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I have a 6 month old Black Lab. I taught him to speak, and somewhere along the line he picked up this strange behavior. It's like the speak command is a heated seat button in a car, where you press it once for high, twice for low, and three times for off.

To get the desired reaction, he needs to be given the speak command three times.

  • Attempt 1: The dog responds with an exaggerated jaw movement, and low volume (call it 10%) bark, as if to say, "I acknowledge your command, and will respond accordingly, using my inside voice".

  • Attempt 2: Same as before, but with a medium volume (say 40%) bark

  • Attempt 3: The desired reaction, his full blown, guttural Lab bark

It's proven hard to correct because I don't know why he does it in the first place, and I don't want to reward him for getting it right after three attempts. How should I go about correcting this behavior?

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Do reward him when he gets it right, no matter how many times it takes. Otherwise, he won't know what you want him to do.

He's probably reluctant to bark at you, which is understandable. Keep asking him to speak. If he is unenthusiastic and does a small sound, name it ("That's a whisper," you can say, then say loudly and with exagerrated excitement, "SPEAK!" If he does the 40% bark, name it, too. Say, no, that's a (whatever). (Then, with exagerrated excitement) SPEAK! When he does, Say Good boy! and reward him immediately. Repeat several times at this new level, rewarding him each time he does it, correcting him each time he doesn't. Eventually, you won't need to use exaggerated commands.

I always use a hand signal with my commands. By varying the amount that I open my hand on the bark command, I can get my dogs to barely whisper, bark loudly, or anything in between.

  • I don't think he's worried about barking at me, I've trained him to go to the door and bark when he needs to go out (speak of the devil). I'll have to try using my hand signal as a volume knob. – Matt Young Nov 30 '14 at 22:09

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