My Smart Puppy

with Dog Expert, Sarah Wilson

How To Potty Bell Train Your Puppy


Most dogs do not cry or bark to let us know they need to go out and do their business. Guide dogs for the blind are trained to make contact with a string of bells hanging from the door they normally use to go out. Sightless people would not know if their dogs were at the door, looking pathetic, hoping to be noticed. Even though sighted people should notice their dogs waiting at the door, we are often distracted with phone calls, computer work, housework or kids. That’s how potty accidents occur. It’s much easier to listen for the ringing bells than to constantly glance at the door to see if your dog is waiting to go out.

So, we train our dogs to touch the bells, letting us know we should open the door. If you follow these steps, your dog will be ringing those bells in no time! (Most puppies start bell training at 11 weeks.)

STEP 1: Prior to letting your dog out in the morning get your bells hung on or near the door.

STEP 2: Take the dog over to the bells—do not shake the bells at the dog! Gently lift the bell and let puppy smell the bell. If puppy smells and shows interest “Yeah! Good puppy!” and out you go for a potty walk. If your puppy shows ZERO interest in the bell try adding just a tad of peanut butter or cream cheese on the bell and let them lick the bell as you hold it. While they are licking you gently let go of the bell and praise puppy! Out you go for your potty time.

STEP 3: After your dog has eliminated and you’ve returned to the house, you may need to lift the bells and hang them up over the door or door knob for a while because your dog will probably want to lick the treated bell right away. Since you want your dog to touch the bells only when he needs to eliminate, put the bells back down later when you think your dog probably needs to eliminate. Check to see if there is any “treat” on the bell and replenish the treat on the bell if necessary. Often not necessary unless they are avoiding the bell. About 70 of our students, do not need to put enticement on the bell.

STEP 4: Soon, likely the same day you begin this training, your dog will start going to the door, looking at the bell, sniffing or “nosing” the bell. When your dog does this, do not put treats on the bell any longer—your dog now has the idea. Simply lift the bells in your hand and guide them toward your dog so they touch his nose and so the contact causes the bell to ring. Praise your dog and immediately take him out to do his business.

Soon your dog will be touching the bells on his own whenever he needs to go out. Dogs grasp this trained behavior at different rates—some have it down in a matter of days, with others it may take a week or two. This is a very useful behavior to teach your dog. Good luck! Stay persistent and you and your dog will succeed!

Helpful hints:

In the morning, park yourself by the potty bell door and have the puppy on leash and just hang out and wait for the puppy to get a little anxious, encourage him to touch the bell and when he so much as sniffs the bell, yeah! Out you go for the potty.

Take your puppy to the potty door, have the whole family go out the door but shut the door before the puppy can come with you. Stand on the other side of the door and in her frustration, she will scratch or perhaps nudge the bells. When she does viola! Open the door and out she goes for her potty!

By Becky Bishop, Seattle, WA


  1. I have trained dogs to ring a bell previously and it was very easy. My new puppy is not so easy. He ONLY rings the bells to have the door opened when I am on the other side of the door. So he totally gets that pawing the bells gets my attention and gets the door opened. However, he does not seem to get it at any other time. I have tried most training recommendations. Holding the bells and treating every time he slightly nudges them etc.. But once he and I get to the door and I wait for him to ring it, or try to entice him to ring it with a treat, he looks absolutely dumbfounded and sits down. I am trying to start over and take his paw and ring the bell for him and then reward and go out. One problem is that he never seems to have an urgency to go out because he can usually hold it or because if he really has to go he still doesn’t seem to think it is a big deal to go on the floor so he is never truly desperate to go out. Any advice is appreciated.

    • I just wouldn’t worry about the bells. I don’t usually use them and have no issues house training pups. Keep him on leash in the house with you so you can see when he is about to go and hustle him outside. Praise and reward him for going outside. He’ll catch on.

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