(Originally written for the Press Banner, a San Lorenzo Valley Newspaper)
Has your dog learned how to tell you that he has to go outside and “take care of business”?
While this skill comes naturally for many dogs – just woof or scratch at the door, and people come open it – other dogs seem to have missed that lesson in school.
Following are two ways you can teach even young puppies how to communicate their need to go out.
‘Ring’ To Go Outside
- Choose a bell. Small dogs can learn to ring a desk bell sitting on the floor or a parrot bell attached to a piece of string that hangs from the doorknob. Larger dogs may utilize a series of Christmas bells affixed to a felt or leather strap that hangs from the doorknob.
- Teach your dog to ring the bell with his nose or paw. Rub some lunch meat or smelly treats on the bell so it will smell good but keep the actual treats in your other hand. Present the smelly bell in an empty hand almost right up to your dogs nose. When your dog touches the bell with his nose or paw immediately say ‘good’ and provide a treat from your other hand. Repeat until your dog will immediately touch the bell every time you present it, then gradually move the bell further and further from your dog until he has to walk forward to touch it. When your dog is reliably touching the bell when offered, you can add in the cue, begin saying “Hit It” or “Ring the Bell” as you present the bell.
- Hang the bell close to the exit, just low enough so your dog can easily make contact using his paw or nose. Practice at this new location until your dog will ring the bell when cued to do so then replace the food rewards with an open door reward. Open the door immediately after the bell sounds and send your dog outside. Continue to cue your dog to ring the bell ‘before’ opening the door until your dog learns to automatically ring the bell when he wants to go outside.
‘Bark’ To Go Outside
- Find something that will predictably make your dog bark. Lots of dogs bark when people hold their toys, while others are more prone to bark when there is a ring or knock at the front door. Whatever solicits your dog’s bark – use it.
- Put the behavior on cue. Say “speak” and immediatley follow it up with the action that makes your dog bark. Praise and treat when your dog barks. Repeat this step until your dog will respond to the cue “speak” alone.
- Teach your dog that a bark makes the door open. Begin asking your dog to “speak” just before you open the door, and only provide access to the outdoors after a bark. Repeat until your dog learns to automatically bark when he wants to go outside.