Should I Teach "Speak" to Eliminate Dog Barking Problems?

"Should I teach my dog to "Speak" in order to stop his barking problems?"  -Loving Dog Owner

Teaching your dog to "Speak" or bark on cue can be a fun trick but should not be used as a behavior modification technique for dogs with barking problems.  Some of you may have heard about teaching your dog to "Speak" as a solution to barking problems because it is also taught in conjunction with the "Quiet" command. When teaching "Speak" and "Quiet" as fun tricks, they are positively reinforced with praise and/or treats. 

 

I do not advocate teaching "Speak"  to temper barking problems for two reasons:

  1. Dogs who are taught tricks using positive reinforcement tend to offer up these behaviors in an attempt to get a reward. Therefore, dogs might offer up a "Speak" (bark) in hopes of getting you to answer back with "Quiet" followed by a reward. This may actually create more unwanted barking.
  2. These "Speak/Quiet" tricks are unlikely to transfer to the actual barking problems. There are many reasons why a dog may have problems with barking: boredom, territory issues, aggression, seeking attention, alarm, etc. Most of this kind of barking will happen when you are not there or when the dog is in an elevated state of arousal. In these situations the "Speak" game will likely be of little help. 

Teaching "Quiet" is an absolute must but teaching "Speak" is unnecessary. Teaching your dog to bark on cue is just a fun, optional trick. Look at it this way - would you teach your dog to jump on you in order to teach him the "Off" command? You could, but it's not necessary (and actually counterproductive) and don't be surprised if you get more jumping with a look from your dog saying, "where's my treat?"

If you do decide to put ordinarily unwanted behaviors such as pawing, jumping or barking  on cue it must be exactly that...on cue and only on cue. Do not under any circumstances, regardless of how cute, reward the behavior when your dog offers it uninvited. This is a potential grey area and dogs do much better with black and white.

As with everything in dog training,  choose wisely, communicate clearly and be consistent.

-Chad Culp, Certified Dog Trainer and Canine Behavior Consultant

© Thriving Canine, 2013