Dear AKC: We have a 14-month-old German Shepherd. She refuses to bark to be let out or let back in. Instead, she scratches at the door. We've been unable to teach her to "speak". Do you have any suggestions? -- Knock Knock
Dear Knock: Since your dog is smart enough to go to the same place and repeat a behavior that gets her the same desired response she needs -- open the door to go potty -- your training is already half done. With a little extra attention on your part making the transition to another alternative should be simple.
Many owners have reported success with hanging a little wind chime or set of jingle bells from the door handle or on the doorframe at the dog's level. They have trained their dogs to ring the bells when they want to go out rather than bark.
I suggest you get a set of three jingle bells on a long string and hang them over where she currently scratches at the door. When she goes to scratch the first time she will ring the bells too. Then I would put a leash on her and go through the new behavior you want helping her hit the bells with her paw (or nose) rather than scratching the door. Each time you have her paw at the bell just before you take her out praise her and say "Good Bell" or some new word to identify the new behavior and give her a treat. I would do this for several days on leash each time she goes out to potty.
Next, take her off the leash and see if she repeats the behavior to go out on her own. If so, reward big time. Each time she goes to scratch she will inadvertently ring the bells. Make a big deal out of this new behavior, tell her "good bell, give her a treat and open the door to take her outside. Eventually, you can move the bells next to the door so she will no longer scratch or damage it. As for outside you can try the same process with more bells so you can hear them from inside the house.