How to Train your Dog to Speak

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).


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