I’ve been reading a thread on an internet message board recently about training your dog to ring a bell installed at the back door when it wants to be let out.
The general idea seems to be that it helps avoid any little ‘accidents’ in the house and also avoids the dog having to go through the discomfort of not being able to go to the toilet when it wants to.
I have to be perfectly honest and tell you that I can’t think of anything worse than a dog that gets the ‘garden-on-demand’ treatment. Although I’ve never come across one of the ‘doggy bells’ in question, I’ve frequently seen the low tech equivalent where the dog barks or whines at the back door. Or even worse, where the barking and whining are accompanied by the dog scratching at the door.
Have you ever seen the damage done to a door over time by a dog that scratches at it several times a day? In my student days, I spent six months sharing a house with someone who owned a boisterous young spaniel. This dog was an accomplished door scratcher, and the bottom eighteen inches or so of the inside of the front door had not only been stripped of most of the paintwork by his attention but also it was crisscrossed with deep grooves where his claws had gouged into the wood.
These days even the smallest of houses can cost a frightening amount of money. Why on earth would any sane person allow – let alone encourage – their dog to wilfully damage the investment they have tied up in their property in that way?
I am opposed to the idea of the dog dictating when it is to go out for some reason. I think the main one is that many dogs would ‘abuse’ the system.
What I mean by that is that if the dog only rang the bell, barked, whined, or did whatever the system entailed once every five or six hours, I could about accept that. If it went out, did what it needed to do, then quietly settled down again, I daresay I could probably get used to that.
But I’ve hardly ever seen any evidence of dogs doing that. To be precise, I’ve only ever once seen a dog like that. It was an elderly lady’s ‘lapdog’ and so adored being secreted somewhere about its mistress’s voluminous person that it was loathing to spend any time away from her.
She was too frail to take it for walks, and it was utterly opposed to any form of exercise! So periodically, it would give a little squeak, and she would open the door for it. A few moments later, it would yap once, and that was the signal for it to be let back inside, after that it would shuffle straight around to the mistress who would immediately scoop it up again.
Although it is not a system of dog ownership that I particularly approve of, I have to say in all honesty that the dog seemed blissfully happy. Its relationship with its owner worked perfectly.
However, on the other side of the coin, I have seen numerous other examples of dogs asking to be let out were; frankly, they are just taking the p**s.
They ask to go out and then have a mooch around the garden looking for their ball. Or they want to go out because they know the neighbour’s cat usually strolls through the park about now and they fancy a bit of sport. Or they want to see if they can find where they left that bone. Or maybe they choose to have a bit of a dig in that lovely dry, dusty soil underneath the big tree. Or…
I’m sure you get the picture. I know dogs that are like yo-yos. They ask to be let out. Thirty seconds later, they’re ready to come back in. Two minutes after that and they want to go out again. They go out, come back in, then after only another minute or two, they’re hassling their owner to let them out also. And this can go on and on.
If you want to be a slave to your dog, then, by all means, pander to it in this way. But trust me when I tell you it doesn’t have to be like this. I’ve kept dogs for donkey’s years, and they’ve always been treated the same when it comes to going out. They always go out a minimum of three times a day, but only when I’m good and ready.
I take them out for a long walk as soon as I get downstairs in the morning. I take them out for another long walk at some point in the late afternoon/early evening. And I let them out into the garden just before I go to bed at night.
Sometimes they get to go out more than that. For instance, at the weekends, I’m often trundling around the village on various little errands, and I’ll sometimes take them with me. And in the summer, the back door is frequently left open during hot weather, meaning the dogs are free to come and go as they please.
But their staple day to day routine that they know they can always depend on come hell or high water is three times a day when they can go to the toilet.
And believe me when I say that all dogs are perfectly capable of lasting that long in normal conditions.
There could be exceptions to the rule, such as if the dog is unwell, but ordinarily, a fit and the healthy adult dog will manage perfectly well on that sort of routine.
I might add that if I had more time, I would probably choose to give them another walk sometime around the middle of the day, but work commitments have made it challenging to be able to do that regularly.
I’m also opposed to the ‘garden-on-demand’ system because I think that far from helping to avoid accidents, it might inadvertently cause them.
Imagine you’ve taught your dog that you’ll always let it out when it wants to go. If that happens to be reasonably frequently, it will not have developed a great deal of control over its bladder – there will have been no need.
What happens if the dog wants to go out when you’re in the middle of a meaningful telephone conversation?
Or what if you’ve just had an accident and are on crutches and you must try and rest your leg?
Or your young child has just fallen and cut it’s head open. You’re already trying to console its screaming at the same time as the call for an ambulance.
Or how about when you’re cooking for a necessary dinner party, and you’ve just got to a crucial moment when you have to keep continually stirring the roux for another two minutes, or the sauce will go all lumpy?
Perhaps none of these things ever happen to you, but I can envisage something similar happening in my household. And presumably, if you can’t get to the door when the dog tells you it needs to go out, then it’s only a matter of time before that weaker than average bladder gives out.
Or at the very least, I suspect that the barking/whining/bell ringing will get louder and more frantic, which in itself would drive me to distraction.
Maybe I’m grossly exaggerating. I don’t know as I’ve never allowed any of my dogs to be brought up that way.
Remember what I’m always saying in my book – it’s your dog, and you’re the one who has to live with it. So you make the rules. If you’re happy letting your dog out whenever it wants to go, then fine. That’s none of my business, and I’m certainly not about to say that you shouldn’t do it.
But what I _am_ saying is that I would never even contemplate letting my dogs dictate my day in that way, and there’s no need for you to either if you don’t want to.
The initial housetraining is different. You can’t possibly expect young puppies to have the necessary bladder control to be able to go long periods without a toilet trip. If you’ve read my book, you’ll know I go into the whole subject of toilet training in detail.
But once you’ve got to the stage that the pup is thoroughly toilet trained, there’s no reason at all why you can’t implement the sort of system that I use with my dogs. It’s all down to how you treat the dog from the start.
Introduce it to the sort of routine you want to follow early on in life. Be consistent about always taking the dog out a set number of times each day as a minimum. That way, the dog will quickly come to realize that it merely has to wait until the walk time before it can go to the toilet.
You don’t need to sacrifice your door! There’s no need to have to listen to the barking or whining entreaties of your dog! And there’s no need to waste your money on a ‘doggy bell,’ heaven forbid!!
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