Train Your Dog to Ring a Bell to Signal It Needs to Go Outside

This has shown to be a very useful technique especially for those struggling with housebreaking. Potty training can be more of a struggle for some people and trust me, you're not alone. This technigue has helped a lot of people who have difficulty picking up on the signs dogs give that they need to go outside and relieve themselves. For others who understand the signals, don't notice them because of their hectic home lives where their focus is on everything but the dog. If this is you, well you're in luck! You can easiy train this behavior in a few simple steps and some patience. A dog signaling it needs to go outside can range from blatant to subtle, but if you're unsure, let's talk about it!

Shaping the Behavior

We start by presenting the bell for her to touch. I am sure that she will be interested and want to investigate it and subsequently the bell rings by doing so. When she touches the bell, even if it doesn't ring, we will say "Good" and then give her a reward/treat. *Note that the bell should only be present when you are working on these exercises.*

Present the bell→touches/rings the bell→"Good"­→treat. Take the bell away and put it behind your back then attempt the sequence again. 

Continue practicing as she becomes more aware of what you want her to do.

Grading Scale

Once she has become about 90% compliant, we can introduce a grading scale. It is very important to always reward her for any sort of bell rings, loud or quiet, as she learns this new behavior. Once we feel that she has a solid foundation we can polish her behavior by starting to only reward her for the most desirable behavior. The scale is as follows:

Nice loud rings→"Good"→treats­→praise

Weak quiet rings→"Good"­→only praise

No ring­→a no reward marker like, "Eh-eh" or "Wrong"→turn away

Developing Fluency

When it is time to take her outside, present the bell for her touch at the door. It would be a good idea to keep the bell on a table or hook near the door so it's easily grabbed to present to the dog during the exercise. You will want to keep it well within your reach and as close to the door as possible to make the process as smooth as it can be.

Present the bell→touches/rings the bell­­­→"Good"­→open the door­→praise

If she doesn't ring the bell when it's presented, wait a couple seconds for her to offer the correct behavior.

If after waiting she still hasn't rung the bell, more shaping is needed.

The opening of the door for her to go outside is rewarding in itself, and that is why you no longer need to reinforce with treats. She has made the association in the beginning that it is rewarding to ring the bell. Now when she rings the bell and gets to go outside, its even more rewarding! Ringing the bell has taken on a new meaning when rewarded with the functional reward of going outside. As with any functional reward, it is the main reward.


When she consistently rings the bell when you present it to her before going outside, you can start leaving the bell hung on the door. At this stage of learning she knows that the bell has a purpose and her behavior of ringing it has a consequence.

"I ring the bell when I need to go outside"­→the door opens. 

Contact Milwaukee Wisconsin's experts in house breaking.             

Return to Tips and Tricks