How to Teach a Dog to Speak

Want to have a conversation with your dog? Teaching your dog to speak is an easy and self-rewarding behavior that most dogs master quickly. You won’t need a lot of supplies or equipment. The only supplies needed are:

  • Lots of small pieces of treats your dog is excited about
  • A clicker or a marker word like “Yes” that your dog knows 

Teaching your dog to speak through capturing

Teaching your dog to speak is easiest when using a methodology called capturing. This means that we are going to be marking and rewarding behaviors that your dog already does naturally, in this case barking. Over several training sessions you’ll move from marking and rewarding each time your dog barks, to putting the speak behavior on a verbal cue. Clicker training or use of a verbal marker word like “Yes” works well for capturing, because it allows you to communicate to your dog the exact behavior she has done successfully and can help your dog learn faster. Here are the six simple steps to teach your dog to speak:

Step 1: When your dog naturally barks, click with a clicker (or use your marker word like Yes), and give your dog a treat. If your dog isn’t especially barky, encourage your dog to bark by ringing a doorbell, making a strange noise or playing a novel sound from the computer. When your dog barks, click with a clicker, treat and then praise (Good dog!). 

Step 2: Have your treats ready in your pocket or carry a treat pouch so you’ll be ready to mark and reward barking when it occurs during the day.

Step 3: The next step is to pick a verbal cue. Most dogs quickly realize that they are getting treated for barking, which is naturally rewarding behavior. Because this is a trick dogs pick up easily, you can introduce a verbal cue of your choice very quickly. Pick any verbal cue you want like “Speak” or “Talk.”  

Step 4: Ring the doorbell or make a noise that will trigger your dog to bark and say your verbal cue, Speak. When your dog starts barking, click, treat and praise. Try to be as quick as possible when clicking and treating your dog. The goal is to reward your dog for a single bark and by giving a treat right away you will prevent your dog from developing a habit of repeated barking whenever she hears the bark cue. 

Step 5: After several repetitions of pairing your verbal cue with the sound that triggers your dog to bark, say your verbal cue immediately before playing the sound that encourages your dog to bark. When your dog barks, click, treat and praise. 

Step 6: After a few training sessions, your dog will have made the connection between the verbal cue and the barking behavior. Now you’re ready to ask your dog to speak just with the verbal cue. When your dog barks in response to your cue give her lots of praise and treats! 

If you say your verbal cue and your dog doesn’t bark, it’s a sign that your dog doesn’t quite yet understand what behavior you are looking for. To help your dog build understanding go back to the last stage where your dog was successful. Continue to practice at that level for a few sessions, and then increase the difficulty again and see if your dog now understands the behavior. 

Once you have taught your dog to speak on cue it can be fun to get creative with your dog’s performance. When your dog understands speak well, get your dog’s attention and then try using the verbal cue in a sentence. In response your dog should bark. Incorporating speak into a sentence can make it appear as though you and your dog are having a conversation. Although speak is a relatively easy trick to teach, it’s one that can really impress your friends and family.

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