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My roommate has an approximately 2 year old, 17-pound mixed breed rescue dog. We have trained the dog to ring a bell to go outside; this part of the training only took a day (the dog was already trained to touch, which made this part easy).

But now, the dog rings the bell too much. If we don't stop him, he may ring the bell 20 to 30 times a day; that's too much taking him out. It is clear to me that he rings the bell for attention, or because simply going outside is its own reward. There are lots of smells and sounds out there and he might even spot another dog or neighbor passing by. Sometimes, he horses around out there, like digging, nipping at my pants/shoes or trying to play tug-of-war with the leash. Often we'll take him out, and he rings again right after coming back inside. We've been dealing with this problem for over a month and it isn't getting any better.

To me this would indicate that perhaps the dog is not getting enough exercise or stimulation, but I feel like he should be getting enough. He gets 30-60 minutes a day of vigorous exercise, either outside playtime with me or a walk through the neighborhood, sometimes both, plus he is also enrolled in a weekly training class and practices that 4 or so times a week.

On a few occasions, he's rung the bell for other needs, for instance, to ask for food.

Originally I tried simply ignoring the bell ring when I was sure the dog did not need to go (for instance if he just did), but my roommate said this would confuse the dog, so instead we take the bell away if he rings it too much and put it back out later. This tends to deteriorate into "keep an eye on the dog and take him out when he looks like he needs it." Which basically is defeating the point.

Does anyone have suggestions for how to teach the dog that ringing the bell is only for going to the doggy bathroom and not for keeping himself entertained?

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    A question about what exactly you taught him: He knew "touch". Does that mean you told him to touch the bell, and when he did, you went out? Did you ever create any direct association between "bell" and "potty time"? – Layna Feb 10 '15 at 9:48
  • First we taught him to ring the bell on command. Then, whenever we took him out (only for bathroom, not for play or walks) we would have him ring the bell first. At this point, I'm sure he knows ringing the bell means go outside. As far as making the association between potty time specifically and the bell, see the comment on the next answer. – fluffysheap Feb 10 '15 at 20:57
  • Reminds me of the adage "In every interaction between dogs and humans, training is taking place. You need to be aware of who is doing the training" :) – jalynn2 Dec 18 '15 at 19:40
  • You trained your dog to be the dominant partner with the bell, no fair going back on your word now. Take him out every time, he's the pack leader now. – Oldcat Dec 22 '15 at 23:49
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I found something, but this really depends on making the dog bored of leaving the house...

Playtime vs. Potty Time

Once they discover that bell ringing makes the door open, many clever dogs ring the bells whenever they’d like go outside—even when they don’t need to relieve themselves. If this sounds like your dog, you need to teach him that bell ringing is only about potty time. When he rings the bell to go out, praise him, clip on his leash and take him directly to the place where you’d like him to eliminate. Don’t play with him. Just give him three to five minutes to urinate or defecate. If he does, great! Praise him again and give him a treat before taking him back in. If he doesn’t do his business, just take him back inside.

Source

I have no idea how this is supposed to work if your dog is enthusiastic about just spotting another dog and/or sniffing the outside air, though. Is there an outside-spot the dog is plain not interested in you could use?

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  • That's pretty close to what we've been doing. We take him to the front yard (different side of the house) than what we use for playing, and we give him a treat and praise whenever he does his business out there. No play after bell ringing. I agree with making the potty trips less interesting. I've tried taking him to the back yard, where there is not as much going on. There are always some distractions, just not as many. But the concern there is that that is where we play with him (even if we don't play on that specific trip). – fluffysheap Feb 10 '15 at 21:06
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I agree with Layna. Just like you form an association with ringing the bell opening the door, you have to make sure it's understood, it's just for potty time. You need to leash the dog, so he's not able to go anywhere and play while out there. You shouldn't talk to him or acknowledge him. Just straight to the place where you want him to do his business, you can give a "go potty" command if you like, wait 3-5 minutes, and then straight back inside. I would give a verbal "good dog" if they went to the bathroom.

I wouldn't worry about taking him to the same area you play with him in. He'll learn to disassociate potty time with play time. The leash being on is a good indicator. Also, if he shows much interest in anything besides using the bathroom or gets too worked up, I'd go back inside. I don't mind my dog looking around or walking around sniffing as that's what they do before going to the bathroom. If he's just trying to sniff stuff or look at other dogs, I'll either take him back inside or say "no" and try to direct his attention away from it.

On the flip side of this, I think that until you get it established and worked out, you need to take him out every time he rings the bell, crate train him and put him in there at night so he can't ring it, take the bell away when you're away from home, so he can't ring it and get no response, and finally, take him out much more often.

Key things that make a dog want to use the bathroom are play, waking up, eating, etc... So make sure to take him out after all of these events to the bathroom without him ringing the bell. Also, take him out to play and for walks as many times a day as you can without him ringing the bell. This should help stimulate him to where he doesn't need to go out as much. I think if you try these things, you should see a reduction in bell ringing.

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    I would add - one of the best ways of reducing canine mischief is to ensure they're good and tired. – Sobrique Feb 10 '15 at 22:15
  • @Sobrique You're right. That is a good idea. That's really what I meant by taking him out much more often, but I might not have been clear on it. Thanks. – Dalton Feb 12 '15 at 14:26
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I have the same issue BUT my dog will be the first everytime I take him out - even if only 5 minutes later, so then what?

I tried just ignoring him if we just came in. One time I took up bell for 20 minutes.

Now we take him to fenced backyard if he goes a "good" - firstly, not a few drops and/or secondly, we make a fuss and play. If he does a drop or two and then wants to play - we leave him the yard alone for 5 minutes. It has cut down on the ringing. Also trying - once he rings, we wait to see if he rings again. Sometime if we don't respond he lays down. Smart dogs are the WORST, it hilarious!

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