Adrienne is a certified dog trainer and former veterinarian assistant who partners with some of the best veterinarians worldwide.
Everybody would love having a dog trained to ask to go out to potty because it's super convenient. Dog owners would no longer have to rely on guesswork, always wondering whether it's time to take their dogs out for a bathroom break otherwise their dogs would take their potty affairs in their own "paws."
Hence, the popularity of several potty training methods such as teaching dogs to bark by the door to grab their owner's attention or teaching them to ring a bell every time they need to tinkle.
In a perfect world, dogs would associate the door with the simple act of elimination and would grow a halo over their heads.
Dog owners would take their dogs out a few times a day, and they would no longer have to constantly eyeball their canines for signs of a dog needing to go potty. All they need to do is use their ears for a bark or a ding-ding-ding.
Not so fast though. In several cases, training a dog to ask to go out can come with more problems than one was bargaining for. Following are some challenges dog owners may face.
1. Help, I Can't Always Hear My Dog!
If you live in a tiny home, it may be difficult to ignore your dog's barking or the sound of the bell, but if you live in a large home or a mansion, it may be sometimes challenging to detect your dog when Nature calls, especially when you are in the farthest room doing laundry or watching TV.
Failure to attending your dog may lead to the weakening of your dog's barking-by-the-door or -ringing-the bell behavior which can lead to regression in your potty training plan and accidents around the home.
2. My Puppy Can't Make it to the Door on Time!
Let's face it: Young puppies have tiny bladders. They are like babies walking around your home but wearing no diapers. When they feel the urge to pee, pee already flows out of them before they even make a step in the right direction.
It goes without saying that training a dog to ask to go out by barking or ringing a bell is not suitable for the youngest pups and can lead to frustration for new puppy owners.
If you really want to train this (despite the potential problems), you may want to wait a little bit until your puppy has attained better bladder and bowel control or you'll have to take steps to make the process extra easy by keeping your puppy always in an area nearby the door.
3. My Dogs Wants to Always Go Outside!
The biggest problem is dogs who start to constantly go to the door asking to be let out. Once out, they will start playing in the yard, sniffing and exploring rather than going potty.
This takes place when dogs, rather than associating the door with going potty, associate the door with: Entertainment! Exploration! Release of energy! Sniffing adventures! Or a combo of all the above!
Oftentimes, puppies are good with this in their first weeks, but then they start regressing once they get older and start wanting to sniff around more and explore their surroundings in the great outdoors. Not surprisingly, many owners of newly adolescent dogs (around 6 months) start noticing this behavior.
So how can we remedy these problems? Is it still worth training a dog to ask to go out or is it something to reconsider? These are all great questions.
I don’t teach my dogs to bark when they want to go outside because, as a dog trainer, I hear many complaints about barking dogs. Teaching a dog to bark to go outside can be emphasizing a potential behavior problem.
— Liz Palika, The Complete Idiot's Guide to Yorkshire Terriers
How to Fix the Issue of Your Dog Always Asking to Be Let Out
If your dog has started to ask you to always be let out, you are likely wondering what you can do about it.
You can't totally ignore the behavior as you risk an extinction burst along the process, and then, if you keep ignoring, potentially weakening the behavior (which may lead to a dog no longer asking to go out and having an accident), but then, if you take him outside, you will have reinforced the behavior leading to him asking to be let out more and more.
You may therefore feel stuck between a rock and a hard place. Here are some options to remedy the situation.
Break the Association With Fun
If your dog is let out to go potty in your yard and he's allowed to sniff, play and explore each time, he'll start associating getting out of the door with fun. If that's the case you may be stuck with a dog repeatedly asking to go out.
You can break the associative chain of "asking to be let out= fun" by taking your dog out on leash to one spot to potty. Don't talk to your dog, just make the task pretty boooring (yawn!).
If he doesn't pee within a few minutes, it's time to go back inside. If he does manage to potty, then he can be unleashed and allowed to enjoy some free time in the yard so that you can make outdoor fun happen only contingent upon going potty.
Teach Your Dog to Go Potty on Cue
Once you have your dog on leash, take advantage and train your dog to potty on cue. By teaching your dog to potty on cue, you'll be left with less worrying about whether your dog may really need to potty so less guesswork since you know your dog is "empty." On top of this, you'll be shaping a much faster elimination. A win-win!
Training your dog to go potty on command is fairly easy, all you'll need to do is be consistent and have good timing. Here's a guide how to: how to train your dog to go potty on command.
