“I adopted Molly, a one year old Japanese Chin/terrier mix, from a rescue shelter in November of last year. She had been hit by a car and then suffered a broken leg after jumping off a ledge in the shelter. She has been through a lot and was very skittish but is really coming around and acting more and more like a confident little dog. We continue to have difficulty with house training her and, since she doesn’t bark (only in extremely rare situations…she almost scares herself when she does make some noise!), I’m thinking of trying to teach her to ring a bell to go outside. She knows she is supposed to go out there, consistently goes on verbal command in her designated spot, but sneaks away to the bathroom every now and then to go instead of letting someone know she needs to be let outside. Do you have any suggestions for teaching the bell ringing technique? Is it even something I should attempt with her?”


“Molly sounds like a cutie! I’m glad she found someone to give her a good home and some good lovin’ after what sounds like quite a rough start! It sounds like you’re off to a good start with her training… great that she’s going promptly in her potty spot on command!

There are pros and cons to teaching you dog to ring a bell (or indicate in any way that she wants to go out). Let’s talk about the cons first, since there are only a couple, and they’re not too bad.

One is just a practicality problem… ringing the bell is effective only if someone can hear her ring! If you have a huge house, you might not find this to be too terribly effective.

The other is that some dogs learn that they get attention and get to go outside every time they ring, so you’ll get a lot of false alarms… Molly might ring the bell just because she wants to get you up from the dinner table or because she wants to see if there are any squirrels in the backyard. Often, this problem can be resolved by making sure the potty trips that follow the bell ringing are strictly business… no playtime out in the yard, just an in-and-out potty trip.

So, if you think this still sounds like a good idea for Miss Molly, I’m going to give you a few simple steps to try, then you can get back to us if it needs any fine tuning or troubleshooting…

First, you want to make sure you get an appropriately sized bell that Molly will be able to ring easily. There are potty bells that are commercially available, like Poochie Bells, which should work well, or you can just tie your bell to a string that hangs from the doorknob. The bell should be at Molly’s nose level.

Some dogs will immediately want to investigate when they see the bell, but since Molly’s a little bit of a nervous gal, she may be scared of it! With a dog like her, I’d do an extra step in the beginning of training… hold the bell in your hand so it won’t ring and startle her, and let her lick peanut butter off of it. This will teach her to have a positive association with the bell.

Over a couple of practice sessions with her, start moving the bell slightly to get a small amount of noise. When it rings, praise Molly and tell her she’s a good girl if she stays there and continues to lick the bell. If she gets scared and backs away, go back to not moving the bell for a few sessions and try again later to get her used to the ringing.

When she seems comfortable with the bell, you’ll move on to hanging it on the door. At this point, you’ll use just a tiny smear of peanut butter than she’ll be able to get off the bell with a couple of quick licks. With any luck, she’ll be excited and ready to chow down when she sees you pulling out the peanut butter and putting it on the bell, so she should go over to lick the bell.

When she licks the bell, say, “Let’s go outside!” in an excited, happy voice and take her out for a potty trip, praising her lavishly if she goes potty, of course. Do this several times a day for a few days. After a few days, use the peanut butter only a couple of times when you take her out. In between “peanut butter sessions” you should wait inside the door for a second… if she sniffs or licks the bell, you’ll say “Let’s go outside!” and take her out.

If she doesn’t make a move toward the bell, try holding it near her nose to see if she’ll sniff or lick. If she doesn’t, you can gently lift her paw, ring the bell with it, and excitedly tell her it’s time to go out.

With most dogs, you’ll see fairly quick results with this approach. Remember, any time you see her give the slightest nudge, paw, sniff or lick on the bell, you need to hustle over, praise her like crazy and take her outside.

Another thing that will be important for Molly’s training is getting on a serious supervision program with her. Don’t allow her the freedom to have an accident, since breaking her habit of pottying in the house is critical. If she thinks going in the house is an option, there’s no motivation for her to ring the bell to go outside!

I hope you find this helpful!”