Canine Behavior/Shepherd


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.

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Jill Connor, Ph.D.


I have spent my entire professional life rehabilitating the behavior of the domestic dog and I can answer any question regarding any behavior problem in any breed dog. I have answered more than 5,000 QUESTIONS on this site in the past (almost) eight years. If you are a caring, committed owner and need advice, I'm here for you. I am personally acquainted with my colleagues (Turid Rugaas, Ian Dunbar, etc.) who were members of an elite group in EGroups that I founded: K9Shrinks. THERE ARE NO QUICK FIXES for serious behavioral issues; not only is it unprofessional to offer same, it is also unethical. IF I ASK YOU SUBSEQUENT QUESTIONS, I NEED YOU TO INTERACT WITH ME. More information equals more credible answers and a more successful outcome. If you want ANSWERS THAT WORK, participate in any way I request. I'm quite committed to working on this site for YOUR benefit and the benefit of YOUR DOG. Help me in any way you can.


30 years of solving serious behavior problems in domestic dogs; expert in dog to human aggression; Internet columnist for for 5 years; former radio talk show host, WHPC.FM, Garden City, NY "Bite Back" (1995 through 2000). List owner, international animal behavior experts, Seminar leader: "Operant Conditioning and Learning"; "Aggression in The Domestic Dog"; "Solving Problem Behaviors" -- conducted for various training facilities on Long Island from 1993 through 2000. Former clinical director of "Behavioral Abnormalities" in conjunction with Mark Beckerman, DVM, Hempstead, New York.

Member, APDT (UK); Psychologists in Ethical Treatment with Animals

Harcourt Brace Learning Direct: "The Business of Dog Training" "The Fail Safe Dog: Brain Training, not Pain Training"

Ph.D., UC Berkeley

Past/Present Clients
Board of Directors: Northeast Dog Rescue Connection; The Dog Project; Sav-A-Dog Foundation; etc. Pro Bono counselor: Little Shelter Humane Society My practice is presently limited to forensics. I diagnose cause of dog bite, based upon testimony before the Court, for attorneys and insurance companies litigating dog bites, including fatal injuries. I also do pro bono work for bona fide rescue organizations, humane societies, et al, regarding such analysis in an effort to obtain release for dogs being held for death in municipal shelters in the US.

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