There have been several people who have asked about housebreaking their cavachon, specifically using the bell ringing technique.
When we first started to train Kasey to “go” outside, I had not heard of the bell technique. We got him when he was 8 weeks old. Since he was so tiny, and pottied so frequently, I tried getting him to use puppy pads. For us, that was just a joke! Kasey was confined to the kitchen area which had a vinyl floor. The pad would move all over when I tried to get him to stay on it – which in itself was a problem. When he was just roaming around, he would play with and chew the puppy pad! I could not have the pad around and also get him to only use it for its intended purpose!
I also very quickly had the realization that I really did not need to devote any time to trying to get him to use the pads. Our ultimate goal was to go outside to go potty, so why wouldn’t start with that as our potty destination from the very beginning?! I don’t think Kasey peed on one of the puppy pads even once, and in less than a day we ruled out that training method.
We moved on to taking him outside – frequently! The absolutely necessary times are immediately upon waking, as soon as you let them out of their crate (if you are crate training –which I highly recommend), within a few minutes of eating or drinking, and when they are ”sniffing” around – especially if “sniffing” around in a circular pattern! When Kasey was real small, we would carry him right outside at any of these times. As soon as he performed, he was rewarded with praise and a treat. We had Cheerio’s in our pockets at all times as this was what our vet recommended using since puppies love them and they do not add too many calories to their diet. It is amazing how excited a puppy can get over one Cheerio! In the beginning we took him back inside right away so that he got the idea that going outside was to go potty. Later on, we would reward him with praise and some play time after he did his business. If there was no time for play, or it was raining, he would get the food treat and praise.
Kasey was about 4 months old when I first heard about the bell ringing technique. I was already convinced that he was a smart dog, but he really had never barked yet at that point, and I felt I was the one that was trained to take him out and he was not really indicating when HE needed to go out. We were now walking him to the door – and we did always use the same door – but it was always when we thought he should go out or after he had an accident. Speaking of that, it is important that you take your dog out immediately if they have an accident in the house. Tell them they need to “potty outside” then immediately take them out. If no one else is around to clean up the mess, it is really better to wait to do that, if possible, until you have taken them out so that they understand the message. If you do not catch them in the act, it is really too late to teach a lesson. They just won’t understand the problem! I guess dogs live in the moment! That explains why they are still your friend and love you even if you got mad at them for peeing on your carpet!
So back to training Kasey to ring the bell when he needed to go out…..
As always, I did my preliminary research and preparation. While research took some time, the preparation was minimal. First, I had to get the bell. I started out with trying to use several (15 or so) jingle bells that I already had and stringing them on a string. I soon found out, it really takes quite a bit to make those things really jingle! As fate would have it, I was at one of our local “dollar” stores and they had Christmas decorations out. I spotted an ornament that was made from a bell that was about 3 inches in diameter and seemed to have what I will call “easy ring-ability!” I purchased two and right after arriving home removed the decorative part of the ornaments and hung the bells on a string. I then took that to the door, and adjusted the length of the string so that the bells fell right at Kasey’s nose.
The next part of preparation was getting the family familiar with the new program and completely on board. I knew it was important that once this training began, we were ALL consistent. This is important for success and cannot be stressed enough.
With all of that covered, here is how we proceeded:
We had a door going to the back yard and chose that as the “dedicated door.” Every time we took Kasey out, we walked him to that door and would lift his paw to ring the bell first. If it was an emergency and we had to carry him, we still stopped to quickly hit the bell. At the same time, we told him what we were doing – “time to go out and go potty, ring the bell.” I guess he must have understood what we were saying as soon he did not really hesitate as we stopped to ring the bell. We kept encouraging him to ring the bell himself, and would sort of “drive” him to do that. I did become apparent that he would be using his nose and not his paw, but when we rang the bell for him, we still used his paw as I just could not push his face into the bell!
It was probably about three weeks that we followed this pattern, then, we were sitting on the couch one evening and heard this little tiny jingle! My husband and I looked at each other – both with the look on our face of “OMG – that was the bell!!!!” We jumped up and took Kasey outside, who pee’d and acted like it was no big deal!! I guess he knew how this was all supposed to happen.
I know you want to hear that he was bell trained and all went really smoothly from that point on, but that is not quite the case. However, things did steadily improve. We continued with taking him out when we thought he should be going out, ringing the bell along the way. Sometimes he would ring the bell on his own, always followed by much joy and praise!
Be warned, as soon as it “clicks” and the dog knows that ringing the bell means going outside, be prepared for endless trips to the yard! Unfortunately, when this happens, I think you need to go with it at first. Kasey rang that bell endlessly all day long! But, I was trying to teach him that that was I wanted him to do when he needed to go out. I had to oblige him. For the first couple of days (I swear he had a devil look in his eyes and was laughing inside) I responded to the bell ringing, but if he did not potty right away, I brought him right back inside. Even though, he would ring again right away, I kept doing that. I still followed the old program of praise, treat, and play time for performing. After a couple of days, I started taking a little longer to respond to the bell, and he started slowing down on the ringing – I think he started to realize that ringing the bell did not automatically mean going outside to play, or even just going outside to hang out in the yard. There was never a reward of play time if there was no potty time!
Things actually balanced out quickly and I have been very happy to this day to have gone with bell training. We had a bit of a setback when Kasey was about 6 months old and we moved to a new house. He was pretty well trained by then, very, very, few accidents. Once we moved, I almost felt like I was starting over for a little while. To be clear it was mid-December in Northeast Ohio, it was right before Christmas, and it was CHAOTIC! We did however go through the same routine to establish a new door, and bell ringing was back in effect in no time! It really is just a matter of patience, and mostly consistency in teaching the desired result.
Here are a couple of side notes/tips:
We had an extra bell that we carried in our doggy travel bag so if we were visiting somewhere Kasey would be able to let us know he needed to go out. We would just hang it off the door we used when we came in to the house. This never really came in to play, as we made sure we brought him out frequently if we were visiting somewhere, but it was always nice to know it was there (for everyone )
Hanging the bell from the door handle works. However, I soon found a couple of problems with that:
- Everytime you open the door the bell rings = confusion
- Whether the door is wood, metal, painted or stained, the bell will mar/scratch the door (I speak from experience)
We ended up just putting a nail in the wall by the door, I used a piece of a jute string with a little bow by the nail, and it looks kind of cute. I have not had a problem with the bell marring the wall, but if it does, it is a much easier repair.
Fast forward to July, 2011. Kasey is now 3 years old (barely – Happy Birthday Kasey.) He waits to go outside (sometimes ‘til after noon on the weekends) until we take him. I can’t even remember the last time he had an accident inside the house. Basically he needs to potty once in the AM, once late afternoon, and again before bed. BUT, if we hear that bell ring (yes, of course, it is still there) we know that he really needs to go out soon! And yes, he will still ring it on occasion!
In conclusion, bell training may not be for everyone, as it does take dedication in the beginning. For us, it was awesome! Plus, given that Cavachons are so smart to begin with, if that is the route you want to go, I have no doubts you will be successful in a very short period of time.