top of page

​**“Speak” and “Quiet”

Here's how it happens:

on a quiet Friday morning, the kids and hubby have left for the day, it's all peace and quiet, there's a hot cup of coffee in front of you on the breakfast bar... all the animals have been fed and otherwise tended to (human and furry alike).

The doorbell rings... and Holy Moly, the world will never be the same... suddenly, the dog is barking in a frantic way that means the world is likely going to implode if you don't get to the door fast enough,  she's spinning and jumping, and the bark is louder than anything she's ever forced out of her body in the past... and every bark is like a hot knife in your forehead (trust me, I've had every size of dog... doesn't matter.  They all have an alarm bark that feels like it sucks your brain out through your ears).  As you plod to the door through the house, with the dog dashing between you and the door, barking manically (hurry up! hurry up!  It's a burglar!)   During the bark itself, you can't even hear the chiming of the bell, because the bark is so alarmingly alarming.  The UPS guy is almost back to the truck after having thrown a package on the stoop, and you shout "thanks!" at him during his retreat, not even sure if he heard through all the noise from the dog. She continues to alarm for a solid 5 minutes that feels like an eternity.

The fantasy... when things are calm enough to allow for such:

on a quiet Friday morning, the kids and hubby have left for the day, it's all peace and quiet, there's a hot cup of coffee in front of you on the breakfast bar... all the animals have been fed and otherwise tended to (human and furry alike).  The doorbell rings, and the fantasy continues... the dog's head pops up from her paws at your feet, and she calmly trots to the front door, maybe with a nonchalant questioning bark thrown over her shoulder to ask "you coming?  That nice pizza guy is here."  You pause at the door with your hand on the knob to give your guardian time to plant her furry butt on the floor, then open the door, take care of the UPS guy (which includes giving him a tasty treat to give the dog while you hand him his tip for being so nice), while the dog remains seated and smiling beneficently, and return to the kitchen to continue enjoying your coffee while you plan your day.

In case you're wondering, this last (the Fantasy) doesn't happen at my house, either... it's kinda in between the 2 scenarios.  She's happy, but barking the whole way  to the door.  She shuts up before I open the door, when I ask "what's the rule?" as I reach for the door knob.   It's okay... I tend to train my dogs to reflect my warped sense of humor.  It works.

​This set of cues allows you to "turn it off" when the barking gets to be more than you can handle, within limits. This is best taught when the dog is barking for other than gaining attention. If your dog is barking to gain your attention, trying to teach this command can actually reinforce the barking, if you use the cue while the dog is barking to gain attention.

Stimulus Control

​I always giggle when a client tells me that a trainer told them that you can teach a dog to DO something, then just never give the command to DO it... this only works if there's no self-reinforcing aspect to the behavior. Whether or not it's possible to do this depends on whether the behavior *itself* is reinforcing, and whether it occurs *naturally*. For example, if this would work, then I could (theoretically) never expect my dogs to sit or lie down UNLESS I give them the command to do so, right? Imagine the stimulus control needed to do this!! And, the RESPONSIBILITY -- our dogs would never REST. lol

​Instead, we define "stimulus control" to mean "you don't perform this behavior unless I ask for it -- while we're working". So, the dog doesn't offer a 'sit' if I ask for a 'down', and vice versa -- during a session. Of course, I'm kinda lax with this... the world won't end if Zoe slips into a down from a sit. lol


First, you need to find your dog's "barking trigger". What, besides gaining attention, causes him to bark? With Cis and Zoey, anyone walking past the house will do it. A car door in the driveway. The cat sitting outside the fence (she does this purposely). With Popeye, a leaf or snowflake falling is a trigger. You get the picture. {grin}

A hundred years later:

We have an old-fashioned chime doorbell that I originally thought was charming (because I like old stuff).  There are 7 tones in a sing-song, but there's a "chunk" right before they start ringing out, with a little tiny hesitation between the 2 sounds... a couple of times during the 11 years we've lived here, the electricity has been out when someone rang the bell, and all you get is that initial "chunk".

And that's what Tory alarms to.  That's the trigger.  Knowing that doesn't help, because I can't get rid of the "chunk" without getting rid of the bell, and I like that charming chiming bell.

​Once you find the trigger, get out some really good treats (I use liverwurst for this one -- it has to get their attention). Focus the dog's attention on the trigger (this is a tough one! {grin}), initiate the trigger and say "speak!" -- they'll bark. Immediately pop the treat into the mouth (theirs, not yours {grin}), and say "Good Speak!" Continue with this exercise over a period of days, until the command "speak!", without the trigger, causes the bark -- then Jackpot! -- say "Good Speak!"

Practice this part for about a week, until you can get a "speak" from anywhere in the house, then start taking it outside (you might have to arrange someone ringing the doorbell while you're practicing in order to start this progression outside... use your imagination).

​The next part is to turn it off again. Without the trigger, give the command "Speak!" -- the dog will speak -- show the treat and say "Quiet!", and immediately pop the treat into his mouth. This also needs to be practiced over a period of days. Then, begin to add a little pause after the command, and before treating. Gradually increase the time between the command and the treat, until you can give the command, walk to the refrigerator to get the treat, and walk back -- and the dog doesn't bark for your entire journey {grin}.

​Teaching this way isn't really teaching the dog not to bark at *all*... rather, you're teaching the dog to bark, then come to you for reinforcement. You're teaching partial redirection.

​Once these are learned under these controlled circumstances, they will need to be proofed with successively greater distractions (we have cows across the road that seem to stand at the fenceline and *torment* the dog for fun), just as with any other commands. Start with the triggers that were used to teach the "Speak" in the beginning, and work up to the harder stuff -- like other dogs.

Brenda Rushman, CCBC



bottom of page