We’ve taught our now 3.5 year old puppies basic obedience skills as well as several tricks since they entered our lives at 8 weeks of age. The “speak” command has been one of the easier skills to teach, as barking comes naturally to dogs, and is not an “unnatural” behavior having to be learned.
Using A Natural Behavior In Your Favor
As mentioned above, barking comes naturally to a dog, which works in our favor when teaching the “speak” command. “All” that’s left to do is to teach our pup to associate a cue with the barking when we want to trigger this particular behavior.
In order to do this, wait for your pup to bark and the moment he does, add your command of choice you want to associate with barking on command. We chose “speak”, but any word will work.
The trick to conditioning any dog to a specific cue is to use the cue consistently every single time you want your dog to associate the cue with his behavior. So decide on a particular cue-word, stick with it, and incorporate it into your pup’s daily routine!
Reward & Praise For A Job Well Done!
Rewarding your pup with anything that motivates him for having obeyed your command is important. Food rewards work well for some dogs, while others will prefer some love or a favorite toy in return for a job well done. Also praise him verbally, by saying something like “Yes! Good speak”.
Note: Withhold all treats/toys should your dog start to demand bark for them. Walk away from him and ignore him. He will learn that he’ll only get rewarded for speaking when you ask him to!
Our girl Missy does very well with food rewards, and Buzz will do anything in exchange for a ball. Just don’t forget to slowly wean your pup(s) off the treats & toy rewards ~ after all, you want them obeying your command at all times, to include those when food or toys are not available!
Also remember to adjust your dog(s)’ s food allowance at mealtimes if you’re handing out a lot of treats during daily training sessions, or you’ll experience the negative side effect of weight gain. We want to avoid pet obesity at all cost!
Patience & Consistency
It takes a dog several weeks to learn to reliably obey a new command, so don’t expect wonders overnight. As always, patience & discipline are key.
Dogs will sense an impatient human and not respond well to his negative energy. They will not want to cooperate, thus causing their human to become frustrated. Frustration will likely lead to feelings of anger and ultimately to a lack of motivation.
Don’t enter this vicious cycle! If you’re not in the mood for training, don’t start a training session. Wait for your mood to change from sad, grumpy or preoccupied to happy & upbeat, then focus your entire attention & energy on your pup in training.
How Do I STOP The “SPEAKING”?
Now, it’s great to have your dogs perform the “speak” command whenever you ask them to do so, but how do you get an overly excited dog to STOP “speaking”?
We didn’t want to accidentally teach our dogs to demand-bark for treats or attention, so we incorporated the “quiet” command in their “speak” training.
While the pups were busy chewing their treat for having obeyed the “speak” command and consequently QUIET (minus the munching sounds!), we added the “quiet, sssh” command right then & there, simultaneously putting our right pointer finger to our lips…killing two birds with one stone!
After having given both commands (“speak”, then “quiet”), we’d walk away or distract them by doing something other than training to avoid any potential demand-barking.
Only Give Commands You’re Ready To Follow Through With!
We learned one extremely important lesson from our basic obedience instructor Rhonda. She taught us to NEVER give a command unless we’re prepared & ready to enforce it. So when you’re tired & relaxing on the couch after a long day at work, don’t give your dog a command UNLESS you’re willing to get up from the couch & follow through with it.
If you don’t follow through every single time you give a command, your dog will learn that obedience is optional. My husband Ian & myself have both found ourselves giving a command such as a “down/sit/come” while comfortably lounging on the couch and not getting an immediate response from our pups.
We had each other as a reminding support system of following through, however! So we’d look at one another, SIGH, and get up to follow through with the command we had given. We quickly learned that we didn’t really want to move from our comfy spots, and refrained from giving commands when we weren’t ready to follow through with them.
Note: Make sure that everyone in your dogs’ pack is aware of the training rules and on the same page!
Never Repeat Your Command!
"The Other End Of The Leash", p. 47.
Which brings us to the next, equally important part of the training equation. When giving the “speak” command as well as any type of command, I say it once, and once ONLY. I learned the concept of verbalizing a command only once when reading Patricia McConnell’s The Other End Of The Leash. Our basic obedience instructor Rhonda made the same point!
After all, we want our pups to “speak” the first time we tell them to, and not after a frustrated 10th time…
Our Dog Buzz Speaking By The Patio Door
How did you train the “speak” command? Which motivators work for your pup? As always, we’d love to hear from you in our comment section!