Ask Tom, the Dogcharmer: Bonnie

Saved by the bell.

Janice Merrill

Dear Dogcharmer,

When I am here on the Vineyard, I take my dog, Bonnie, out to take care of business on a pretty consistent schedule, four times a day. She is good about not going in the house. Even though I get her out, our schedule changes when I go back to my townhouse in the winter. How do I know if she has to go out before I actually take her? I know some dogs will go to the door and bark, but she has never done that. I’ve even read that some dogs are trained to ring a bell. My question is, What are the signs I should look for if she needs to go out?


Bonnie’s Mom

Dear Bonnie’s Mom,

A few years back I got a call at 10 o’clock in the evening from a client I hadn’t spoken to in about six months. “Sorry to call so late,” he said, “but I just knew you’d want to hear this, and I’m calling now so I won’t forget.” He was in the den with the family watching TV when they heard the dog bell ring. I had taught Peppy, their 11-month Cairn terrier, to ring the bell to notify all of his desire to go out. The bell was in the kitchen on the sliding glass door leading to the yard to take care of business. “So I come into the kitchen to let Peppy out,” says the owner, “and he’s not in front of the slider like he always is. Then I hear a kind of ‘huff’ noise and turn around, and he’s sitting in front of the treat cabinet! I can’t believe it; that little smart-ass used the bell to lure me into the kitchen for a treat.”

“Did you give him one?” I asked. We all know the answer to that question, don’t we? — at least for about 95 percent of the dog-owning world. And with a little thought, we all know what the long-term results of that will be! Moral of the story — dog’s intelligence is often greater than you realize, and so often, like people, they get away with what they can.

So, signs to look for when Bonnie wishes to do her “toilette”: She starts walking around sniffing a lot. See if she walks toward the exit door and back toward you. Sometimes they just hold your attention with what I call the “urgency stare.” Perhaps she looks a little agitated or uncomfortable. As for the bell, hang a little one on the exit door at the height of her nose, and every time she goes out, give the bell a tiny tingle as you say, “Wanna go out?” and open the door. I’ve sat on the floor and lured quite a few dogs with treats to touch the bell, at which point the door opens as the treat arrives. Bell ringing can come in real handy when Rover has an upset stomach and requests an outing in between his normal times.

Best of luck,

The Dogcharmer

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