Thursday, October 6, 2011

Dog clicker training idea: How to teach your dog to speak

The "speak" command is useful for vocal dogs that don't seem to know when to keep their opinions to themselves. Why? Because by teaching a dog to "speak," you are implicitly also teaching the dog not to speak.

Think of it this way: Most dogs will only offer a trick if they think a reward is in play, and they tend to stop performing a trick when they get no treat in return. If you teach a dog to speak, that dog might stop speaking unless you ask for the behavior. That's the only way it's rewarding!

Teaching a dog to speak with a clicker is easy.

Start with a treat in your hand, and wait patiently for your dog to provide some kind of noise in order to get that treat. You don't need to wait for a full-on bark. A grunt, a sneeze or a wheeze will work. As soon as you hear that noise, hit your clicker and say "Good speak," while you're performing your preferred hand signal. Drop that treat, too.

Yes, there's a lot you'll need to do all at once, at the same time. But if a clutzy girl like me can do it, I'm sure you can, too!

In time, you'll shape the command by providing the click/verbal reward/treat only when the dog makes an actual bark. And soon, you'll need to work to extinguish spontaneous barks. Atsy dogs like Liam may offer vocalizations when you have a treat in your hands and offer no commands at all.

Eventually, as you get picker and picker about what constitutes a rewardable noise, you'll see your dog barks only when you want that bark. But there may be some bumps along the way.

For example, Liam now offers a back up on the speak command, likely because he learned the two tricks at the same time. I just wait patiently after giving the command and wait for him to offer up the right activity.

Want to try it? I recommend this product:  Karen Pryor, Getting Started: Clicker Training for Dogs Kit. You'll learn how to use the clicker the right way, and you'll get a starter clicker, too!

Have fun!

Disclosure: Some product links in this post are “affiliate links.” If you click on them and make a purchase, I'll get a commission. Rest assured that I only recommend products that I believe provide real value. This disclosure comes in accordance with the Federal Trade Commission’s 16 CFR, Part 255: “Guides Concerning the Use of Endorsements and Testimonials in Advertising.”