Are Potty Bells Good?
Potty training can be a struggle if you don’t know what you’re doing, and many have the misconception that potty bells make this easier. Potty bells are one of those products that yet again have great marketing behind them, and that a lot of people think work. The reality doesn’t match up with that though. Let’s talk about why!
What Humans Want Dogs to Use Bells For
There is a very obvious lack of common language between dogs and humans, which is naturally frustrating to many people when it comes to potty training. In theory people want their dog to ring the bell when they need to go out and do their business. It’s a simple enough behavior, and it’s not hard to teach a dog to ring a bell.
Conveying the entire idea behind the WHY you want the bell rung, and also impressing on the dog the exact reason they should ring the bell, is where the wheels fall off the bus for all owners. You see, why isn’t really a concept we can teach dogs, especially when it’s conflict with what they might want. “I’d like you to ring this bell so I can let you out, only when you have to potty, so that I don’t have to clean up a mess all the time and we can keep the house clean” is a concept that gets a little too complex.
We only want the bell to be rung when the dog has to go potty. How can we convey something like that to our dog, and also prevent ourselves from letting them out at the “wrong” times?
What actually ends up happening
The following is a story I grabbed at random from a dog owner out of hundreds of the same. This is what happens when you use potty bells.
“We bell trained our pup at about the same age. Every time we took her out, we took her paw and made her ring the bell. Then we took her out and gave her a treat after she went potty. She eventually got it. Now she is six months old and rings to go out, rings to play, rings when she’s hungry, and pretty much has a ring for whatever she wants. She even has a certain ring when she’s dissatisfied with something such as the family is eating dinner and her food is done. When she wants out to potty, she rings and sits by the door. Oh and sometimes she just puts the bells in her mouth and rings for fun.”
You can see that not only does the actual training add additional and unnecessary steps to the potty training process, but just a few months into using bells, it’s already broken down completely as a behavior. The bells are merely a toy, not a communication tool, and this is what happens across the board with potty bells.
What motivates the dog to ring the bells is not the same thing that motivates us to want our dog to ring the bells and so it will always break down as a behavior. Dogs are opportunists and will quickly learn that ringing the bells makes you do something, which is interesting and entertaining. For many dogs this is a break from boredom, which grows into habit.
It all comes back to conveying the why to the dog. Of course we as humans have zero ways of telling when a dog is ringing because of a real need and when they’re just doing it for fun. On the other hand if you know the signs of a dog that needs to potty, you can quickly tell if they actually need to go and it’s always going to be much more accurate than bells ever can be.
Potty bells - A Failing Tool
They’re just not worth it to use. Your dog has tells, each dog does, of when they need to potty and they’re preinstalled. Unlike the bells, these are things that your dog does only when they have to go. Anyone can learn the signs and it’s not very hard at all. There isn’t a need to complicate things with the addition of potty bells. Potty training can be done without the mess and without extra hassle on your part!
As a trainer I have never heard of a single case where potty bells have not eventually turned into a “I ring the bell for fun” situation with a dog. For an animal that is seeking out fun and has motivations that are not the same as ours, it’s a bit inevitable. This is a tool that I don’t recommend to owners if they want to have a specific signal for their dog to convey their needs. I know I for one am not a fan of my house filled with obnoxious bell ringing, and I think that’s something that I share with many owners as well!