Provide More Indoor Fun
Many dogs who ask to be let out without a real need to go potty are bored dogs who are looking for more stimulation. Indeed, many of these dogs won't come back inside when called because they associate the outdoors with all the fun. These dogs may benefit from some indoor training and mental stimulation (foraging, clicker training, brain games).
While it may be tempting to ignore your dog when he barks or rings a bell to be let out, as mentioned, this may lead to a temporary extinction burst (which will lead to more insistent and annoying going-to-the-door-behavior) and if you keep ignoring your dog, the door-going or bell-ringing behavior may eventually become extinct, which may lead to your dog stopping his signaling and having accidents inside the home.
Instead, you can turn your dog's *fake* asking-to-be-let-out behavior when you know he doesn't need to go out, into a sign that he's craving some fun indoor activity.
For instance, invite him to perform a few tricks or otherwise invite your dog to go to this mat where you'll give him something to chew on.
Rather than ignoring the behavior, therefore, acknowledge it as a sign that he needs more mental stimulation. However, give your dog the benefit of doubt, and every now and then proceed to take him outside on leash to see if he needs to go potty.
While you're at it, keep notes on how often he really needs to go potty as this will turn helpful for the next tip.
Train Your Dog to Go Potty on a Schedule
Bell training or barking to be let out can be appealing, but as noticed there can be issues with these methods. Sure, there are many dog owners who are happy with this arrangement, but some dog owners end up having problems especially if they slack off and stop taking their dogs outside on leash, but just open the door and let Rover go potty alone.
A better option may be simply taking your dog to potty on a schedule. Feeding your dog on a schedule (predictable feedings, lead to more predictable outings), keeping track of how often he needs to potty and teaching him to go potty on command can all make the process much easier.
Simply take him out at set intervals, make sure to go out with him to ensure he goes potty when you tell him to, and your dog should quickly adjust to them.
What if My Dog Needs to Go Potty Outside of the Schedule?
Eventually, one day may come when your dog may have to go out and it's not his regular, scheduled time. While both my Rottweilers were trained to go potty on command on schedule like clockwork at 8:00 AM, 12:00 PM, 4:00 PM, 8:00 PM and 12:00 AM for many years, there were times where, for one reason or another, we had to rely on some sort of signal from them informing us that they had to go sooner.
Perhaps they had a bout of diarrhea or they just drank more than usual, or maybe, on some rare occasion, we forgot to take them out to potty at their scheduled time.
In those cases, as our dogs matured, they learned to communicate their need by pacing quickly to the door, and if that didn't work as an attention-grabber, they would come to us and stare at us with an antsy look on their face and then they would walk towards the door as if asking us to follow them.
You can further gain proof of a need to go potty by asking your dog something along the lines of, "Do you have to go potty?" If your dog is trained to go potty on cue, just hearing the words "go potty" should get him super excited and cause him to rush towards the door as if saying: "Yes, yes! That's what I was trying to tell you all along!"
So praise your dog for the alert, and reward by opening the door and then watch him go and make sure to praise and reward your dog again for going potty outside.
This article is accurate and true to the best of the author’s knowledge. It is not meant to substitute for diagnosis, prognosis, treatment, prescription, or formal and individualized advice from a veterinary medical professional. Animals exhibiting signs and symptoms of distress should be seen by a veterinarian immediately.
© 2021 Adrienne Farricelli
Devika Primić from Dubrovnik, Croatia on March 30, 2021:
Dogs know when they need to go and on a set schedule is best to walk them. A routine check works well.
FlourishAnyway from USA on March 30, 2021:
Everyone needs predictability in life. Wonderful tips.
Peggy Woods from Houston, Texas on March 29, 2021:
We always let our dogs outside on pretty regular schedules, and like your dog, they would let us know if they needed to go out at other times.
Heidi Thorne from Chicago Area on March 29, 2021:
The schedule strategy is the best after the initial puppy stage. It's worked for us for years. I also had to "potty train" my husband that pups are used to this schedule and not to let them play "in and out." :)
True, if they're not feeling well, all scheduling is a moot point. Luckily, they're pretty good at telling us when they need to go out off-schedule.
Great tips that I know work. Thanks for sharing. Have a great week!
Pamela Oglesby from Sunny Florida on March 29, 2021:
This is a very informative article about training your dog. I think training them to go out to potty is one of the most important things dog owners do. You have provided plenty of information to help, Adrienne.