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Speak, Dog, Speak! How to Teach a Dog to Bark on Command

Training a dog to speak is one of the simplest commands for a dog to learn, and it’s a great way to expose your dog to the learning process, which makes teaching other, more complicated commands a lot easier. This article provides a straightforward 3-step process for teaching your dog how to bark on command, as well as tips for teaching the opposite command: how to be quiet.

A Brief Introduction to Dog Training

a black and white dog petting by man

Dog training is not just about giving your pet a repertoire of tricks that you can use to entertain your family and friends. Dog training creates a powerful bond between you and your pet, and it helps to establish you as the dominant individual in your human/canine relationship dynamic. An untrained dog is often a stressed dog because he has no way to know what behaviors you want him to exhibit.

Training activates a dog’s natural desire to learn. Learning new commands is stimulating to a dog’s canine mind, and this is especially important for breeds that are inherently active. Untrained, inactive dogs are more prone to behavioral issues and destructive habits. By giving your pet a safe and structured avenue to learn, you’ll eliminate issues like digging, excessive barking, aggression, and willful disobedience.

The easiest way to train a dog is to teach him to associate natural behaviors with clear commands. Natural dog behaviors are things your dog does without you having to show her how. Sitting, lying down, barking, spinning in a circle, bowing, and rolling over are all-natural dog behaviors. The trick is getting your dog to recognize that a verbal or physical cue correlates with specific behavior. Once your dog recognizes this, through repetition and positive reinforcement, the training is halfway done.

Why Teach My Dog to Bark?

Many dog owners question the usefulness of teaching a dog to speak. After all, barking dogs can be an annoyance, and it’s natural to assume that teaching this command is simply teaching an undesirable behavior. However, it’s important to remember that teaching the speak command is teaching a dog when it is appropriate to bark. Your dog will learn that barking is not forbidden: it is simply an action that must be commanded by you, the owner.

Barking can be a useful behavior. You can train your dog to bark when someone approaches the door if you want advanced notice of arrival. You can also train your dog to speak when he wants to be let outside, which can make housebreaking easier. Some dog owners even train their dogs to bark when their water bowl is empty. Imagine your dog being able to ask for a drink when he is thirsty!

The Flip Side: Be Quiet

Additionally, teaching the speak command makes it easier for your dog to learn the quiet command, and this is a command that you will use frequently. Dogs often feel that they need to bark to alert their human companion to the presence of a potential threat. By teaching the quiet command, you can quickly and effectively tell your dog that the warning is no longer needed, and stop barking behavior before it becomes problematic.

The Speak Command: Getting Started

So, you’ve decided to begin training your dog to learn the speak command. Before you jump right into training, there are a few things you need to prepare. First, remember that training a dog requires consistency and persistence. Dogs are like children in that they need the training process to be repeated continually to fully learn a command. Try to block out a specific time each day to practice the speak command, and keep the training sessions brief, but frequent.

15 minutes is a good amount of time to practice learning a new command. Any less than that and the behavior may not receive enough reinforcement for the training to be effective. Training sessions that last longer than 15 minutes may become boring for your dog, and this can impede effective learning. Several brief training sessions are the best way for your dog to learn.

You’ll also need something to reinforce your dog positively. As a dog owner, you know what your dog likes best. Some dog owners find that they can effectively train their pets with just verbal praise and a scratch behind the ears. If your dog thrives on pleasing you, this may work great. If your dog has a stubborn streak, however, you may need to rely on its baser instincts.

A Trick for Positive Reinforcement

Husky around snow

Treats are obviously one surefire way to get your dog to pay attention and continually seek a reward, but overfeeding your dog treats can lead to additional problems like weight issues or “spoiled” behavior. One trick to avoid this is to use a training clicker as a positive reinforcement tool. Training clickers are small devices with a button that, when pressed, emit a loud, crisp clicking sound. You can find them at most pet stores.

When your dog exhibits a behavior that you want to reward, click the training clicker and give your dog a treat. Over time, the dog will associate the clicking sound along with the reward, and treats will not have to be given as frequently. You will still need to reward the dog with treats occasionally, but you won’t have to provide a physical treat each time your dog performs as requested.

Step 1: Get Excited

The first step in teaching the speak command is, naturally, to get your dog to bark. Dogs bark when they are excited or agitated, and you will likely have discovered already what stimuli will lead to your dog barking. You may need to engage in play to get your dog enthusiastic enough to bark, or you might be able to rely on stimuli like a front door opening or a doorbell ringing.

It doesn’t matter what you do to get your dog to bark, the outcome is what’s important. If you’re unsure of what makes your dog bark, start with the basics. Clap your hands and call your dog’s name to get their attention, then bounce excitedly on the balls of your feet. Use an excited tone of voice and expressive body language while continuing to call your dog’s name. Eventually, this behavior will likely lead to a barking response.

Step 2: Positive Reinforcement

As soon as your dog barks, praise him and positively reinforce the behavior by either petting, scratching, giving treats, or using your training clicker. You want your dog to associate the reward with the barking, so it’s important to engage in positive reinforcement as soon as she barks. Reinforce the behavior for approximately five seconds, then begin again with Step 1.

Step 3: Verbal Command and Hand Signal

A dog howling around drops

After your dog begins barking quickly each time you engage in the exciting behavior, it’s time to introduce the command. Dogs are incredibly intelligent, and many breeds can learn to recognize over 150 different verbal commands. The most common command for barking is the word “speak.” It’s easy for dogs to recognize as it starts with a hissing “S” sound and ends with a sharp “K.”

If your dog is having trouble associating the word “speak” with the cue to begin barking, you may wish to supplement the command with a hand signal. Hand signaling can also be useful to give your dog commands on the sly, and it will impress your friends when they discover your dog understands sign language. This hand signal can be whatever you desire, but make it something simple and easy to remember. Opening and closing your hand as if you have a puppet on your arm is a great place to start.

Perform the verbal command and the hand cue along with your excited bouncing until your dog begins to recognize that the verbal command is a request for the barking behavior. Gradually (throughout several training sessions), you can begin to eliminate the excited behavior and rely solely on the verbal cue or hand signal. It is important to slowly transition to just the command, as shifting to cues too quickly can confuse your dog.

Each time your dog responds to the verbal cue or hand signal, reward them with positive reinforcement. To really lock the behavior and the cue together, make sure to vary the location of your training sessions. Try practicing the speak command outside in your back yard, in the park, and in places where other stimuli are vying for your dog’s attention. Remember to reinforce the behavior each time your dog barks positively, and if your dog gets distracted or fails to perform, do not scold him, as he may begin to fear training and get discouraged.

Teaching the Quiet Command

Once your dog has mastered the speak command, you can transition to teaching the quiet command. Some dog owners choose to teach the quiet command first, but it’s often easier to teach a dog an active command before teaching the passive command. Begin by giving your dog the command for speak, and while your dog is barking, say “Quiet” and hold up a closed fist. As soon as your dog stops barking, reward her with positive reinforcement.

Speak and quiet commands taught hand in hand in this way represent the most natural way for dogs to learn these behaviors. Consistency and repetition are key, and with a little effort and a lot of practice, you will have a well-behaved dog with two tricks in his repertoire. Once your dog learns these two basic commands, an exciting world of training possibilities opens up to you both, and your dog will actively look forward to training sessions where you and she learn new commands and behaviors together.

"If you think dogs can’t count, try putting three dog biscuits in your pocket and then give him only two of them."
--Phil Pastoret

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