Ring-a-ding! It's potty time

01/27/2009 1:00 AM

01/27/2009 1:04 AM

Tippy goes to the door and "dances" when she needs to be let out.

If Bonnie doesn't see Tippy at the door, however, the Cairn terrier will eliminate on the throw rug in front of the door.

I believe this is less of a house-training issue and more of a cuing problem. Of course, Tippy should recognize that eliminating inside the house is not an option, but at the same time, her signal that indicates a need to go outside is not always effective. My strategy is to teach Tippy how to ask to go out in a different way.

I met Bonnie and Tippy at their home for a consultation. While Tippy's cue to go outside worked well when Bonnie was nearby, her little dance was not at all effective when Bonnie was out of sight, which was often, as the door to the back yard is in the laundry room.

My first thought was to teach Tippy to bark to indicate her need to go out, but Bonnie has worked hard to keep barking at a minimum; no small task when owning a terrier. So we decided on bell ringing as the new cue.

We used a 16-inch strip of fabric with four large jingle bells attached, and hung it from the doorknob. Then we quickly taught Tippy to touch a target (the end of my finger); this was done using a clicker and treats.

Each time Tippy touched the end of my finger, she heard a click and was given a treat. Within about three minutes, Tippy was eagerly stretching and stepping forward to make contact with my finger.

Next, I gradually moved my finger ever closer to the jingle bells. Tippy heard a click, then received a treat each time she touched my finger, which was quickly positioned right next to the jingle bells.

The next step was to place my finger behind the jingle bells so when Tippy touched my finger, she would also strike the bells. She seemed delighted with this new game, and once she was ringing the bells consistently, I took my finger away.

At this point, Tippy was ringing the bells with great enthusiasm, and I continued to click and offer her a treat each time she did so. I also upped the criteria -- lesser nose touching or ringing of the bells was now ignored. I only clicked and treated those stronger touches that resulted in a good loud bell ringing, which Bonnie would be able to hear from any room.

Finally, we helped Tippy understand the true value in making the bells ring. Each time she touched the bell strip with purpose, we opened the door and tossed her treat outside.

Tippy now had her own working doorbell! I left Bonnie with a few additional practice steps and told her I would check back with her.

One week later, Bonnie reported that all accidents in the house had ceased. Bonnie had removed the throw rug from in front of the door as I suggested, but most impressive was Tippy, who was clearly signaling her wish to go outside by ringing her doorbell.

Bonnie could hear the bells from anywhere in the house and would respond by going to the back door, where she would find Tippy, wagging and dancing and ready to go.

Such a fun and effective way to solve this problem; Bonnie was thrilled with the new method Tippy used to get her attention, and I'm sure Tippy was thrilled to be "heard and understood" by her human!

Lisa Moore's pet-behavior column appears once a month on the Weekly Pet Page. Write to her in care of LifeStyles, The Modesto Bee, P.O. Box 5256, Modesto 95352.

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