Potty Training Tips for Dogs by Nikki Perry

Dog training with a treat

Potty Training can be a source of stress and frustration for a lot of new and experienced dog owners, especially if they aren’t able to find a solution to accidents and messes. The great news is that with a few steps your puppy will be marching out to pee in no time.

Once the basics of potty training have been mastered, a dog can be taught how to indicate their need to eliminate by ringing a bell that hangs on the door or rests on the floor. Before you start training the “Ring the Potty Bell” behaviour make sure that potty training is well on track so this doesn’t cause any confusion. Also, make sure that the bell is only paired for potty trips and not for going outside to play or going on walks. Otherwise, you may inadvertently teach your dog to ring the bell for attention or to demand play.

Let’s Get Started

You will need a snack pack of treats and a clicker for this exercise.  For more information on Clicker Training, please visit my blog post Clicker Training Overview.

Each step in this exercise will consist of 10 repetitions. Count out 10 treats before you start training so that you can keep track of your success. If your dog is successful they get the treat, but if they are not successful at completing the requirements to earn a reward, a treat is put into a pile to indicate “missed opportunities.”

The rule of thumb is if your dog receives 8-10 treats you can move onto the next step, if your dog receives 6-7 treats out of the 10 it is best to repeat that step and if at the end of your session your dog has only received 5 or fewer treats the exercise should be made easier so they can succeed and have fun!

Be sure to keep your training sessions short and fun to keep your dog interested in the game of training. Dogs learn through play naturally so the use of fun games in training is extremely effective at keeping dogs motivated and interested in learning.

5 Steps to Teach Your Dog to “Ring the Potty Bell”

1) Teach Your Dog To Touch A Target

The first step is to teach your dog to touch a target with their nose. Stand in front of your dog and make a gun shape with one of your hands. Place your two fingers of the gun right in front of your dog’s nose, close but not quite touching, with the front of your fingers facing toward your dog. As your dog reaches out to sniff, click and give a yummy treat from your snack pack. Repeat this step at least 10 times and then assess your current success rate to decide if you should push to step two or stick to step one for another set.

2) Add Some Distance Between You And Your Dog

Repeat step 1 but add some distance between you and your dog. That means your dog will have to move to touch the target to earn their reward. Be creative and fun with this step. Make it a game so your dog is enthusiastic about learning. Once your dog can take several steps or jump up to touch the target, you can move on to step 3. Repeat until this is achieved.

3) Introduce The Bell

Place a bell in your hand so that it is resting on your target fingers. Just like in step one, place the bell in front of your dog’s nose and if your dog touches the bell, click then give a treat. Repeat this step at least 10 times and then assess your current success rate to decide if you should push to step two, stick at step one for another set or drop back to step 2 for another set.

4) Add Verbal Cue

Step four involves adding a verbal cue to signal the dog to “Ring the Potty Bell.” Once your dog is offering a behaviour, like a target, consistently, you can add a fun verbal cue. Make sure the cue is something that is easy for you to remember and is easily perceived by your dog.  Sit in a neutral position with the bell in your hand resting in your lap. Before you raise the bell, say your verbal cue, “Ring the Bell” and then raise the bell up to be touched. If your dog targets successfully, click the moment they make contact and then give a yummy treat. Repeat this 10 times.

5) Start Moving The Bell

Now you can transfer the behaviour to the next step: the dog rings a bell that is hanging on your doorknob. When you first start this step be sure to stand fairly close to the door since that is what your dog is used to so far in this game. Hang the bell on your doorknob and signal for them to “Ring the Bell.”  If your dog is successful at ringing the bell, as they did in step four, then click the moment they make contact and then give a yummy treat. Repeat this step at least 10 times and then assess your current success rate to decide if you should stick at this step for another set or drop back to step 4 for another set.

Once you have successfully taught your dog to, “Ring the Potty Bell” you can signal for them to ring the bell before each trip out to pee. After several repetitions, your dog will start to offer this on their own when it’s time to “go.” The day will happen when you are sitting on the couch reading a book and you hear a faint, “ring, ring.” And that is the moment you realize that your dog has put it together and is asking for you to let them out.

This is a handy tool for when you go to new places such as a friend’s house or a hotel, where your dog might be confused as to how to indicate that they have to go. Just take your bell with you and have a quick session upon arrival at the new place and then your dog will have some familiarity when it comes time to do their business. The more ways we can bridge the communication gap between humans and dogs the better our relationships with them will be.

Remember to keep it positive and keep it fun!

by Niki Perry, CPDT-KA, KPACTP, CEMT, Release the Hounds Board Member

Niki’s website


Also, read how to train your dog to close the door behind you.


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