How to Teach a Dog to Speak – A Step by Step Guide

Why teach your dog to “speak?”

Teaching your dog to bark on command can be both fun and useful. It’s a cool trick to show your friends and family and it can also be useful to ward off intruders. Excessive barking can be a problem and teaching your dog to speak on command can be helpful to teaching him not to bark.

How Long Will It Take to Teach a Dog How to Speak?

A few dogs may take time to learn to bark on command, and a few may grasp this very quickly (in a couple of training sessions). You need to be patient and consistent with your training to get the best results. Please note that cramming an hour of training into one day of the week is less effective than 5-10 minutes of daily training.

Preparing for the Training Session

Pick a Cue: Choose  a word to be your dog’s command to bark –  “Speak,” “bark,” or “talk” are commonly used. As always, best practice is to make sure it doesn’t sound too similar to another command you use with your dog or your dog’s name.

Choose Reward: Choose something that your dog enjoys; the more appealing the treat, the easier it will be to train your dog. If your dog enjoys playing, you can use their favorite toy and engage in some playtime while they bark. On the other hand, treats are the most successful way to train a dog for most people. The best treats are those that your dog enjoys, which are also easy to carry, split into bits, and nutritious. 
Marker Training: You should use a “marker” to tell your dog that he has done something correctly. Since the clicker produces a clear, distinct sound that is consistent, it is very effective. If you don’t have a clicker, you can also use a verbal marker such as “yes” or “good.”

How to Teach a Dog to Speak? 

Step 1: Encourage your dog to bark

This step will be easier for some dogs. A vocal dog will be more likely to bark. If you know that something always makes your dog bark (when you grab the leash, the doorbell rings etc.), you can do that. Alternatively, you can try to excite them by offering to play a game or running / jumping around excitedly.  Another method is to show your dog that you have a treat and then hold it in a closed fist. Do nothing and at some point while your dog tries to figure out how to access the treat, he is likely to bark.

Step 2: Mark and reward the behavior

As soon as your dog barks, mark the behavior – with a clicker or your verbal marker – and offer a reward. 

Repeat Step 1 and 2 a few times.

Step 3: Introduce the cue to name the behavior

Now when your dog clearly understands that barking leads to a reward, introduce the cue you picked in step 1 so that your dog can bark on command. Just before you get your dog to bark, say the cue, “Speak” (or the cue you picked). Then get your dog to bark, mark and reward. 

This should generally look like:

  1. Say the cue
  2. Get your dog to bark (whatever you did in Step 1) – either ringing the doorbell, showing your dog a treat and then withholding it, grabbing your leash etc. 
  3. Your dog barks
  4. Mark(clicker or verbal) and reward

After doing this a few times, your dog will understand that the cue will lead to you getting him to bark and then he will get rewarded. Eventually your dog will bark as soon as you say the cue, because he knows what is coming next. When he does this, mark and reward a LOT! Repeat this a few times.

Step 4 (OPTIONAL): Add a Hand Signal

As you say the cue, add a hand signal (such as opening and closing your fist). Continue doing both together and after a while, your dog will eventually learn that the hand signal and the verbal cue represent the same command. Test this out by using just the hand signal or the verbal cue.

Step 5: Proof and Generalize the Behavior

As with any behavior we teach our dogs, it’s important to proof and generalize it by trying it out at different locations.

Related Training 

  • Teach “Quiet” after you teach your dog “Speak”:  Teaching your dog ‘quiet’ will be much easier once you teach them to bark on command. After you tell your dog to bark, let him bark a few times. Then interrupt him by calmly but loudly saying “Quiet.” Your dog should stop barking to look at you. Then stick a reward out for your dog to investigate with his nose. Mark the behavior with a clicker or your verbal marker and reward. Some dogs may not respond to you saying quiet – alternate methods include using words like hush or shaking a plastic bottle full of coins to get your dog’s attention while they are barking.
  • Teach your dog to ask to be let out: Your dog can learn to bark when he needs to go out. One thing to be aware of is that some smart dogs will learn to bark at the door to be let out to play or go for a walk even if they don’t need to go to the bathroom. 
    • Ensure your dog is housetrained: Before you teach your dog to ask to go outside, they must understand to pee and poop outdoors.
    • Stand outside the door with a treat: Command your dog to “speak.” Give him the treat after he obeys the command. Drop the “speak” command after a few times. To come out, your dog needs to bark. Open the door and offer the treat.
    • Eliminate the treat: You have to teach your dog to go outside to potty, not for treats, so that he realizes barking will unlock the door. Do this training first thing in the morning. Ask him if he needs to come out while standing outside. When he barks, open the door, encourage him, and let him out to relieve himself. After he pees or poops, praise him again. For two weeks, do this every morning.
    • Get inside: Ask your dog whether he needs to go outside while keeping your hand on the door and waiting for a bark. Just as earlier, reward with appreciation. 
    • Move away from the door: Act as if you had forgotten to let your dog out by sitting away with the door closed. Wait for them to bark and then open the door for your dog to come out and compliment.
  • Teach your dog to bark when there is a visitor to your house: This is not something that everyone will want to do. Most people prefer not to have their dogs barking at the mailman or house guests. But some people who live in rural areas or who cannot hear their doorbell might want to teach their dog to speak when there is someone at the door. 
    • Stand by the door and knock: Knock the door, and alongside, give the Speak command. Reward him if he barks; if not, repeat the technique several times and praise him for his behavior.
    • Knock on the door without the command: You need your dog to start barking at the knock alone after several rounds of knocking and asking to “speak.” When your dog barks, reward him and shower affection on him. Over many days, do this with your dog and ensure that he understands it. You will use the doorbell to practice the same skills. Allow a friend or family member to ring the doorbell for you.
    • Have a friend to practice the session: The command “speak” may be required the first couple of times. Drop the cue after that and let the dog respond to the knocking. The same practice can be done with a doorbell.

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