One of the best things about being a dog trainer is showing off all the random skills my dog has been able to learn.
It is best if your dog reliably obeys the common commands “sit,” “stay” and “down” before introducing tricks into the vocabulary. Tricks should be considered extracurricular and taught when your dog is already well behaved.
One of the easiest tricks to teach your dog is “speak.”
Teaching your dog to bark on command allows you to control her vocalizations and begin the process of limiting her barking to only when you ask for it. Here are some tips:
1. Get Super Excited
To train your dog to bark, you need to get her excited. When you act a bit hyper and excited, your dog will match your enthusiasm level. Games that encourage excitement, such as fetch or tug, are good ways of increasing your dog’s energy level.
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2. Show Her You Have the Goods
Once your dog is energized, stop playing and grab an awesome dog treat. Reveal the reward and quickly and playfully hide it behind your back.
If your dog whimpers, show her the treat again, or wave it in front of her face before quickly hiding it again.
3. Reward the Barking
Your dog’s energy level, paired with your playfulness and reluctance to offer a desirable treat, will result in a bark.
Typically a single bark will follow this sequence; as soon as she barks, offer the treat. If you have been using a conditioned reward marker like a click (clicker training is awesome) or a “Yes,” make sure you reward the correct behavior with your marker.
Although it may sound silly, you can try to mimic the sound of your dog’s bark with your own. If your dog hears you “barking,” she may mimic your behavior.
When your dog learns that barking is the desired behavior, you can start naming the behavior by saying, “Speak” right before she barks. Because dogs recognize hand signals better than words, you can add an unfamiliar hand signal to your command.
I typically make my hand look like a mouth and open and close it rapidly while saying the command. If your dog knows that barking is what he should do, only a few associations will be needed before your dog learns the command.
Here is Tigger on his second day of training to speak:
Repeating the above sequence and pairing the command/hand signal with the moment right before your dog barks will help him learn the command. Repeat the sequence a few times before trying the command without the prompting.
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6. Take It to the Streets
Practice the command in a number of situations with a variety of distractions. If your dog is able to speak without the sequence, show your friends! It may even come in handy if you feel threatened and want your dog to bark.
The speak command should consist of only a few short barks. Make sure there is a clear end point to this command; it should not just go on and on!
It may help by adding a phrase, such as “No more,” when you expect your dog to stop barking. If you do not give your dog a clear end to this command, you may find that your dog will feel that barking is what she should do even when she is not commanded.
Even if it appears to be a command you will not use a lot, training your dog new things is a good way to keep her brain sharp. Increasing your dog’s vocabulary assists in strengthening your bond while offering a fun new way to learn.