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Effective Communication: Teach Your Dog to Ask to Go Outside

By Aviram K.
Published in Training & Behavior
October 11, 2022
5 min read
Effective Communication: Teach Your Dog to Ask to Go Outside
✏️ This article has been reviewed in accordance with our editorial policy.
🏥 The information in this article is not a substitute for professional help.

As pet owners, we often wish our pups could talk to us and say exactly what they want! That would make life much easier, wouldn’t it?

Well, did you know that you can actually teach your dog to ask to go outside?

The upside is that your dog can tell you when they need to go outside, and the bond between you two can strengthen. The downside is that some dogs may take advantage and ask to go outside when they don’t need to. You can teach your dog to use a bell, bark at you, or otherwise indicate when they need to go outside.

In this article, I will divulge the secrets to teaching your dog how to communicate that it’s potty time and whether or not this idea is better in theory than actuality.

Ready? Let’s dive in.

Table of Contents
01
Pros & Cons of Teaching Your Dog to Ask to Go Outside
02
Best Methods for Teaching Your Dog to Ask to Go Outside

Pros & Cons of Teaching Your Dog to Ask to Go Outside

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Before you run out there to teach Fido to communicate potty time better, it’s important to know that sometimes it might not be a great idea.

Here are the pros and cons of teaching your dog to ask to go outside, so you can best decide if this method works well for you.

Pros

The upsides are quite clear, as you can imagine!

With your dog indicating when they want to go out, you can take the guesswork out of the situation. Your pup has the autonomy to not be left in discomfort and to disclose when it is time to step outdoors.

Some dog owners feel that breaking down this communication barrier has also helped them bond better with their dogs, as both parties felt pleased to understand one another.

Some dogs will even use “I need to go to the bathroom” indicators when they’re ill as well, so you can tell that your dog needs to go outside to either puke or have a stomach issue. This helps you keep track of your dog’s overall health and reduce the risk of nasty accidents indoors.

Plus, you can always brag about your dog’s intelligence with this, ha! Makes a great party trick.

Cons

As much as we get fixated on the positive idea in our head about teaching communication, there is a big con that may not have been considered initially.

Your dog may ask you for an outdoor time when they don’t need to go potty. The reason for this depends on the dog you have!

Some dogs may simply never associate asking to go outside with bathroom time. Instead, they may simply view this as “if I ask, I get outdoor time”. Then your dog will spend all the time romping around outside rather than using the bathroom.

Other dogs can be a little craftier than that. Even if they understand that asking to go out means potty time, they may eventually start taking advantage and using it simply to get outside. Without knowing which is which, you can’t really correct this behavior.

Another con is that you may not always hear when your dog is asking to go outside, so relying on this method 100% of the time is not a realistic (or reasonable) endeavor. It is best to have potty time on a schedule as well, so you can utilize both methods to prevent accidents.

Best Methods for Teaching Your Dog to Ask to Go Outside

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If you decide that teaching your pup to let you know when they’ve got to go is a good idea, there are three methods most pet owners choose between.

One is utilizing a bell so that you can hear your pup asking, another is barking to ask, and the last is cueing a natural response your dog already has.

It is best to be realistic when choosing which option works best for you. If your pup isn’t as inclined to use objects like a bell, cueing a natural behavior may be best. If you have a dog that is eager to learn tricks and you prefer to hear a bell, that could be a solid choice for you.

The first thing is first, though: it is pretty effective to make sure you have potty time generally on a schedule. Keeping this scheduled routine helps your dog’s body also adapt to the time frame you have set, as potty routines tend to align with feeding and exercise time.

This is also a good way to mitigate your risk of an accident inside, as you will always have a general idea when your dog will need to go outside.

Finding You to Ask

All (housebroken) dogs will try to tell us when they really need to go potty; the key is figuring out how they say so and encouraging them to continue. Some dogs use their paws, others run to the door, a few dogs lay down by the door, and various dogs may whine or prance.

When you can figure out how your dog is trying to talk to you, you can start rewarding that behavior. Whenever your dog says (in their own way) that it’s time to go to the bathroom, open the door and offer a treat (similar to how we shaped the bell behavior). Your dog will begin to correlate their indicators to you with “I now have relief because my human opened the door”.

It’s just a matter of ensuring your dog understands that this behavior is encouraged and they are rewarded for it.

I really recommend you to use this method, as it has the least margin of error out of all.

However, if you want a more direct approach, here are 2 more:

Using a Bell

The bell method is frequently seen on TV, in social media viral videos, and from pet owners boasting about their pups. It may seem impossible, but teaching your dog to use a bell is not too complex (I promise!).

To use a bell, you’ll utilize a training technique known as shaping. Shaping is defined as using a series of steps to teach a trick or behavior. Instead of teaching a complex behavior right off the bat, you break the behavior up into little steps that you teach first.

In the case of the bell, start by buying a lightweight bell that is hung by your door at a convenient height for your pup.

To begin shaping, wait for your dog to interact with the bell. Every time they interact with it (such as touching their nose to it and making a sound), open the door and offer a treat immediately after! If your dog is afraid of the bell noise, you can dampen the sound a bit with some tape.

Keep repeating this until you notice your dog is starting to correlate going outside with having to interact with the bell. Most dogs figure this out within a few days! As you notice your dog using the bell to go outside, keep rewarding until you eventually wean them off of the reward (as it’ll become a habit for them).

Barking

Instead of the bell, another option is having your dog bark.

This one has the biggest margin of error, so I would only suggest it if you have a breed known for their cognitive ability, such as a border collie or standard poodle (the two breeds known as the smartest in the world).

The error revolves around your dog not associating barking with potty time and instead thinking that you are encouraging their voice! Which is a huge nuisance if you live in a place with neighbors close by.

To teach your pup to use their voice to talk to you, you first have to encourage the barking. You can use a toy or get them very excited to pull the bark out.

Once your dog barks, immediately open the outside door and offer a treat when your dog steps out. Rinse and repeat until your dog begins to associate the bark with going outside!

Make sure to throw a huge praise party when your dog potties outside.


Tags
Potty TrainingDog Training
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