By Langley Cornwell
Call me a sucker, but I love cheesy dog tricks. When someone teaches their dog to drop and roll over when they point a finger at him, I’m hooked. Or when someone says “hello, Spot,” and their dog gives a quick bark in response. Come on, that’s gold. It makes me think of all the time the dog and human spent together teaching and learning these silly games. I also think about all the bonding and love they shared during that time. In fact, when I see other people’s cute dog tricks, it makes me want to teach my dogs some cool new things. With that in mind, I recently learned how to teach my dogs to speak. Turns out, teaching your dog to bark on command (or “speak”) is one of the easiest tricks you can teach him. It keeps your dog mentally sharp, it’s a great opportunity to bond, and it’s a fun party trick. Here’s how to do it.
Get Your Dog Jacked Up
Granted, this is not advice I would usually give. Those of you with dogs that are already overly-enthusiastic are probably giving me the stink eye right now, but just stay with me here. You probably already know that when you get happy and excited, your dog does too. So lay on the hijinks. If your dog likes to wrestle around, do that. If he prefers to play tug or fetch, do that. The idea here is to get your dog’s undivided attention, make him happy and raise his energy level.
Reveal the Goods
Once your dog is excited, show him the reward he will be playing for. Pick a high-value dog treat; something that is delicious, nutritious and easy to tote. CANIDAE PURE Chewy training treats are the perfect size for this. Once he sees the treat, good-humoredly close your hand to hide it. Keep your dog’s energy-level elevated and maintain a loving, playful attitude. Most dogs will eventually catch on to the game you’re playing, and your teasing will prompt a yip or bark.
Reinforce the Behavior
If it takes a while for your dog to vocalize, don’t fret. Just keep playing the game. Try waving the treat a little closer to his face. Dance around. (Okay, you don’t HAVE to dance but if you do, send videos.) If waving and dancing doesn’t stimulate a bark, you bark. No kidding. Bark at your dog. Oftentimes, when your dog hears you bark, he will imitate you. The goal here is to get your dog to bark and then immediately reward the bark with the treat and a reinforcing word or sound (“yes,” “good,” a click, etc.). Do this many times, until your dog absolutely understands that the bark equals a tasty treat.
Give it a Name
Once your confident that your pooch has the behavior = reward part nailed, name the behavior. If you choose the word “speak,” then start saying the word right as he barks. Then gradually start saying the word earlier in the process, i.e., show the dog his treat and quickly say “speak” (or “talk,” or whatever word you choose) and then reward the bark. Do not reward him until he does bark, however. Repeat this sequence over and over, in short training sessions throughout the day (or days, as is the case with one of my dogs who happens to be a slow learner).
When you are both solid on the show-the-treat, say-the-word, and reward-the-bark sequence, you are ready to try issuing the “speak” command without treat-prompting. By now, your dog probably understands the association of the word “speak” with the reward of a treat, so all you need to do is continue to practice and then start wowing your friends.
Some dogs do well with hand signals, so you may advance to that level using the same technique, if desired. A friend of mine taught her dog to bark when she gives the “yada, yada, yada” sign. How great is that?
Have fun with this, and be sure to tell us how it’s going in the comment section.
Read more articles by Langley Cornwell