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I've been trying to train my 9-year old dog to ring a bell on the door when she needs/wants to go outside. I've been trying for about a year now with very minimal success.

I use obedience snacks to try to train her to ring the bell. When she needs to go out, we go to the door, and I have her give me her paw, which I then gently use to swat the bell. Then I give her one snack and open the door to let her out.

I've tried giving the snack at different times: before ringing the bell, after ringing the bell but before opening the door, after opening the door, and even after she physically goes outside.

When she needs to go out, she walks to the door, but doesn't have the concept of the ringing it by herself. When I get over there, she gets in position and starts to put her paw in the air for me to grab, but she hasn't learned to ring by herself.

What am I doing wrong? What do I need to do to make the association in her brain? Or is she simply too old to learn at this point and I should just give up?

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Okay, so here are my thoughts on this. When you're going over and taking her paw and ringing the bell, I don't believe you're training her to ring the bell like you believe you are. You're physically doing it for her. I believe, in her mind, she's just tolerating it, because it's something you make her do before a walk. The same way you trim her claws or bathe her. It's just something she has to tolerate before a walk.

Instead, you want to get her engaged with the act of ringing the bell. All dogs are very good at recognizing patterns that lead to behaviors. In fact, people often think dogs initiate a behavior to get a reward, but often they're reading a humans body language and they are preforming an action because they know it's coming, not because they're actively trying to generate it.

The way I'd approach this is to think about it like she does. Try to go through it in your head like it's a foreign language. Actually, it's hard for people to do, because we are so language oriented, but try to go through it without thinking the language in your head. To people, we visualize the bell and think "okay, there's the bell", "dog rings bell, I open door". The problem is that people are good at context and abstraction and most animals aren't.

Instead, it's like if someone started giving you a weird hand sign they made up and when you looked at them like they're stupid, they tell you it's supposed to mean, sit in that chair and I'll give you $20 bucks. You have no idea what it means. However, if they give you $5 every time you get within 10 feet of them, you'll start coming around them all the time. Then if they give you a $10 every time you sit on anything, you'll start siting on everything you can. Lastly, they'll go stand near the chair they want you in and when you sit like you've been sitting on everything, they'll give you a $20. You'll start wearing that chair out. Once they know you're going to do it, they'll add their weird hand sign in. It may still be weird to you at first, but pretty soon, they'll make the sign and you'll just walk over and plop down in the chair for your $20, because who couldn't use an extra $20 for so little effort. However, this time they give you a jackpot reward of $100. You'll come from another room for a $100.

It's the same principle with the dog. I'd start by holding the bell out and letting her sniff it. When she does, I'd either click-and-treat (see internet for more info) or tell her "Yes" and take her out. Once she knows to touch it with her nose, and I mean even a quick sniff, set it on the floor near the door when you're ready to take her out. See if she'll sniff it. If she doesn't, then back up and hold it up for her or put your finger near it. When she sniffs it, reward and go out. After she knows that she goes out when she touches it, repeat for a week or so. When it's habit, let her sniff it and then don't let her out. When she sniffs it again, then let her out. What's happening here is that she knows sniffing it gets a reward, but this time it didn't so she tries to do it with more authority. Click-and-treat, being food based, can really ramp up the motivation here. Especially if the weather is nasty outside. The goal is to get her to hit it repeatedly and start to hit it harder from mild frustration. Eventually she'll cause it to ring and you'll jackpot her with lots of praise and treats, so have them on hand at all times to jackpot any ringing of the bell. Good luck.

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I'd try something different. Both our dogs understood rather quickly how a door or gate work, just by watching.

As such I'd simply use the bell myself whenever I go outside. So when you go outside, ring the bell and open the door. Just repeat this over and over again.

After a while the dog should associate ringing with the door opening.

Older dogs might need more time than puppies to learn, but there isn't really any "too old" for animals. Just as you could learn new stuff every day.

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  • Hmm, the problem with that is that I very rarely go outside. (BTW, it wasn't I who downvoted you).
    – istrasci
    Nov 16 '16 at 16:56
  • @istrasci No worries, just the random trolls. Don't you take the dog for a walk? Even if you do this like once a day there's a chance the dog will pick it up sooner or later.
    – Mario
    Nov 16 '16 at 22:44
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Dogs have varying capacity to conceptualise the "human world". Some breeds are more adept than others. What breed is your dog?

Many dogs simply do not understand a large part of our world, so we must learn to understand theirs...

In fact, you have done very well because she walks to the door when she wants to go outside and understands that by lifting her paw she will receive a treat.

So think about that... she's actually doing 90% of what you're attempting to train... which is a wonderful result. Now all you need to do is reverse engineer a different outcome...

Perhaps try placing the treat on the bell somehow... but only after she has walked to the door. Some bells have a link to hang them from... so maybe you could "hang" the treat through that. When she takes the treat she will indirectly ring the bell. Eventually she may associate the bell more with the treat than wanting to go outside.

So perhaps it is better that you provide the treat when she gets to the door, then you ring the bell when she walk through the doorway... or place the bell so that a wire rings the bell when the door opens.

Only suggestions but maybe you use these as a base to develop a solution?

Good luck and happy training.

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    Actually I think she has learned 100 %. As in fact, YOU are ringing the bell. She goes to the door, holds up her paw and waits for you to ring the bell, so she can go outside. Now you need to teach her that it's her that needs to ring the bell.
    – skymningen
    Nov 17 '16 at 9:58
  • @skymningen why don't you put that in an answer? Nov 17 '16 at 10:33
  • Good suggestions, thanks! BTW, she is a corgi mix. I think she's actually quite smart, although maybe everyone thinks that of their own dog.
    – istrasci
    Nov 17 '16 at 15:57

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