I taught my now 3.5 year old puppies basic obedience skills as well as several tricks ever since they entered my life at 8 weeks of age. The “speak” command has been one of the easier skills to teach because barking…well… comes naturally to dogs, and is not an “unnatural” behavior that has 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. I 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!
My 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”?
I didn’t want to accidentally teach the pups to demand-bark for treats or attention, so I 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!), I added the “quiet, sssh” command right then & there while putting my right pointer finger to my lips…killing two birds with one stone!
After I gave both commands (“speak”, then “quiet”), I’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!
I learned one extremely important lesson from my basic obedience instructor Rhonda. She taught me to NEVER give a command unless I’m 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. I have found myself giving a command like a “down/sit/come” while comfortably lounging on the couch and not getting an immediate response from the pups.
I’d remember with a deep SIGH that “oh yeah, I HAVE to follow through now” and ended up having to get up to make sure the pups followed my command. Although I really didn’t want to give up my warm spot on the couch..
I quickly learned that if I didn’t want to move from my comfy couch, I shouldn’t give commands. That simple.
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…
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!