It Worked For Me: Bell Training

My first dog was an Australian Cattle Dog named Allie. My husband and I adopted her from the shelter where I worked when she was 8 weeks old. Cattle dogs are a herding breed that originated in Australian and if you’ve known a herding breed dog before, they like to communicate with their mouths more than their vocal chords. Allie preferred to let us know that she needed to potty by nipping at my husband and me, which we fairly expected given her breed.

Unfortunately, she also nipped us to say she was out of water, she wanted to play, the cats were ignoring her, etc. etc. We quickly realized that we needed to empower Allie with a communication tool other than her teeth because they A) hurt and B) were very non-specific. I had heard of bell training from coworkers and staff at the shelter and we decided to try it. It was a massive success. After about two months.

We had bumbled around with all of the instructions about bell training from the ASPCA, I watched YouTube videos and I plugged all my coworkers for tips. Unfortunately, Allie had already learned a way to communicate her bathroom needs to us and however irritating they were to us, they did in fact work. But fortunately, one day she just walked up the bell and rang it. And then I took her outside. The rest is glorious non-nipping history.

We got our second dog, a lab named Luna, when she was 10 weeks old from the same shelter. She learned to ring the bell to go outside in about three days. I think there are two reasons for her accelerated pace of acquiring this skills relative to Allie and neither of them have to do with her being smarter than Allie, because she’s not. (Sorry, Luna, but I’ve seen you run into the fence like a dozen times.) First, the bell was the first potty communication method that was available to Luna. Since we already had it hanging on the door, we circumvented her learning a different way to tell us she needed to go to the bathroom.

Secondly, before we adopted Luna we had moved into a duplex with a much more open floor plan than our previous apartment. Dogs can be potty trained because they are hard-wired to not go the bathroom where they live. I think it was much easier for Luna to see that our entire living space was her home because it was so open. In the previous apartment, our bedroom, living room, bathroom and kitchen were separated by full/partial walls or furniture. Allie almost never had accidents in our bedroom, which I believe was because she viewed that are as “home” and the other parts of our apartment as “not home”.

The bell on the door enabled us to potty train Luna in about a week even though, as we eventually found out, she had chronic urinary tract infections. (She’s all better now, thank goodness!) Bell training worked for me because it provided a tool for my dogs to communicate with me in a manner that we all found agreeable. We used the bell training in conjunction with all these other house training instructions from the American Society for the Prevention of Cruelty to Animals (ASPCA).


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