Barking, Counting, and Singing on Cue

Barking, Counting, and Singing on Cue

In This Chapter

  • Teaching your dog to bark and stop barking on cue
  • Sounding the alarm, singing, counting, and more
  • Redeeming the problem barker

Does your dog love to make noise? Does he bark when he’s happy, excited, when he doesn’t get his way? Is your biggest question not how to train him to vocalize but how to turn him off? Actually, it’s easier than you think. First you encourage your dog to do something he already likes to do — bark! Once he learns how to bark on cue, you can direct his passions to completing complex math equations and counting the candles on the birthday cake! Next you can teach him perhaps an even more miraculous trick — to stop barking with one cleverly positioned finger to your lips. Bark–stop barking; bark–stop barking. When your dog catches onto this “trick,” you’ll be in the driver’s seat. Not only will you be able to shape your dog’s barking habits, but the world of talking tricks will also be yours to explore!

Barking and Not Barking on Cue

Some dog breeds are prone to barking . . . a lot! Terriers bark when a sound alerts them. Hounds bark when they catch a scent. Protective breeds bark when alerted to the unfamiliar. And many dogs love to bark just to hear themselves. Dogs who bark for a cause will not be silenced, but don’t despair — if you’re sharing your life with a barking dog, there is hope. Once you embrace your dog’s natural vocal talents, you can teach him when barking is appropriate and when it’s not. Although it sounds too good to be true, conducting your one-dog band is easier than you think. After you check out a few basic tips in the upcoming list, you can dive into the following sections to figure out how to train your dog to both shout and shush on command.
To teach your dog to bark on command, use the following tips:

Make eye contact: Look at your dog alertly when you want him to bark. Break your stare when you want him to quiet down.

Use voice commands: You need two: “Speak” and “Shhh.” Enunciate clearly when you give your commands.

Give hand signals: Use snappy signals to both encourage barking and discourage it.

• To signal “Speak,” try snapping your fingers near your mouth.

• To signal “Shhh,” put your index finger to your lips as if shushing a child.

Getting your dog to speak up

First, you must embrace your dog’s natural vocal talents. This is easy enough — just attach a command to his passion. If your dog is a little hesitant in the barking department, you’ll need to be more demonstrative to egg him on, but the goal is the same. The following steps show you how to attach the “Speak” command to your dog’s barking behavior:
1. Get something your dog lives for — a ball or a treat, for example.
2. Secure him to a post or tree, or stand on the other side of a door.

Stay within your dog’s sight if he’s stressed by being physically separated from you.

3. Wave his prized object just out of reach while you encourage him to get it.

The moment he barks, give it to him and praise, praise, praise!

4. Begin to add the hand signal to your voice and eye cues.

Snap your fingers near your mouth.

5. Repeat this procedure until your dog reacts quickly to the “Speak” command.

Encourage him to “Speak,” using the command and hand signal, throughout the day for positive things, such as a meal or a walk. If he speaks out of turn, just ignore him.


To encourage a puzzled or submissive barker to speak up, try baiting him with an enticing toy or treat, prompting him with a sound cue like the doorbell ringing, or tossing a toy and not releasing him to chase it until after he has sounded off!

Commanding “Shhh” for peace and quiet

Now it’s time to teach your dog to be quiet. Sound like an impossible dream? If you make it fun and teach it like a trick, you may be shocked to find how quickly your dog picks it up!
To link the “Shhh” command to silence, follow these steps:
1. Return to Steps 1–3 of the “Speak” lesson in the preceding section, isolating your dog and standing in front of him with something tasty or fun. Say “Speak!”
2. After a few barks, say “Shhh,” stamp your foot, and avert your eyes.

The moment your dog stops barking, reward his silence.

3. Gradually extend the time your dog must be silent to be rewarded.
4. Repeat this process until your dog responds to both “Speak” and “Shhh.”

Practice your commands throughout the day, varying which ones you reinforce based on the situation. Sometimes reward the “Speak,” other times the “Shhh.” Have your dog “Speak” and “Shhh” two or three times before rewarding him. He’ll be so proud of his new trick, and so will you!


If your dog is not connecting the “Shhh” command to being silent, see the section on remedying problem barkers at the end of this chapter.

From Counting to Calculus

My dog Hope, a Cairn terrier mix, is a total ham. Auditorium events really knock her out! One of her favorite tricks is what I call the numbers routine. I’ll give her an arithmetic problem or have her count to ten with a group of kids, and she’s more than happy to oblige. Using my signal, I start her off on cue and (magically) quiet her when the stunt is complete. Ta-da! The counting trick is where your bark-training efforts really pay off. People will be thrilled to see your dog doing so well in math.


