From A Dog Trainer – How To Teach My Dog To Tell Me When He Needs To Go Potty



Potty training is often the most frustrating part of dog ownership. Many dogs are relinquished to shelters due to potty training issues. One of the best ways to avoid accidents is to give your dog a way to let you know when he needs to go outside to do his business.

So how do you that?


First, you need to put your dog on a schedule. This means feed him at the same time, walk him at the same time. Dogs are creatures of habit, so if you have them on a schedule it will help avoid accidents. But, it also sets up the “stage” so you can start teaching them to let you know when they need out.

Choosing a Cue

What do you want your dog to do when he has to go outside? Some common choices are:

  • Bark at the door
  • Sit/lie down at the door (remember, if you are not always in sight of the door, this one can be problematic as you may not notice your dog’s cue)
  • Bark “at” you (in other words, come find you and bark at you)
  • Ring a bell
Image source:
Image source:


You need to decide on the cue before you do anything else and once you decide, you shouldn’t change it – it’s too hard on your dog.

While the sitting or lying by the door is quiet, as mentioned it can be harder for you to notice. On the other hand, if your dog is already a “barker,” you may not want to encourage that behavior by rewarding him for barking sometimes. In addition, it might be confusing at times why your dog is barking – does he really need out, or is he barking at you to play with a toy or because the mailman is at the door?

Having bells on the door is one of the easiest and best ways to teach a dog to alert when he needs out because it’s a completely separate behavior from anything else your dog does, it’s a unique sound and you can hear it anywhere in the house so you won’t miss your dog’s request.

Because of these reasons, I am going to explain how to teach your dog to alert you using bells. However, if you decide on another cue, the training method is easily modified for that.


First, of course, you will need a set of bells. You can go and buy bells from anywhere and tie them to your door, but if you would like a cute stylish set that is made for dogs, then I recommend the PoochieBells. They have many adorable designs in several lengths to work with any size dog.

This is where the schedule come in! Since your dog is already used to going out at the same time each day, he may already be going to the door on his own – yay! If not, that’s okay too.

Here is what you are going to do:

#1 – Shaping the behavior

To teach your dog to use the bells, you are going to use something called shaping. This means you will gradually get to the end behavior by rewarding your dog for anything that is close to what you want.


Hang the bells on the door you want your dog to use.

  • Bring your dog to the door and wait for him to do anything with the bells. Most dog will as least look at the new object on the door – some may even sniff them.
  • As soon as your dog looks at, sniffs, whatever, the bells, mark the behavior with your clicker or a word like “yes” or “good” and then reward him by opening the door and letting him outside. (Note: if going outside is not a reward for your dog, you will have to open the door, lead your dog outside and then reward him with something like food or a toy).
  • After a few minutes of sniffing the yard, take your dog back inside and reset.

The rest will depend on how quickly your dog learns. Some may immediately go to the bells this time, if they have done a lot of shaping work, others, it may take ten repetitions before they do something more than look.

TIP: If your dog is more “paw oriented” you may end up marking him for pawing the bells than touching with his nose. Whichever your dog seems to prefer, use that, because it will make training easier.

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Image source:

#2 – When to move ahead

You want to look for your dog offering something over and above what he was doing before. So, if he was just looking, wait a few seconds before rewarding to see if he will take a step toward the bells, and the reward that. This is how you gradually shape your dog into touching the bells.

#3 – Potty Time

Once your dog knows to run to the bells and ring it on his own, he may take advantage of it at first by going over there every few minutes or every hour, etc.

At first, this is okay! You want your dog to understand that ringing the bells means go outside – so go ahead and praise him and let him out.

When you dog has it “down cold,” you can start distinguishing between ringing the bells to go potty and just wanting out to play. Make sure that when he does it at potty time (this is why your schedule is so important) you make a huge a deal – lots of praise, treats, etc. when he goes potty. If he rings it and just goes in the backyard, say nothing and just take him back inside. He will learn the real reward is when he rings the bell to go potty.

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