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Teaching your dog to speak on command can be a fun trick as well as a useful behavior. It’s easier to teach your dog to “quiet” once you’ve put barking on a cue. You also can reward your dog for just one bark, as opposed to barking non-stop for several minutes. Plus, it’s an entertaining trick that tends to be a hit with friends and family!

Have Your Reward Ready

The first part of training your dog to “speak” is to be ready with a reward, such as a treat or a toy. The idea is that once your dog barks, you’re immediately prepared to mark the behavior with a command and a reward.

Get Your Dog To Speak

This step will be easier for some dog owners than others. If you’ve got a vocal dog, there might be many occasions when they bark, like when you grab their leash or a favorite toy. The key is to get your dog excited enough to bark. If nothing else works, try running or jumping around with your dog to excite them enough to start barking.

Mark The Bark

As soon as your dog barks, immediately mark the behavior with a command like “speak!”, and reward them with a treat, toy, or praise. If you’re using clicker training, make sure to click as soon as your dog barks. Continue marking & rewarding the behavior until your dog understands how to “speak” on command.

Yellow Labrador Retriever Puppy Barking
© Christine Glade via Getty Images

Add A Hand Signal

Once your dog understands your verbal command for “speak,” you can add in a hand signal too. A commonly used hand signal for “speak” starts with an open hand, palm facing the dog, then repeatedly closing your 4 fingers against your thumb. When your dog has grasped that, continue to use your verbal command, hand signal, or a combination of both to reinforce the behavior and get your dog to consistently speak on command.

Tips For Training “Speak”

Unlike, say, shaking hands, barking is an instinctive behavior for dogs, so it can be a bit trickier to teach. The last thing you want is to encourage nuisance barking all the time. The key for owners is consistency. When training, you should only reward barking when you’re asking your dog to bark.

Additionally, try to capture and mark only a single bark. You don’t want your dog to think “speak” means “start a barking frenzy.”

Lastly, be mindful of your neighbors when teaching this trick. If you live in an apartment or in close proximity to neighbors, know that others might not find your dog’s barking as cute as you do, so practice in short sessions.

Utilizing  The “Speak” Command

“Speak” is often used as a simple, fun, trick to show off to friends and family, but it can have more purposeful uses, as well. For instance, you can train your dog to speak to let you know they need to go outside to do their business. Furthermore, by teaching “speak” and rewarding with a command, you can modify the technique to teach your dog to “whisper” (i.e. bark at a lower volume).

Perhaps most useful when teaching “speak,” you can also train your dog to be quiet on command using the same system of marking and rewarding once your dog ceases barking.

AKC Trick Dog

“Speak” is among the over 20 commands listed on the AKC Trick Dog Novice checklist. Your dog can earn their Trick Dog title by completing ten of the tricks on the list, or five tricks if they’ve already earned their Canine Good Citizen title. As you and your dog get more advanced and learn more tricks, you can work your way up to Trick Dog Intermediate, Advanced, and all the way up to Elite Performer, where dogs and owners perform scripted routines using props.

Currently, AKC Trick Dog titles may be earned via video submission, so there’s no excuse for not getting started straight away!
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5 Tricks You’ll Want to Show Off

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