The Old Trainer: Accept and praise huskies' singing

July 13, 2013 

Dear Old Trainer: We have three huskies, Bandit, Kit and Stormy. When we lived in town they barked now and then, but were pretty quiet. Since we moved to the country, they howl like wolves at night. It sounds eerie, but also beautiful. What should we do?

—Bella, Norden

Answer: Enjoy it. Howling comes natural to huskies. Like Samoyeds, huskies still retain part of their wolf heritage and know how to talk to the night.

When I have a dog that howls, I try to teach them to sing on command. Here's how you do it: When they start howling, brag on them and tell them how beautiful it sounds. Call their names and say "sing" while they are howling. Let them know you like it. If they keep singing, pet and praise them, and keep saying "sing."

If you are lucky you might get them to serenade you anytime you want. I have two who sing when they hear a siren or a train, but so far will not sing on command. I'm working on it though. I want them to sing while I play guitar.

Dear Old Trainer: Our beagle, Charley, is a year and a half old. This spring he suddenly turned into a barker. He barks at anything and everything, and he does it all day. How do we train him not to bark?

— Dean, Fort Bragg

A: A lot of people with a well-behaved puppy wake up one day when the pup grows up and ask the same question legendary songwriter John Prine asked in "Speed of the Sound of Loneliness": What in the world has come over you?

Charley is just being a beagle. Barking as a form of communication is part of beagle DNA and all beagles like to bark. The problem is easy to correct.

Body language is everything. Stand erect and give your orders in a normal speaking voice, but give them with confidence. A dog knows from the way the trainer stands whether he has to obey or not. The technique below is effective only if you catch Charley in the act of barking.

Remember, the goal is not a dog that never barks. You want him to bark when giving a warning or when he is happy, but to stop on command. When you want him to be quiet, look him in the eye and say "no barking." Be firm, but remember you don't need to yell. Grasp his muzzle softly in your hand as you give the command so he cannot bark. Do this every time he starts to bark.

If he stops, it shows he understands the concept, so pet him and praise him. Be patient, but be relentless. Training is a process, so repeat the lesson as many times as Charley needs it to learn the command. Allow him 10 seconds to think through the command. Repeat the lesson each time he goes on a barking spree, and pet him each time he refrains.

As always, the most important part of training is not the command, it is the affection after he obeys the command.

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. Email questions to theoldtrainer@gmail.com.

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