Before you start asking your dog to count anything, you must polish his “Speak” and “Shhh” skills so that he can do them with hand signals alone. If you use voice commands, some doubters may think your dog isn’t really counting. Check out the earlier section, “Barking and Not Barking on Cue,” for more on reinforcing the “Speak” and “Shhh” skills.

After you have the commands down pat, you can begin asking your dog some basic questions. Just follow this sequence:

1. Give the “Speak” hand signal.
2. Count the barks.
3. Signal “Shhh” after your dog has barked the correct number of times.
Try starting with these questions:
  • How much is two plus two?
  • How old are you?
  • How many eggs are in a half dozen?
Work on your silent communication, making your signals progressively subtle so that no one can tell you’re helping out. After your dog can answer the basics, you can proceed to more difficult math problems, such as
  • How many stars make up the Big Dipper? (The answer is seven.)
  • What’s the square root of 64? (Hint: It comes after 7.)
Regarding how the hand signals work, if your dog’s a focus freak and can’t take his eyes off you, you may need a signal for each bark response. For example, if the answer is “3,” you signal three bark cues, and then cut the barking off with your silencing cue. Of course, you’ll be far more discreet if you can use your signals like an on–off button. Many dogs will just keep barking until they see the silence cue. See what works for your dog.

Doing a Doggone Duet

Concerned your dog’s not musically inclined? Most dogs aren’t, if that makes you feel any better. In fact, I’ve never owned a dog who knew just what to do when I brought out my guitar. The silver lining? Most dogs who love to bark can be easily cajoled into barking along to music.

Choosing your instrument

When choosing an instrument to play with your dog, think it through. If you’ve got a passion for playing a particular instrument — the piano, for example — think twice about inviting your dog to join you in a duet. While it’s fun once in a while, his eager intrusion may wear on your nerves. Consider an instrument that’s cheap to buy and a rare noise in your home, such as a harmonica or kazoo. Your dog will nearly go into convulsions when you pull it out, so be prepared — after you teach him to bark, you’ll have a rough time quieting him until the instrument is safely tucked away.

Howling the blues

While few dogs will howl in unison to a melodious sax, the arctic breeds, shepherds, and hound dogs are notorious for letting out a howl when they hear music or get excited. “Monkey see, monkey do” applies here. To see whether you can get your dog to howl, follow these steps:
1. Play some soulful music, and let out a good howl yourself.

Toss your head back, and hit the high notes!

2. When your dog joins in, congratulate him and keep on howling.

Don’t worry if your dog doesn’t join in during the first session. Just let yourself go, and see if he doesn’t show more enthusiasm the second time around!

3. End by playing your dog’s favorite game.

Soon, his tail will beat the floor whenever you pass by the stereo.

Once your dog gets the hang of howling, you can signal him to howl sans music. To signal a howl, lean your head back, face to the moon, and purse those lips. Now you can think of clever questions to ask your dog. “What does a werewolf do when he sees a full moon?” “What do you say when you see your girlfriend/boyfriend?” Clever dog!

Barking to the beat

To teach your dog to bark when you sing a certain tune or play a specific instrument, first you need to teach him how to speak and quiet down on hand signals, as I explain earlier in this chapter (see “Barking and Not Barking on Cue”). After he’s learned these skills, the rest is easy if you follow these steps:
1. Get out your instrument.

If it’s new, let your dog sniff it.

2. Put it in your mouth and signal “Shhh” to get his attention.

Blow a few short warm-up notes as you continue to signal him to stay quiet.

3. When you’re ready for your dog to begin barking, signal “Speak” as you egg him on with excited sounds and body postures.
4. When you’re done, stop playing, say and signal “Shhh,” and take a bow!

Teaching Your Dog to Sound an Alarm

Dogs can actually be taught to bark for a variety of reasons, from alerting to visitors to barking when they hear a phone ring or when they see smoke. From usefulness to entertainment, finally a barking dog has something to offer everyone! This section describes how to put that barking to good use.

Alerting you to visitors or strangers

To your dog, your entranceway is the mouth of his den. Sure, you pay good money for your home sweet home, but to your dog, your home is just an oversized den. While many dogs bark to alert to visitors, some don’t. Whether your goal is to teach your dog to bark when people arrive or to stop barking on cue, practice this:

1. Put your dog on a “Sit–Stay” and stand at the open door.

2. Ring the bell (or have an assistant ring it) and command “Speak.” Click/praise and reward the inevitable bark.

3. Ring the bell and give the “Speak” command again, but this time, after three barks, instruct your dog to “Shhh.” Wait until he quiets before you reward him.

