avoid scolding or punishment if your dog doesn’t get it right away.

Celebrate success

Celebrate your dog’s successes and progress throughout the bell training process. Positive reinforcement and a happy attitude will strengthen your bond with your furry companion.

Bell training is a fantastic way to establish communication between you and your dog, making potty training more manageable and bolstering your relationship.

With patience, consistency, and positive reinforcement, your furry friend will soon master the art of ringing the bell for potty breaks. Happy training!