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French Bulldog laying next to a leash at the door waiting to be walked.

Are you ever confused about what your dog is trying to tell you? Teaching your dog or puppy to ring a bell to communicate that they need to go outside to potty is a simple way to streamline communication with them. Many dogs will naturally begin going to the door, in some cases also barking, when they need to go out. But introducing a bell or button can help your dog clearly tell you what they need and want. This skill is useful for dogs of all ages, and can be particularly helpful while potty training.

Bell/Button Options

If you want to give your dog the chance to communicate their need to go outside, there are a couple of different options. The easiest and cheapest option is to use bells hanging from the doorknob, or near the door. You can also place receivers around your home so that when your dog pushes the doorbell by the door, you can hear it from anywhere in the house. But the most high-tech option is talking buttons—recordable buttons you can use to teach your dog to talk. These buttons use a method popularized by Christina Hunger, a speech-language pathologist behind the “Hunger4Words” viral social media accounts and author of the new book How Stella Learned To Talk.

Teaching Your Dog to Ring a Bell

It’s easy to lure your dog to ring a bell by using treats or to use a “touch.” But because we’re working on helping our dogs to communicate with us independently, not just to respond to a cue, the best way to do that is to show them how to use the bell/button. By demonstrating the skill over time, your dog will make the connection that ringing the bell is a way to ask to go outside and will start to mirror the behavior.

  • Step 1: Introduce the bell/button of your choice to your dog and allow your dog to inspect/explore it to make sure that it isn’t something your dog will be worried about. Treat and reward your dog for interest or engagement with the bell/button.
  • Step 2: Place the bell/button near the door that you use most frequently to take your dog out to potty. Each time you’re taking your dog out, press the button or ring the bell. The goal is that, via repetition, your dog will begin making the association between the bell ringing and being taken outside. The key to building this skill is consistency on your part using the bell/button each time you are taking your dog out.
  • Step 3: Dogs are always observing and learning from us. After watching you ring the bell before going outside, your dog will hopefully understand that the bell is associated with going outside. Keep this up until your dog begins to ring the bell without any signal from you. Any time your dog rings the bell, offer lots of praise and immediately take them outside.

Relationship Building

Most dogs catch onto ringing a bell or pushing a button to get access to going outside very quickly. Having a shared language of bells or buttons between you and your dog can help decrease frustration in the home and increase your bond with them. Another benefit is that it allows your dog to clearly communicate their needs with other people in your home who might be less attuned to your dog’s natural signals that they need to potty. In addition, if you ever have a pet sitter staying at your home, the bell system can also help your dog to adjust better to you being away because they’ll be able to communicate a core needs to their sitter.

Related article: How Hot Is Too Hot? Heatstroke in Dogs
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