This exercise is a test of command and ability. The Judge may control the position of the handler in relation to the dog, but the handler may at his discretion give the command at the Stand, Sit, or Down. On the Judge’s direction the dog will be ordered to cease barking. Excessive incitement to speak should be severely penalised.
All very complicated you may think and indeed it well can be, depending on the idiosyncrasies of the judge. Anyone who says this is an easy exercise to teach has trained very few dogs. Some take to it like a duck to water and indeed it is sometimes the ‘cease speaking’ which proves difficult. Others are difficult, if not impossible, to teach to speak on command. This is a problem we happen to know very well as we try to teach all our dogs to speak on command, with varying degrees of success. We have dogs which will bark and stop barking to a hand signal given from the other side of a football field. And we have others which never grasp the idea, although I daresay if it was absolutely vital they could probably be taught.
As dogs vary so much in learning this exercise I shall merely explain some of the methods we have used with success and leave it to you to adapt them to suit your circumstances. Generally speaking food is the best reward as it is easy to administer but tone of voice is equally important.
Many dogs will bark in anticipation of food and this can sometimes be taken advantage of at feeding time. Hold his bowl in your hand and excite the dog by tone of voice. If he makes the slightest effort to bark, reward him immediately by putting down the bowl or simply giving him a piece out of it. Do not try to repeat this too often to begin with. If he barks once today and is properly rewarded he is likely to bark twice tomorrow.
But if you keep on until he gets fed up he may not bark at all tomorrow. I have found that once ‘the penny drops’ all is plain sailing especially with a greedy dog. Use the command to speak in an exciting tone and discard the bowl as soon as he responds to this command. Otherwise he may regard the bowl as a signal to speak.
Some dogs cannot learn by this method and when it fails we try tying the dog up. This time we take advantage of the fact that most dogs will bark at another dog barking. We tie up the pupil and have a really noisy dog barking beside him. If the young dog makes the slightest attempt to speak he is rewarded immediately with food. Obviously this is not so easy if you have only one dog but you may be able to find someone to help you who has a trained dog.
Sometimes a dog can be persuaded to bark if you tie him up and pretend you are going to run away and leave him. Or simply rush around in front of him like a lunatic! Anything that will persuade him to bark at a time when you are in a position to reward him. And don’t forget that you can only persuade him. I know of no way to make a dog bark.
Not all dogs will learn from the methods mentioned and you may have to use quite a lot of ingenuity. One dog I had would not utter a sound by any of these methods. But he would bark at the arrival of a stranger or a’ knock on the door. So we had to make use of this. Instead of telling him to be quiet when someone arrived (usually the natural thing to do) we held him back and encouraged him to go on barking. I would knock on the door and my wife would reward him for barking. On both occasions she would give him the command to speak. When she knew I was going to knock on the door she would give him the command just before I did so. Soon he would bark in response to this command in anticipation of the knock. Once he got the idea Ben went straight ahead and is now one of our most reliable ‘speaking’ dogs.
Once the dog gets the idea it is only a question of practice. Concentrate on getting the dog to speak on command before attempting to make him do it in a given position, whether it be standing, sitting or lying down. And get him to do it in as many different places as possible. At present we have a little Cavalier bitch who in the early stages, would bark like mad in the feed house and shut up like a clam outside.
When I worked in competitions the dog had to speak in three positions standing, sitting and lying down. But the handler could stand in front of him. Now the handler can put the dog in any position he likes but the judge can direct the handler to any position he fancies. And this can be with his back to the dog or even out of sight of him! The important points are: 1. Get the dog speaking every time you ask him and in as many different places as possible. 2. Observe whether the dog prefers to take up a standing, sitting or lying down position when he barks (very few dogs will naturally bark lying down). 3. Put him in that position and make him stay in it while he speaks. 4. Gradually move away from the dog while you give the command until he will respond when you are out of sight, have your back to him or anything else you can think of.
So far I have been dealing with dogs that have to be persuaded to bark. But many people have trouble with dogs that will not stop barking. And that in spite of the fact that one can only persuade dogs to speak while one can make him stop barking — so long as he is within range anyhow! But you don’t want to cure the dog of barking altogether, you simply want him to cease speaking on command.
With a noisy dog put him on a lead and start him barking. Now give him a firm command ‘quiet’ which he won’t obey and follow it immediately with a jerk on the slip collar. With some dogs it is necessary to jerk quite hard but do not correct more severely than is absolutely necessary. If he does not respond to a little jerk repeat the command and the jerk harder and harder until he does respond. Immediately praise him very well, not with food but by stroking and using a quiet, steadying tone of voice. Now repeat the process but don’t make the lessons too long. If you find that, after being corrected, the dog is reluctant to speak encourage him to do so and end the lesson with him speaking. If, however, you are still having difficulty stopping him, end the lesson when the dog is quiet.