Dear Old Trainer: We just adopted Bruno, an adorable 1-year-old German shepherd. He's perfect except for one flaw. He didn't bark at all for the first few months, but then started barking when he heard our neighbor's dog bark. Now he starts when he hears that dog and doesn't stop. He even barks at us when we tell him to stop. He's wagging his tail and acts like he wants to play, but he just keeps barking. What is going on?
-- Terry, Atwater
A: Bruno is having fun. Dogs enjoy barking and always have. "The dogs bark, the caravan moves on" is a proverb from the time of the ancient Persian Empire.
The wagging tail tells you that Bruno is having fun. It is a game and he enjoys it even more when you are talking to him. He will keep barking until you force him to quit.
That's a simple task with a smart breed like Bruno. What you will have to do is teach him to bark only to alert you or to warn trespassers.
The other dog triggers Bruno's barking, so you know when he will start. Confront him just as he begins to bark and break his concentration. That makes the training easier and more effective.
Allow Bruno only one bark. After that, look him in the eye and tell him, "No barking." Don't yell, just say it in a normal voice. If he barks again, grasp his muzzle softly in your hand and repeat the command.
Pet him and praise him if he refrains for even a few seconds, because it shows he understands the concept. Be patient. Allow him time to think through the command, but immediately grasp his muzzle and say "no" if he barks more than once. Pet and praise him each time he does it right.
If he doesn't respond after a few sessions, make the training more intense. He should know "sit" by now. Give the "sit" command and make sure he obeys. Add a rolled-up newspaper to the exercise and slap it against your thigh, making as much noise as possible when you give the command.
If he still barks, tap him on the muzzle with the paper, then repeat the exercise. Stand erect and be firm when you give the order. Be relentless. Repeat the exercise every single time he starts to bark. It won't take long to train him if you convince him you are serious.
Your goal isn't a dog that never barks. You want Bruno to bark to alert you to anything he considers a threat. There's another proverb that says, "Pay attention when an old dog barks."
Once Bruno learns to focus his barking on security, you'll never have to worry about any outsider entering your house or yard unless you welcome them. No criminal will challenge a German shepherd.
Remember, the important part of the training is the love you show Bruno after he obeys the command.
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