So often in our day-to-day routine, we dog owners prefer our dogs to be seen and not heard. We’re worried about annoying the neighbors or waking the baby, and we frequently scold our dogs for using their voices. When you teach a dog to speak, you flip that script by providing a positive outlet for barking. Plus, it’s awful cute.
Take Piglet. It’s hard to pick out the cutest thing about this senior pup. Piglet’s that rare doggo that never grew out of his puppy phase. He’s still pudgy and soft with huge brown eyes and a nose so big and pink, he may just be part pig.
But my favorite thing about this sweet, floppy yellow Lab isn’t his looks or even his temperament. It’s his ability to speak on cue. Well, actually, it’s how excited he gets after he’s successfully spoken on cue.
When you make a duck face with your hand and “quack” it, Piglet responds in kind, first with a tentative woof, then with a big booming bark. This is followed by wiggles of pride and a tail so waggy it’s been known to swipe glasses off the coffee table.
How to train your dog to speak
A quick overview:
- Get your dog to bark and reward it
- Add a hand signal
- Add a verbal cue
- Use plenty of treats
Now, let’s go into detail so you and your dog can master this skill.
Start with current habits
Begin by having a think about what gets your dog reliably barking.
Do they bark when someone rings the doorbell? How about when you play tug-o-war with a toy? Whatever it is, do it so that your dog barks.
Mark the bark
When you hear the bark, mark it with a clicker or a “Yes!” and reward your dog with a treat or a tug with a toy.
Repeat at least five times.
Trigger a bark and use a hand signal
Make a duck bill with your hand and “quack” it once. Immediately follow that with the trigger that makes your dog bark.
Once you hear the bark, give a click/Yes! and a reward.
Repeat at least ten times.
Remove the trigger
Hopefully, by now, your dog is catching on to the relationship between the duck hand and the barking. Try “quacking” your hand once, then waiting 5-8 seconds for your dog to bark. If they bark, click/Yes! and reward.
If they do not bark, trigger the bark the way you did on Step 1 then click/Yes! and reward.
Repeat until your dog is reliably responding to the hand signal (without using the trigger).
Add the verbal cue
The last step in how to teach a dog to speak is to add a verbal cue.
Say the word “Speak!” and then follow it with your duck-face hand signal. When your dog barks, click/Yes! and reward.
Repeat at least five times.
Bring it home with your voice alone
Finally, fade out your hand signal if you want to. Say the word “Speak!” then wait 5-8 seconds for your dog to bark. If they do, click/Yes! and reward.
If they stay quiet, show them your duck-bill hand signal then click/Yes! and reward.
Repeat until your dog can consistently respond to just the verbal cue.
And don’t worry, once they’ve learned it, you can also use the duck “quack” to cue your dog to speak whenever you wish.
Tips for success
Never reward your dog for barking unless you are working on teaching them how to speak using the steps above. If you reward your dog for barking when they haven’t been asked to speak (except in Step 2), you are likely to increase the kind of attention-seeking, excessive barking you don’t want.
Click or “Yes!” your dog after the first woof instead of after a frenzy of several barks. You want them to stop barking right away.
Use positive reinforcement. Be sure to reward your dog for every correct response when you begin teaching them to speak.
Rewards can be treats, play, or affection and praise. Once they are experts at speaking, you can begin to slowly phase out the rewards, beginning by offering food or a toy for every other correct response.