Guest Contributor: Lindsay Pevny
About 90% of your dog’s communication is nonverbal. Before she’s trained to speak on cue, she may only use her voice during intense play, or to alert you of something outside your window. When you teach “speak,” you open up a new avenue of communication between you and your dog.
After your dog has “speak” down pat, you can extend the cue for many purposes. You can have her speak when she needs to go out, or when there’s someone at your front door. You can also teach her to speak three times to “say” I Love You, or five times to help you sing the hit 2000 single Who Let The Dogs Out. The possibilities are endless!
How To Teach “Speak”
Before you can teach “speak,” you should have already worked on basic cues such as “sit” and “stay.” You might want to clicker-train your dog to make it easier to capture “speak,” but it’s not totally necessary. I don’t use clickers myself, just because I constantly lose things.
- Get your dog to make noise. Grab a high-value treat or toy; something your dog loves. Show it to your dog, and wave it around to make it especially tempting. Don’t say anything – you’ll introduce the cue later.
After a few moments, if your dog really wants that treat, she may start to bark out of frustration. Say, “yes!” or click the moment your dog begins to bark. Give her the treat as soon as she flattens her ears and makes a tiny noise.
- Reward the big barks. Wait for your dog to make a noise (even a teeny one), and reward her when she does. As she starts to get the idea, only reward her when she offers a louder noise. Work your way up to a full bark.
If you’re having trouble getting your dog to bark, try barking at her. While it sounds a bit crazy, it really works. There’s overwhelming evidence that dogs learn through imitation. This is, in fact, how I got Matilda to speak for me for the first time. Don’t overdo the barking. Try just one “arf” followed by a pause to give your dog time to think.
- Add the cue. Once your dog consistently barks for the treat, say, “speak!” the moment she does. Avoid repeating yourself. At this point, you may also want to pair the cue with a hand signal.
At first, your dog might not respond to your cue. Give her about 15 seconds to think. If she still does not bark, try tempting her with the treat again until she barks, then reward her. As you practice, the time it takes her to bark after you give the cue will elapse.
How To Teach “I Love You”
Matilda of LittleDogTips saying her best “I Love You.”
What could be more adorable than your dog telling you she loves you? I can’t promise that she’ll mean it when she says it, but it’s an impressive trick to show your friends and family. As you’d expect, your dog will bark three times in sequence, as though to say, “I love you!”
- Get your dog in a talkative mood. Now that your dog can “speak,” practice the cue a few times to warm her up for learning “I love you.”
- Tell your dog you love her. As mentioned earlier, dogs can learn through imitation. While you can teach “speak” without barking at your dog, you’ll probably need to bark to demonstrate “I love you.” You could just wait until your dog barks three times, but you will find it harder to get a true “I love you.”
You need to visualize how your dog is going to bark a convincing “I love you.” I found it easiest to emphasize the “love” bark. Your “I” should be a soft bark, “love” should be louder, and “you” should be soft again. Bark, “I LOVE you,” to your dog.
- Fine-tune the trick. After you say/bark, “I LOVE you,” reward your dog for any attempt to imitate you, even if it’s with a single bark. Keep practicing, and only reward the best attempts as your dog learns.
Teach Your Dog “Quiet”
Once I taught Matilda to speak, she couldn’t stop. She found a fast way to get my attention, and associated barking with receiving a treat. I had created a monster!
The same thing will, quite possibly, happen to you. You can teach your dog “quiet” to get her to stop barking, whether she’s getting to loud during a training session, or yapping at a squirrel. Fortunately, it’s easier to teach “quiet” when your dog already knows “speak.”
- Have your dog speak. To teach quiet, your dog will need to be barking. Get her revved up by having her “speak” a few times. Alternatively, you can teach “quiet” at a time when your dog is already barking, but it may be harder to get her attention.
- Get the barking to stop. Now that your dog is barking, find a way to make it stop. The easiest way is to dangle a treat in front of her nose as you say “quiet.” As she stops barking to sniff it, say, “Yes!” or click, then give her the treat. Practice until your dog quiets down on her own, without the treat bribe.
- Practice makes perfect. Now that your dog understands the “quiet,” command, apply it to any bad barking habit. If she barks too much when you have a visitor, ask a friend to knock on your door during your training session. You may decide to allow your dog to bark to alert you, but stop once you’ve asked her to “quiet.”
Some dogs are less vocal than others, and may never learn to speak on cue. It’s best to stick to tricks that your dog does naturally. Training should always be fun. Keep your sessions short, and end them on a good note. If your dog shows stress signs like yawning, licking her lips, or looking away, stop the session and lower the difficulty next time.
About The Author:
Lindsay Pevny is a freelance blogger for startups and dog-related businesses, and the writer of LittleDogTips.com – a modern dog training blog that combats the “spoiled little dog” stereotype by teaching chihuahua and small dog owners to raise a happy, healthy pup with good manners.
I wonder if I can get Oscar to say a few words. Hmmmm......