Tom Purcell: Puppy’s dad saved by the potty bell

Published 12:00 am Friday, July 7, 2023

Bringing a puppy home for the first time is not for the faint of heart.

I quickly learned I was not even close to being prepared for the massive disruption my life was about to experience — a disruption that was caused by one of the most basic needs that every creature has.

Puppies “Go” All Day Long

Email newsletter signup

When I say puppies “go” all day long, I’m not just referring to their incredible energy and playfulness.

I am referring to my Lab puppy, Thurber’s, never-ending capacity to dampen my rug at any moment without warning, dozens of times that first day.

Thurber and I weren’t back inside our cozy home more than a few minutes before he crouched down and released a stream of #1 that was larger than most of the tributaries that feed Pittsburgh’s mighty Monongahela River.

I didn’t want to shout and scare him. I read that yelling would only startle him, affect his happy and positive spirit and make him mistrust me. It would make him associate the natural need to go #1 with negative emotions.

After doing some research, I followed some tried-and-true potty-training basics.

First, I established a consistent routine for feeding, bathroom breaks and playtime.

Second, I began taking him outside before he had to go. We went out immediately after he’d wake up in the morning or after naps, during and after playing, and after he ate or drank.

At a minimum I took him outside to the area I wanted him to go at least once every hour. I’d give him ample time to do his business and if he didn’t go, I’d bring him inside and, 60 minutes later, rinse and repeat.

Potty Bells to the Rescue

Though these positive techniques helped reduce wet spots on my rug those first few days, they didn’t stop them entirely.

While searching for a better solution, I learned about the “hanging bell approach” at the American Kennel Club.

You simply hang a bell next to the door that leads outside. The bell should hang low enough for your puppy to hit it with his nose or paw.

Every time you take him outside to go #1, you bump his nose or paw on the bell.

And every time you catch him in the act of going #1 on your rug, you pick him up, bump his nose or paw on the bell, then usher him outside to the patch of grass where you want him to go.

Again, when he does go, praise him lavishly, then give him a treat!

The Approach Worked — Sort of!

Much to my shock and amazement, it only took a few days for Thurber to learn to hit the bell with his nose every time he needed to go #1 or #2.

He’d only experience one or two accidents over the next several months.

However, within a few weeks, Thurber was hitting the potty bells 30 to 40 times a day — at the expense of my work, sleep and general wellbeing.

Why did he hit the bells so much?

Because he rightly concluded that every time he hit the bell, I’d open the door and grant him access to his favorite place: the outside world, which he still loves to sniff and explore.

It was then that I learned another important lesson: If you aren’t training your dog, your dog is training you — and I’m not learning as fast as he would like me to!

Tom Purcell is a Pittsburgh Tribune-Review humor columnist and is syndicated by Cagle Cartoons. Email Tom at