Having your dog bark on command is a cool trick, but why would anyone actually need their dog to do that?
Barking on command is one of the first things i taught Don. An ADL dog doesn't only have to be an extension of your hands, Don is also an extension of my ears. And by having him bark on command, he's even an extension of my voice.
Althouge I can talk until your ears fall off, I'm not the loudest person in the room. I would have difficulty screaming at you in an argument and that means I have difficulty shouting for help when in another room.
If there are already situations that trigger your dog to bark, it's easy to train him to bark on command. First you have to be able to re create the trigger. Don always used to bark at our old wireless doorbell, so I only had to push the test button on the bell to get a reaction. Barking is what I wanted, so if he barked when he heard the sound, he got a cookie. Next I paired the sound with a command. Saying the word Speak while simultaniously pushing the button on the doorbell would make him bark and he would get a cookie. This taught him to associate the command with the sound of the doorbell which helped him to understand that barking is also allowed when hearing the command.
To finish the training, the sound of the doorbell has to be fazed out so that he responds whenever the command is given. I did this by saying the command before pushing the button on the doorbell and gradually leaving more time between command and doorbell. eventually I would get a reaction without needing to activate the bell.
There are a couple of important things to remomber when training to bark on command. You only want the dog to bark once when the command is given, so it's important to give rewards quickly in order to prevent prolonged barking. Also the physical act of barking costs a dog a lot of energy. So training sessions must be kept short to prevent the dog exhibiting unwanted behaviour. I always follow our training sessions with a short play session so that Don can release negative energy and sleep.
It took a few weeks to complete this training. Eventually I was able to replace the spoken command with sign language. In the next column, I’ll explain how I taught Don to understand signed commands and tell you why I use them.