My Shepherd is 14 months old and has been in training since we rescued him at 3 months. He has come a long way but has been showing some regression in the past 2 weeks. On walks he will occasionally bark at people and will bark aggressively at dogs he is not familiar with. it is embarrassing In the past I would have him sit and reward him for stopping the barking but now he wont stop. He is fine around dogs once he gets to say hi to them however the barking is very intimidating and I need for it to stop. I am still taking classes with him and he will stop in class. It is more out on our walks or in public. I would love some advice how to be more proactive and end this problem for both of us. Thank you!
I don't know what sort of training you're doing but I suspect it's the problem here. If the dog "will stop in class" then I have to assume you are using coercion: "punishment" (choker collar, pinch collar, etc.) So he is not learning a thing but he is being strongly conditioned to the reality that his fear/excitement reaction causes harm in that particular environment. In the "real world" the stimulus is just too great and coercion won't work (or may result in redirected aggression, and certainly will result in actual aggression toward oncoming dogs, sooner or later.) Your trainer seems without a clue (and this is true of many).
Occasionally barking, even seemingly in an aggressive manner, is simply vocalization and a sharing of state of "mind" or the oncoming rush of adrenaline which puts the dog in a fight/flight situation with no cognition available. He is "fine around dogs once he gets to say hi to them"...this tells me his intent is not aggressive.
Regression in training can mean one of two things:
1. The training is failing and may actually be making the situation worse
2. The dog needs to "go back to kindergarten" for several weeks.
I suggest you find a more sophisticated trainer, one with educational credentials who has visible certificates and references you can check, as well as a (hopefully) special class for "problem" dogs where your dog can learn to calmly meet/greet, as seen below:
Such classes are often called "growl classes". The single most important factor is to never use coercion. If the dog has been taught avoidance rather than choice (which is what coercion teaches), he must go back to the beginning with a program of classical conditioning that involves his choice resulting in a reward.
Meanwhile: If you're using coercion, remove the punishing collar (if you're using one). Replace it with a strong martingale collar that "closes" around the dog's neck without hurting in the manner a dog would be reprimanded by another dog without violence. One can be found here:
The collar is easily adjusted so two of your fingers can freely fit between the dog's neck and the collar itself; when pulling, the collar will benignly tighten.
You must then introduce classical conditioning to this dog by teaching him a simple behavior, "sit" but, use another word if he has learned this under coercion. A simply way to teach him is seen here:
The real skill in this sort of training involves the dog's very slow exposure to situations where HE MIGHT FAIL because what we DO NOT WANT is the dog TO FAIL. Until you have 100% compliance to your new cue for "sit" indoors, and then work on it outdoors in places where there are no distractions until you have 100% compliance, moving up the ladder to places where there is real distraction, do NOT use it. Instead: stop walking when the dog barks in the manner that distresses you. Turn your back to him for ten seconds, see what happens. If he does not stop, simply lead him in a circle (following a large hoola hoop) left, right, left, until he is CLEARLY looking at you (giving you attention). This means: his fight/flight mechanism or emotional reaction has now been replaced by cognition: he's looking at you to see what you're up to. At that moment, stop walking. Step forward toward him calmly and, as he backs up, he should naturally sit. Pop high value treat into his mouth WHILE using your new cue for "sit", then go forward. You may have to interrupt your walks many, many times at first. Once the dog is rock solid in "sit", you can actually stop, ask for "sit", heavily reward, then say "okay" and allow him forward to greet the other dog (providing the other dog's body language is acceptable.)
If you can't find a qualified trainer, repost using followup and I will give you links to sites where you can find a certified applied animal behaviorist. Try the following approach and report back. Anecdote: I once worked with a GSD with a similar behavior (it is NOT uncommon in this breed) and always, every time, her apparent "aggression" was no more than an hysterical need to meet and greet. We can't assume this is always the case. Thereby, the counter conditioning.