4. Ask a neighbor to come by and ring the bell or knock when your dog isn’t expecting company.

Reinforce “Speak” or “Shhh” — whichever happens to be your dog’s weak suit.

Repeat the process in your car. While the car is parked in the driveway, have someone approach as you tell your dog to “Speak.” As your dog catches on, you can gradually work up to doing this trick in parking lots and gas stations.

Warning you of fire and other dangers

Think through your day: You’re likely to come up with some reasons for your dog to bark. A client of mine had trouble keeping up with her 3-year-old son. We taught her beagle mix Bea to alert us each time he got too far away: This was handy out in the yard and even indoors when her son would toddle off. Another universal barking trick is to teach your dog to bark when he sees smoke or fire. I detail how to do this in the following steps, but remember, you can use this formula to teach your dog to alert you to just about anything:

1. Gather a book of matches, treats, and a clicker if you use one, as well as a toy for good measure.

See Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically for more information about using a clicker.

2. Put your dog on a “Sit–Stay,” and light a match at least 4 feet away. 3. When the flame rises, say and signal “Speak.”

4. Blow the flame out when your dog barks, then quiet him with the signal and command “Shhh.”

Reward and praise him.

5. Repeat and repeat, increasing your focus on a quick response.

You can also teach your dog to alert to smoke. Training follows the same procedure: When the smoke rises, you give the signal to speak.


If you’re big into candles and fireplaces, you’ll need to think through this one. You can teach your dog to differentiate between a fire that’s contained in a pit or fireplace versus a fire outside such confines, but it will take some cajoling. First, work with the match as described in the preceding steps. When building a fire or lighting a match, keep your dog on a leash to hold him back from the flame as you direct him to “Stay” and remind him to “Shhh.”

Turning Off the Bothersome Barker

A barking dog is a real headache. How you handle your situation depends on what’s prompting your dog to bark in the first place. But whatever you do, don’t yell — yelling is barking in Doglish, and instead of calming your dog, it riles him up. To solve your problem, stay cool. I break up the barkers into categories in this section to specifically target how to curb this habit.


Dogs who bark at everything often fall into one of the following categories: Some perceive themselves as your leader; others haven’t been socialized well and are freaking out; still others are submissive but assume you don’t have a handle on the situation and they must do their best to control it. One of the leader’s duties is to guard his territory and pack from intruders. All the other training and interaction you’re doing will help your dog focus on and respect you as the leader of the pack. Without that “leadership” lesson, you’ll be hard-pressed to make any impression.

Silencing a door barker

Almost everyone appreciates a dog alarm at the door — a few woofs to announce new arrivals. It gets annoying, however, when the alarm can’t be shut off. After all, enough is enough. The ideal situation is to have an alarm bark with an off switch. To teach this routine, you’ll need a few props. Gather together a clicker and/or a treat cup, as well as a soda can filled with ten pennies and/or a spray deterrent such as a canister of mouth spray or a water sprayer. Let your dog’s leash drag behind him when practicing these setups:
1. To desensitize your dog to the sound of the bell, position someone outside the door, and ask that person to ring the bell once every 20 seconds for 3 minutes.

2. When your dog starts barking, say “Speak.” Approach the end of his leash calmly, and pick it up. Praise him for alerting you — “Good dog!” — and click/reward.

3. After a round of barking (3–5 good woofs), say “Shhh.”

If your dog ignores you, discretely shake the can behind him or spritz over his head. When he stops barking, praise/click and reward.

4. Before opening the door, direct your dog behind you or secure him on a greeting station (see Chapter Encouraging Self-Control before You Launch into Lessons).

Don’t interact or socialize with your dog until he has calmed down. Give him a toy to play with or simply ignore him until he’s calm.


Never hold your dog back while you open the door. Like holding a frantic child, doing so will only make him wilder. Also, approach the door calmly. Running to the door and screaming at your dog will create a frenzy.

5. Repeat and repeat until your dog gets the hang of it.

Then you can try it with a real guest.


If your dog is too excitable at the door, work in an enclosed, distant room. Move progressively closer until your new game’s the best game in town!


Dogs like to keep busy. One activity many dogs enjoy is playing the gatekeeper — watching the periphery of your home to make sure everything is safe. If you’ve got a barker, discourage furniture perching (sitting and keeping watch) in favor of other games like “Fetch” and “Follow Me.” If your dog watches you instead of the window, you’ll find the silence shattering!

