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When the Bell Backfires, or Bravery in House Training

rain shower

June rings a bell that hangs from our front door knob when she has to go out.

Our friends gave us the silver jingle bell the day we brought her home from the Delco SPCA, just before Christmas, last year.

They taught their Boston Terrier, Luna, to do the same thing, just by ringing the bell every time anyone walked out the door. I was dubious. June showed no signs of having to go out, not even a pee-pee dance, and was barely tall enough to reach the bell.

She also backed away from most noises.

House Training with a Bell

But we did it. We took her outside every one or two hours and rang that bell each time.

At first June and I stayed in the same patch of grass, just outside the door, where she knew safety was steps away. Any little noise from the 50 acres of hay farm around us could startle her into straining against her leash wildly, pulling for the door.

But I was so hungry for her to have more sensory experiences, to sniff trees, to be a dog… that I started leading her, ever so slowly, into the wider yard.

Her comfort zone grew in concentric circles from the house.

My fiance and I were in the living room, about three weeks later when we watched her wander over to the door and heard this little chime. We looked at each other and broke into a cheer. “She rang the bell!” We probably set her back a week by picking her up to take her picture, text it to our families with the news, raise our fists, and cheer some more before finally taking her outside.

Human Training with a Bell

We were so proud of her smarts. I read later that fearful or anxious dogs are often highly intelligent and emotionally high strung. So even though they may seem behind due to shyness, or disobedient due to anxiety, it’s not because they lack intellect.

That intellect is coming back to haunt us.

June, now nine months old, has reversed the training on us. What started as a way to communicate having to go potty, has become a signal to the humans that she would like one of them to accompany her for a stroll around the estate.

Like today, she rang it with increasing intensity during a torrential downpour.

As nervous as she can be, she likes rain.

And as annoyed as I get when I can’t tell if she’s ringing for pee or for pleasure, I’m always secretly happy that she’s developed enough courage to want to be outside.

I put my raincoat on. She wandered. I got cranky. She peed. I praised her and started to lead her back to the house at a run, inhaling the fresh, wet air. I’d almost forgotten; I like rain too.

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