Teaching Your Dog to Bark to Go Out
Method #2: Encourage Fido to get excited to hurry the process along
If you aren't the patient type or don't want to use the "umbilical cord housetraining method" for some reason, there is another option to train Fido to bark to go out. You can start with treats, teaching your dog to bark and then make use of this skill in your housetraining. This technique works well with excitable, energetic dogs. For calmer dogs, Method #1 will probably work best.
Week 1-2: The Barking
Start with a hungry dog and some very exciting treats. You're going to do this training around a door, ideally the one he goes through to potty. We want Fido as worked up as possible, so you can tease him with something delicious like steak or cheese, talk to him as you are cutting the treats up, let him sniff and lick the treats, but don't give him any so that he gets worked up.
Then, take your handful of treats, go to the door and step through, leaving Fido on the inside. Look at him through a small crack in the door, show him your treats, move them in front of his face (but out of his reach due to the mostly closed door), call his name and keep it up- try to get Fido totally excited and frustrated. He will probably try to push through the door- don't let him. He'll try to scratch, maybe even bite the door- keep calling. At some point he may back off and sit- try to get those treats right under his nose then snatch them back through the door again. He should eventually get so frustrated that he whines, whimpers or barks. BINGO! Open the door wide and feed that boy some treats. Throw him a party- tell him how smart he is, pet him and keep him excited.
While Fido is still very excited, toss a treat back inside the house to get him in, shut the door while he's eating it and start over. This time he should vocalize more quickly than the last time. Be quick to reward any noise he makes and be sure the reward is very impressive. Your session should last 3-5 repetitions- make sure you stop before Fido gets tired out from all the excitement. You can repeat this a few times a day with most dogs, as long as you keep the excitement up- the training will not go well if Fido is tired or full.
After a few days, increase your expectations- if Fido whines, keep calling him to get him to whine again. Your dog should then whine a second time, often louder than the first. Immediately respond to this second whine, showing him that his persistence pays off. The next few repetitions, respond immediately so that the training doesn't discourage Fido. Ideally, Fido won't know if he has to whine once or six times, so he should start making plenty of noise when you are slow to get that door. Later on, this will make him confident on those occasions when you truly don't hear him and he has to make more noise to get your attention.
Over the next week, gradually increase the amount of noise you expect from Fido, moving from 2 whines up to four or five some of the time. When he barks instead of just whining, reward immediately so that your dog learns his barking is a very powerful attention getter. You can eventually try to get more than one bark out of him, but for now one is great!
Week 3-4: Making it Real
After a week or two of barking training, you need to get rid of the treats and move on to the real training. Your dog needs to learn that the barking opens the door so that he can go outside- not to get treats, but to go potty. Now you need to practice the training first thing in the morning, when your dog needs to go potty. Get him out of his crate like you normally would, take him to the door, but instead of taking him out right away, step through the door and leave Fido inside. Talk to him as you have in the barking training, calling him to you and asking him, "Do you want to go outside?" As soon as Fido lets out the slightest whimper, open the door, praise him like crazy and take him out to his designated potty area. (If he doesn't whimper within a minute this first time, you may have jumped ahead too fast. Practice treat-based barking training a while longer.)
For the first week or so, practice this every time you would normally take Fido out to potty. He should be whining or barking within 30 seconds most of the time. If he does not seem eager to vocalize, don't be afraid to come back in the house with him and not take the potty break. Show him that his noise makes this happen; if he doesn't feel like making noise, you'll assume he does not need to go. Wait a little while before trying again. Of course, you will need to supervise him closely to ensure that he doesn't end up making a mistake in the house. Should he begin to make a mistake, interrupt him and take him straight outside as you have been doing without insisting that he vocalizes. If he has to go that badly, it probably isn't the right time to try to work on the whining. Let him finish up outside and work on the whining the next time.
Within a week or two, your dog should be whining very well when you step through that door and ask him, "Do you want to go outside?" You should be able to gradually ask for more whines, remembering to reward any strong barks immediately. You should also begin to reduce the amount of calling you do, letting Fido decide on his own to produce that noise. Continue to praise strongly when you open that door so that Fido knows how pleased you are with him.
