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!
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I don’t think mom wants me to learn how to “speak” even though it took me almost a year to start barking. I haven’t stopped since. Love Dolly
BOL, Dolly! You just have to incorporate the “quiet” command as well ~ I’m sure your bark has great burglar deterrent potential 😉
That quiet command is more important than the speak command 🙂
Hehe, slimdoggy, you speak wise words!! 😉
Great post!! Both of my girls know speak! 😀 Zoe is actually a huge talker and she makes all sorts of funny noises. It’s hilarious.
Thank you, Lauren! Great to hear that there are K9s out there who know the “speak” command 🙂
Great tips!! Harley knows how to speak, but needs to be revved up a little. We say speak and its a whisper, say it again and a little bit louder… haha
Thank you:-) Go, Harley!! Sometimes our pups make a sound that’s more of a “mumble” than a “speak” ~ been trying to differentiate between the 2 commands, but without much success so far 😉
Great advice. But I still think teaching “speak” is a lot easier than teaching “quiet.”
–Wags (and purrs) from Life with Dogs and Cats.
Thanks ~ Yes, I agree with you on that one!!!
This sure beats barking at your dog to teach him to speak, lol!
I taught Haley to speak and she’ll speak loud at home, but she isn’t a fan of public speaking. Let me explain, haha…It’s really hard to get her to obey the command when we’re outside away from home. I think it has something to do with not wanting to alert other dogs or animals to her presence.
Nice job! There are so many distractions when out in public, so obeying a command becomes more challenging as opposed to being in the comfort of your home. We’ve been practicing the command on walks, too, but have noticed that our barking pups have started barking concerts in the neighborhood…sooooooo, we’re trying to be more conscious of our surroundings before giving that command 😉
I’d echo what others have said about the Quiet command being probably more important here… certainly it’s the only one my parents are focusing on these days! But I wonder if making “Speak” a routine command might help me find an outlet for my barking that would be pleasing to them, or would make me want to bark more if they treat me for it? I can definitely see myself going the “demand-bark” route.
Well, the trick is to not enforce a demand-barking routine, that’s why consistency & discipline are so important during training sessions. We were comfortable teaching our pups the “Speak” command as a fun trick since they aren’t problem barkers ~ if I had a dog with barking issues, I definitely wouldn’t enforce them either!
We always found the “shhhh, quiet” command harder than the “speak” command. Glad to read that they should be taught together as we found out the hard way.
We got that tip from a dog trainer, and it’s worked out great 😉
Great tips! We will have to practice this… Mama wants to teach me to speak , especially after watching all these Youtube videos of doggies barking “I wooove you” to their humans.
Glad you like them ~ have fun with the training! Remember, no demand-barking ;-))
My gang barks to much as it is so they don’t need a command for it, I could teach it to gman thou as he is a quite dog. Great training exercise.
Thanks 🙂 It’s a fun one for sure!