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How to Teach Your Dog to Speak

Behavior and Training  •   Jasey Day  •   Sep 21, 2016

Having a dog that barks on command is a crowd-pleaser. The “speak” command is also a fun way to have your dog say hello (to a human) or to “answer” you in conversation!

To teach your dog to speak, you need to find a stimulus that makes your dog bark. This could be (1) holding a toy above your head so your dog barks in frustration, (2) ringing the doorbell or finding a doorbell sound on your smart phone or (3) knocking on a wood surface or having a friend knock on the front door on cue. After you’ve discovered something that makes your dog bark, grab some dog treats and you’re ready to start!

  1. Say the command word (“speak,” “sing” or “inside voice”). Only say the command word once.
  2. Offer the stimulus (e.g. play a doorbell sound) that makes your dog bark.
  3. Say “yes” the moment your dog barks and quickly give your dog a treat.
  4. Repeat steps 1-3 several times.
  5. Fade the stimulus in step 2. To do this, just say the command word and wait to see if your dog will offer a bark without the stimulus (e.g. the doorbell sound). Thus, you say “speak,” your dog barks, you say “yes” when your dog barks, and you deliver a treat to your pup.

Troubleshooting: If your dog will not bark without the stimulus (e.g. doorbell sound), then it means you moved on too quickly and you need to do more of steps 1-3 above. After a few more training sessions, try to remove the stimulus again.

Extra tips: You may want to treat your dog for barking once (by rewarding the dog with the treat after the first bark) instead of having your dog bark several times. Some dogs that offer multiple barks get over-excited and have a hard time returning to a calm behavior.

Make sure you do not treat your dog for barking when you have not given the command word – otherwise your dog may begin to offer woofing as an effort to get treats from you!

Practice this command in multiple locations, both in and outside of your home.

Over time, add a body language cue when you say the verbal cue (“speak”). For example, you could show your dog the thumbs up sign as you say “speak.” Eventually your dog will learn to “speak” with just the thumbs up sign and no verbal statement. After all, dogs communicate mostly with body language.

Extra credit: Does your dog offer other vocalizations that you’d like to get on cue? Such as a grumbling groan, very quiet bark, or a sneeze?

To teach these, say “yes” while the dog is offering that vocalization – perhaps your dog offers that behavior when you walk in the front door to greet him or when you’re eating his favorite food in front of him. If my dog Cannon were to offer a groan every time I ate a banana in front of him, I could say “yes” the moment Cannon groans and then treat him! (He would probably like to be treated with a piece of the banana – his favorite snack!) After a few repetitions of your dog offering the vocalization that you desire, add a command word (“grumble”) before your dog offers the sound. Then say “yes,” when the dog offers the sound and follow that with a treat for your dog.

Using “speak” to control barking: Some trainers teach a dog to speak and bark continuously until the dog is released from the barking behavior. Thus, the dog learns to bark and then to stop yapping on cue with a “quiet” command.

Are you looking for more fun tricks? Check out the blogs on (nose) touch, pout, turning left and right, and shake.

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