Week 4-5: Increasing Responsibility
When Fido is doing really well with you outside the door, move yourself into the house with Fido for practice. You'll probably need to go back to offering more verbal encouragement for a little while, as Fido may be unsure what to do. It should help if you keep your hand on the door with the door open a crack, as you did previously and once again reduce your expectations for a few days, going back to accepting a single whine if you need to. You should be able to quickly get back up to the level of barking or whining he was offering in the previous step. When you are at this point, you need to start challenging Fido take responsibility for getting out.
Begin challenging Fido first thing in the morning by shutting him into the room with the door where he normally barks. Watch him closely in case he gets unsure and tries to make a mistake in the house. Don't help him by standing next to the door or asking him, "Do you want to go out?", rather, sit down and act like you forgot why you come into this room every morning. You need to let Fido make the decision to tell you he needs to potty. Be ready for the slightest whimper or unsure bark and when he gives it, leap up, ask him "Do you want to go out?", and encourage him to get excited and bark even more. Take him out and praise him. For the remainder of the day practice easy repetitions with you by the door, to build Fido's confidence and get plenty of quick repetitions in throughout the day.
When you are practicing this step, Fido may have a tendency to bark at the doors or at you. We prefer a dog who barks at his owner, since he'll be more likely to go find somebody if he needs to go potty instead of just waiting by the door. So, if Fido is doing both, try to reward him mostly when he is close to you or looking at you and vocalizing, so that you become his focus, not the door. If your dog really wants to bark at that door, decide if it really matters. In a small house, with people who hear well, it probably will be fine. If you are hard of hearing or live in a huge house, you may want to work harder and longer to get Fido barking at you, not the door.
It should take a week or two to get good strong barking and whining without help. As he improves, begin acting like you don't hear the slight whines and wait to "notice" Fido until he gets a little louder. If you think you need a really loud dog, take a couple of extra weeks at this stage and insist on a little more noise each day. When you are happy with Fido's barking, move on.
Week 6-8: Moving it around
Part of the reason you've been working so hard to teach your dog barking is so Fido has a way to tell you when he needs to go out. He's getting close to being finished now, but what happens if you shut him into a different room in the house? Will he know how to bark there, too? Or at your friends' house? Before this training is complete, we need to present Fido with a series of challenges to make sure that he not only barks at the door when you are standing there, but also when you are gone or when he is locked into other rooms or in other houses.
Begin challenging Fido first thing in the morning by shutting him into a room with you and sitting down like you forgot that you are supposed to take the dog out first thing each morning. He may begin barking immediately, recognizing the set-up. He may be unsure and decide to wait it out. If he decides to wait it out, you'll need to, too, so make sure you start this on a day when you have lots of time to wait. Keep your eyes on him in case he decides your forgetfulness gives him license to potty inside. At some point he will remember his earlier training and whine or bark. When he does, leap up, ask him "Do you want to go out?", and encourage him to get excited and bark even more. Take him out and praise him. Try to practice this challenging step every morning for a couple of weeks. When he gets good in one area, let him have a few great days and then move on to another room.
The final test is a different house. When Fido is perfect at home in all of the rooms and all of the time, plan a sleepover at a friend's house. Keep your eyes on Fido the entire time he is in the new house, as many dogs do not think they need to keep any house clean other than their own. Be ready to catch any mistakes so that Fido learns you disapprove of all pottying indoors, not just in your house! In the morning, get up and station yourself close to the door that leads outside, waiting for Fido's bark before you take him out. If Fido passes this test with flying colors, pat yourself on the back. Your training is complete. If not, try to practice in some new houses whenever you have the opportunity until this part of the training is clear.
Week 8-800: Maintaining the Training
Once Fido is barking well to tell you he needs to go out and is consistent about doing it all over the house, you should need to practice very little to maintain his training. You can go back to a more normal schedule of taking Fido out several times a day, which may mean that he doesn't bother to bark to go out, knowing that you will be taking him out at particular times. But, be aware that he does need to be ignored occassionally to make sure that he will alert you if he has too. If you go too long without him barking, it is possible that he will forget his training or get lazy and have accidents again. Make sure that you occassionally "forget" to take him out and let him practice his barking so that it will a skill he uses on a regular basis.
Also make sure that you think about Fido's housetraining anytime you visit a new friend's house, go on vacation or move to a new house. Changes in routine often prompt housetraining setbacks, so don't get caught sleeping- practice your housetraining when Fido has changes of routine and ensure an accident-free lifestyle.