How to Teach a Dog to Speak: 4 Simple and Exciting Steps

Chihuahua speaking via headset
John Walton
Written by John Walton

There are many videos about talking dogs trending online these days. There’s even one viral video, with more than 20 million views, showing a husky barking “I love you.” And who can forget the controversial pair Marc Metral and his dog Wendy when they appeared in Britain’s Got Talent back in 2015? Although their act was revealed as ventriloquism, it’s undeniable that a talking dog can definitely wow the crowd and bring amazement and joy. Wouldn’t it be great if you knew how to teach a dog to speak?

Before you train your dog to say things that sound like human words, it’s necessary to train your pet to bark on command first. This isn’t just a fun trick; it’s also a great way to discipline your dog. If you’ve got a dog that belongs to a quiet breed like the Basenji, teaching your pet to bark can be very rewarding. Once you’ve trained your dog to bark on command, you can then teach your dog more complicated speech behavior, like saying “hello.”

Husky speaking to human

If you’re wondering whether you can also train your canine family member to say “mama” or “I love you,” don’t worry, it can be done. It can be quite a challenge, and some dogs can be more resistant to training, but you will definitely feel fulfillment when you come home to your dog saying “hello” and “mama.”

In this article, we’ll first discuss the expected difficulty and time frame for training your dog to bark on command. Then we will also talk about what you will need to prepare for your dog’s training. We’ll then take a look at simple steps that you can follow to train your dog to speak. Once your dog has mastered this behavior, you can proceed to more difficult speech behaviors, and we’ll give you the steps on how to do that. It’s also a good thing to learn about how to train your dog to stay quiet, so we’ll also go over that as well. When you’ve completed all the steps in this training guide, you can be sure you’ll have one well-behaved doggie!

How Difficult Is This Training and How Long Will It Take?

dog talking to a girl

How difficult it will be to teach your dog to bark on command—and later on, to speak—depends on many things. For those who already have experience in dog training, this one is quite easy. However, if the only training your dog has ever had is potty training, or if your dog is an excessive barker or an excessive non-barker, the difficulty level can go up to average.

Beagles and terriers are notorious barkers, so if you’ve got one, giving your dog this training will really help you control its barking behavior. Just be prepared to be patient, as the road ahead can get difficult and frustrating.

Depending on your available time, you can spend 5 to 15 minutes per training session, for one to three times a day. Training period can last several weeks, depending on how often you conduct your training sessions. Repetition is the crucial element in this training, so if you’re repeating the key training steps five or more times in a day, you can shorten the training period.

Preparing For Your Dog’s Barking On Command Training

rewarding dog for good behavior

Training a canine is all about stimulus, reaction, and reward. These are the three basic things you will need when training your dog to speak on command.

  • Prepare a Stimulus That Will Get Your Dog Excited. When training your dog to bark on command, you need to simulate a Pavlovian stimulus. Someone ringing the doorbell can be your scenario, in which case, you will need a friend or a family member to help you act it out. Waving a toy or your dog’s favorite treat will also work. As long as you’re using a stimulus that will make your dog excited enough to bark, you can use that.

  • Prepare a Reward. Treats or snacks work best, but you can also use your dog’s favorite toy, especially if your dog loves to play. These will serve as rewards for showing the right behavior. Remember that when you’re training a canine, or any pet for that matter, rewards are always necessary. The purpose of the reward is to condition your dog to associate the behavior with getting a benefit.

  • Choose Your Command Word. “Bark” and “speak” are great one-word commands as they’re easy to remember. On your part, when you’re training your dog, remember to always say the command word in a firm and audible manner. You should utilize both the sound and the tone. Being consistent in saying the command word can help your dog associate the command with the behavior faster.

4 Simple Steps to Train Your Dog to Speak

dog speaking loudly

Now, you’re ready to start your doggie’s training. We’ll start with the simple steps first. Only move on to the more advanced steps after your dog has truly mastered the foundations.

Step 1: Present Your Stimulus

You can begin by presenting your stimulus. For purposes of convenience, we will use waving a treat in front of your dog as your stimulus. You should make sure the treat is visible and within smelling distance, but out of your dog’s reach. This should get your pet excited enough to bark.

There are some dogs, however, that don’t bark often, and instead of barking when you present the stimulus, your dog may just stay quiet and act confused. Just be patient and present the stimulus again, and wait for your dog to respond.

Step 2: Command!

saying command to a dog

As you present your stimulus, simultaneously say your command word loud enough for your dog to hear, and in a firm but upbeat voice. What’s happening right now is that you’re actually presenting three simultaneous stimuli to your dog—the sight of the treat, the smell of the treat, and the sound of your command.

What you want to happen is for your dog to associate the behavior of barking to these three stimuli. Then, later on, you will remove the sight and the smell of the treat and just use your command as your stimulus.

