Teaching Your Dog to Ask to Go Out

Medically Reviewed by Vanesa Farmer, DVM on July 14, 2023
4 min read

Communication is vital in any relationship, so it would be really helpful if our pets could talk. If they could tell you what they wanted, it would take the guesswork out of establishing routines, right? 

Well, good news! Teaching your dog to ask to go out is possible through training. 

Before diving into training your dog, know that they may already be telling you that they need to go out. Keep an eye out for the following signs: 

  • Sniffing and circling the area
  • Whining 
  • Pacing or fidgeting

Developing a routine for your dog’s potty breaks will help alleviate the uncertainty. 

If your dog is still soiling inside, proper housetraining steps should be taken first. Creating a pattern for feeding and going outside will help them get into a routine. This prevents them from relieving themselves in your house. Reward them for going outside with affirmations and treats immediately when they’re finished to condition the act. 

Similar tactics are used to train them to tell you they need to go out. 

Training your pets comes down to classical conditioning. If Ivan Pavlov could teach a dog to salivate on command, surely you can use the same techniques to teach them to ask to go out. 

Classical conditioning is fairly simple. The original experiment involved ringing a bell when the dogs were fed. After enough time repeating this act, simply ringing the bell caused the dogs to salivate. They were ready to eat. This type of basic learning is called "reflexive." 

Housetraining your dog involves a lot of conditioning. For example, you may already have a routine with your dog to go potty a half-hour after each meal. Your dog may even be conditioned to need to potty when your alarm goes off in the morning. 

Training your dog to ask to go out involves adding an extra stimulus into their housetraining routine. The most common technique trains your dog to ring a bell when they need to go out.

You may prefer teaching your dog to ring a bell when housetraining, rather than to bark or stand quietly at the door. This technique trains your dog to pair ringing a bell with their need to relieve themselves. It’s not as simple as Pavlov’s initial experiment. 

Step 1. You need to train your dog to ring the bell: 

  1. Hold the bell close to their nose. When they touch the bell, reward them. The reward depends on your dog, but a treat usually works fine. 
  2. Repeat until your dog doesn’t hesitate to touch their nose to the bell. 
  3. Start adding a cue or command word like “touch” to their act of touching the bell.
  4. Hold the bell far enough away from them so that they must take a few steps to touch their nose to it. This adds a physical aspect to the task.

Step 2. This step trains them to ring the bell on the door on command:

  1. Choose the door in your house that you will typically take your dog out of and hang the bell on the door. 
  2. Continue the training from step 1 with the bell on the door, using the command word. 
  3. Don’t forget about rewards and affirmations when your dog touches the bell! 
  4. Repeat this step until your dog touches the bell on cue. 

There are products you can buy that allow your dog to simply touch a button with their paw to ring a bell. Whatever you think is best for you and your pet will work fine.

Step 3. At this point, your dog will be trained to touch the bell on cue. This step teaches your dog to touch the bell at a specific time:

  1. Approach the door and cue your dog to touch the bell with your command word. 
  2. When they do, react with excitement, open the door, and take them outside. 
  3. With enough repetition, your dog will learn that you will open the door and take them out whenever they ring the bell. 

Sometimes, your dog may ring the bell just to go outside and play. You’ll have to reinforce to them that the bell is for potty time. When they ring the bell, put on their leash and take them to the part of the yard where they typically relieve themselves for a few minutes. If they go potty, affirm and reward. If they do not, go back inside. 

With enough repetition, your dog will learn that ringing the bell means going out to potty. This requires a lot of repetition, patience, and participation from everyone in your household.