Dear Old Trainer: My dog Rocky is a 6-year-old Lab mix. He obeys sit, stay and most commands well but has quirks. Whenever anyone starts to leave the house, he goes ballistic -- barking and running in circles. He barks until the car is out of sight, then lies down and relaxes. The other thing is that if anyone comes into the yard (postman, FedEx truck, etc.) he starts barking and will not stop. He runs and barks constantly until the person leaves, then lies down and relaxes. How do I train him to stop?
-- Susie, Atwater
A: Rocky has done most of the training himself. He taught himself to bark and have fun until a recognized event occurs -- the car pulls out of sight or the mailman leaves. Once that happens, he relaxes and takes a nap until the fun starts again.
He already stops on command -- his own command -- so you don't have to teach him that concept. You just teach him to stop on your command instead of his. He still gets to have fun and make a game out of the two situations. The only change is, he won't get to play for as long and has to stop when you say so.
The secret to breaking any bad habit is to interrupt the dog's concentration the instant he starts the undesired conduct. The next time anyone starts to leave the house, give the "sit" command and give Rocky a lecture. Tell him the days when he could bark and play at will are over and from now on he gets one bark and that is it.
Stand right next to him as your husband picks up his car keys and leaves. Don't allow Rocky to even look at him. If his eyes even start to move from you, touch him on the neck and say, "No, look at me Rocky." Grasp his muzzle and turn his head to make sure he is looking at you. He will want to follow the departure of your husband, but that is not allowed. He has to look at you.
Once the car begins to drive off he is allowed to go to the window and bark once. When he does, say, "Good boy, that's all." If he tries to bark again, grasp his muzzle and say, "no barking." Pet him and praise him when he refrains.
Same thing when the mailman comes. He gets to bark once, then has to stop. Pet him and praise him for warning you, then break his concentration. If his attention wanders, touch his neck and say, "Look at me." If he tries to bark, grasp his muzzle and say, "No."
As long as he looks at you and refrains from barking, pet him and praise him.
Be patient, but firm, and give him plenty of praise when he does it right. He will soon learn that it is just as much fun doing it your way, because he gets extra love and attention.
Jack Haskins writes as The Old Trainer. A trainer for more than 30 years, he has rescued, trained and placed more than 2,000 dogs. Send questions to: firstname.lastname@example.org