Step 3: Reward the Behavior

giving a treat to a dog

As your dog barks, give him the snack or the treat. Some pet parents are more comfortable using clickers, and that would work as well. Remember to give the reward only while your pet is exhibiting the desired behavior. If you give the reward after your dog has stopped barking already, he may think that he’s getting the reward for staying quiet.

Compliments always work wonders, and this also applies to your canine child. A simple “good dog” will help your pet remember the behavior for which he received a reward.

Whenever your dog barks on command, give him a treat, a praise, or a pet to further reinforce the behavior. As your dog starts manifesting the desired behavior, you can gradually lessen the treats. You can then use petting or praising as your main reward.

Step 4: Rinse and Repeat

Repetition is the key to training your pet. The first time your dog manifests the desired behavior may only be an accident, and a one-time event won’t necessarily get engraved in your dog’s mind. Regularly repeating steps 1 to 3 will condition your dog to associate barking with receiving a treat or a compliment.

Additional Steps for More Complicated Speech Behaviors

sog speaking over the phone

If your dog has passed the basic training of barking on command with flying colors, you can move on to the next stage: teaching your dog to bark on other cues, to count, or even to bark in a way that resembles some simple words.

Step 5: Try Different Scenarios and Locations

Now that you’ve successfully taught your furry pet to bark on command, you can try different scenarios. If you used a treat as your stimulus in the basic training, you could level up now to scenarios like when someone is ringing the doorbell or approaching the driveway, or you can change your location. You can also use the barking on command training as a foundation for training your dog to count—a single bark for each count. Imagine how much fun that would be!

Step 6: How About “Hello”?

If you and your canine child have mastered steps 1 to 5, then how about trying more complicated speech behaviors, like saying “hello,” “mama” or “I love you”? The steps are basically the same. This time, though, instead of your dog’s regular barking, you want your dog to imitate specific vocal sounds.

What you need to do is to replace your initial command word with the word that you want your dog to say. So instead of commanding “Bark!”, you can say “Mama.” Just remember to use the same firm but upbeat tone of voice to remind your dog that this is a command.

Training Your Dog to Stay Quiet

training dog to stay quiet

Some pet parents and dog trainers who taught their canine pets to bark on command found they had an easier experience with it if the dog has been trained first on how to stay quiet. However, if your dog is the quiet type, you can save this training for later.

Here are some easy steps on how you can teach your dog to stop barking. As with training your dog to bark on command, you will also need materials for rewards and a different command word. For your command word, you can use “hush,” “quiet,” or any similar word that you’re comfortable using.

Step 1: Capture Your Doggie’s Attention

dog's attention captured

When your dog is barking, and you want him to be quiet, the first thing you need to do is to capture your pet’s attention. You can do this by clapping, whistling, or calling his name.

Step 2: Say the Command Word

When your doggie has his eyes on you, simply say the command word. Make sure you use your command voice—loud, firm, and upbeat tone. If your dog continues to bark, turn your back on him. Don’t worry; you won’t be neglecting your dog. Rather, you’re telling your pet you won’t be paying any attention to any unnecessary or excessive barking.

Step 3: Give Your Dog a Reward for Keeping Quiet

man giving reward to dog

Once your dog stops barking, you can then present the reward. Again, you can use some treats for this, or you can give your pet his favorite toy. Being consistent in giving the reward will enable your pet to learn the behavior quicker. Just make sure you only give the reward when your dog has stopped barking already so that you’re making it clear that that’s the behavior you’re rewarding.

Remember to pet and praise your dog as well, as this will serve as additional positive reinforcement. Later on, when your dog has mastered staying quiet, you can skip the reward and simply give your dog a compliment for behaving well.

Step 4: Once Again, Repetition Is Key

By now, you already know the value of repetition. Just like when training your dog to speak on command, you should also invest your time in repeating the steps to teach your dog to stay quiet over and over again, until your dog has fully mastered the behavior.

Wrap Up

dog learned to speak

Teaching your dog to speak or bark on command or to stay quiet is a great experience for both you and your dog. You will reap the rewards of having a well-behaved dog, like having peace and quiet when you need it, or simply being complimented by your neighbors for having such a smart dog.

Another good thing about all this is that once your dog is conditioned to training, he learns to recognize your command voice, as well as the reward system. Once your dog gets used to the idea that he can easily get rewarded as long as he does what you tell him to do, your dog will be more receptive to further training. Just imagine the possibilities, and how fun it will be if you can teach your dog some more amazing tricks!

How was your experience with teaching your dog how to speak? Do let us know and share your comments and suggestions!

About the author
John Walton
John Walton

John Walton lives in Somerville, MA, with his two dogs, two sons, and very understanding mate. He is a Certified Pet Dog Trainer, a member of the International Association of Animal Behavior Consultants, a mentor trainer for the Animal Behavior College, an AKC Certified CGC Evaluator, and the Training Director for the New England Dog Training Club.