Shhh-ing a motion detector

Do you have one of those dogs who barks at everything he sees and hears? This type of barking can be really rewarding for your dog, because whenever he barks at something, whether from the window or the yard, it goes away. Sure, you and I know that the letter carrier and the kids on their way to school are going to keep moving anyway, but your dog doesn’t know that.
If you want to quiet your motion detector, try the following techniques:

Avoid leaving your dog alone outdoors for long stretches of time. Confinement often breeds boredom and territorial behavior. Put those two together and you’re likely to end up with a barkaholic.

Don’t yell. Screaming is barking to a dog: Instead of training him, you’re egging him on.

Any time you see (or hear) your dog start to perk up, praise him initially (“good boy”), then quiet him by encouraging “Shhh” and calling him back to your side: “Come tell me!”

Use your clicker or treat cup to encourage your dog to check in with you. If he ignores you, leave him on a drag leash when supervised or attach a short leash (see Chapter Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically) to enable calm but clear handling: “Come tell me” means just that.


If necessary, use a penny can or spray deterrent (see the preceding section) to help break your dog’s focus.

If your fellow is a night watchman, station or crate him in your room. Give him a bed and a bone, and secure his lead to something stationary. Bedtime!

Give your dog an outlet for barking by teaching the noisy tricks outlined in this chapter.

Curbing a car barker

Being locked in a car with a barking dog is my version of purgatory. For dogs, a car is like a fishbowl, creating the ultimate territorial ego trip. They bark, and whatever is outside disappears. In the case of a moving car, it disappears even faster! Yelling at your dog isn’t the thing to do. Pleading won’t help either. This problem needs a good training regime. Here are some tips to get you started:

Instruct “Wait” before you let your dog enter or exit the car, and give permission with “Okay.” It’s your car, your territory; don’t let him forget that.

Enforce stillness while you drive. Secure your dog in the backseat of the car with a crate or other car safety device. Give your dog a chew toy to keep him happily occupied while you drive.

Ignore the barking if your car is moving. Driving is a job all by itself.

– Whenever your dog is quiet, reward him with your clicker and/or treats.

– If your dog barks at people who approach the car, ask a friend to help set up the situation by approaching the car when you’re not actually driving. If your dog barks, correct him (see the earlier section, “Silencing a door barker”). When/if your dog stops barking and settles down, ask your friend to toss a piece of cheese into the car window. The idea is to give your dog a more positive association with people who approach the car.

Dealing with an attention hound

Imagine this: You’re sitting reading the Sunday paper when suddenly your dog comes out of nowhere and starts barking for a pat. Cute, huh? Not really. So what should you do? Giving in makes you look like a servant. Yelling is counterproductive.

Following are three ways to remedy the situation:

– Teach your dog a good way to get your attention, such as by sitting or bringing you a toy. Whenever possible, ask your dog to “Sit” before giving him attention, and add a cue word to your fetching games, such as “Ball” or “Toy.”

– If your dog has mastered the on–off trick (see the earlier section “Barking and Not Barking on Cue”), turn to your dog and instruct “Speak!” Let him bark a couple of times, then say “Shhh” and ignore him. Walk away if you need to, but don’t give in and pay attention.

If your dog barks at you for attention, ignore it. Wear your headset, use earplugs, or walk away — just don’t give in. When your dog stops, ignore him another three minutes, and then ask him to sit or fetch his toy. When he cooperates, give him a pat. Otherwise, you’re teaching him that barking is a very effective tool.

Quieting a protest barker

Some dogs don’t like to be left alone. To tell you the truth, neither do I. If you return to soothe a protest barker before you leave, you’ll end up with a really spoiled dog on your hands — one who has trained you.
On the other hand, if you ignore the protest barking, your neighbors or even your spouse may protest. Is there a happy medium? Not really, but I’ll give you some suggestions:

– Ignore the barking if you can. Never yell.

– Avoid grand departures and arrivals; they’re too stimulating.

– Let the dog be with you when you’re home. He likes that. (See Chapters Prepping for Training — Mentally and Physically and Minding Manners and Trying Out Some Tricks for more on leading and stationing your dog.)

Place peanut butter in a hollow rubber toy or bone, and give it to your dog as you leave. That’s a tasty way to keep him busy!

– Return to your dog only after he has calmed down. If you must interfere with his barking tantrum, go to him quietly without making eye contact or comments, place him on a Teaching Lead tied around your waist (see Chapter 2 for more on this device), and ignore him for half an hour while you lead him around.

by Sarah Hodgson