This page is part of the Watchdog section of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network

Comprehensive Behavioral Conditioning for Dogs
Section Three of the Advanced Course

How to Train a World Class Watchdog
Page One of a four-page article

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How to Train a World-Class Watchdog

Before attempting to implement the procedures found on this page, please be
sure to read at least the first and second sections of the fundamentals workshop.


A woman in Sacramento, California, was not particularly concerned when her dog began barking as though there were something threatening in the garage. The animal commonly barked at cats, among other things, so she when Fido alerted to something lurking among the automobiles, she scooped her pooch up in her arms and went in to investigate, fully expecting to find a crouching feline.

What she found instead was a methamphetamine-crazed intruder with a large butcher knife who had arrived at the wrong residence in the altogether mistaken belief that she had something to do with stealing a large quantity of the illicit white powder from an acquaintance of his.

Before the meth-addled dope fiend eventually wandered off, befuddled with delirium, leaving the unfortunate woman and her husband bound hand and foot, he gave them both a little lesson in why it is the wise owner trains his dog what to bark at and what not to bark at with great diligence, and then makes it a point to learn to listen carefully when the animal is trying to tell him something.

An Ancient Relationship

There was a time when being able to read the cues your dog was giving you about your physical environment was daily a matter of life and death. Thousands of years ago, if you and your dog came to a fork in the trail, you knew there could be a rabbit down one path waiting to offer you a chance to feed your family. On the other hand, down the other trail, there could very well be a predator larger than yourself - with a family of his own to feed.

With his keen sense of hearing and smell, the dog of long ago knew what was down the trail before he got there, just as surely as your dog has knowledge of events taking place in your house and yard right now that have entirely escaped you.

In those days of long ago, many people had an almost mystical ability to read their dogs, by which I mean that they were well aware of what their dogs were feeling. So for example, a person might not know that there was a meal for the taking down one path, while death lay down the other, which would be evident to the dog with his keen sense of smell. But in times gone by, many people would be tuned-in enough to their dogs to know that the animal felt strongly that one trail was much preferable to another.

While at first glance, training a watchdog might seem like a mundane undertaking, it can really be about more than just teaching your dog to bark at certain things and not at others. It can actually be about learning to intuit your dog's feelings about what he senses in the environment around him.

To be sure, interacting with a watchdog is actually a throwback to the ancient art of reading your dog. In other words, interacting effectively with a master sentry dog is a matter of learning to feel what he senses, and sense what he perceives in the world around him. Indeed, If you acquire a pup from a breed rated high for watchdog ability, and you bond with him and sentry-train him as described on this page, right through his critical stage and beyond, then, you may find that by training and learning to read your watchdog, you will slip a bit into his perceptual realm. If so, you have an amazing experience yet ahead of you.

I've seen it before. You get a sentry as reliable as the tides.

The Best Watchdog I Ever Knew

The best watchdog I ever knew was a German Shepherd who was never wrong. If he barked, you knew you had better check it out, because invariably, a vocal outburst from him meant something was amiss.

Due to some health problems with his mom, I acquired him at five weeks, which is one week earlier than a pup would normally leave the litter. But it seemed not to set him back at all.

Right from the moment that he first arrived as a tiny puppy, I showed greatly exaggerated concern over his every vocalization. I behaved as though it were of the utmost importance what that little pip squeak of a pup had to say - immediately shushing him with mild irritation when he barked inappropriately, but slathering on the admiration when he alerted to the arrival of a legitimate intruder. If I was not there at the moment he barked, then, I came running - every time - without exception - to express either irritation or admiration as the situation called for.

Looking back on it now, I realize that was a lot of power and no small slice of responsibility to place in the paws of a tiny pup, but by the time he was a year-old, he was a master watchdog.

He never barked at the letter carriers, or passing pedestrians, or the arrival of people he knew. The neighbors rarely heard him sound off at all. But by God when he did bark, you knew there was a problem.

His tenure with me coincided with my early college years, when I spent days at a time with a wonderful young woman, embracing in what one might describe as a passionate fashion. When my sweetheart and I made love at home, the dog slept. But as young as we were, and as unstable as our situation was, on a number of occasions we found ourselves vulnerable. We'd be lost in one another under a blanket in the dark of night. Maybe in the fog on a deserted beach, or in the back seat of a car on a residential lane, where the dark shadows beckoned to young lovers such as ourselves, whose passion-driven need for intamacy sometimes exceeded the degree of privacy the world was willing to afford us.

On those intimate occasions when we were vulnerable, the dog never slept. It didn't matter how far we'd hiked or how tired he might have been. He was a master watchdog and he had a sense of responsibility the size of Montana, so at those moments when his people were the most distracted, he was the most alert.

When you are with a master watchdog with whom you bonded early on in his development, you can almost feel the animal's intensity as he scan's the darkness, watching, waiting, totally in the zone. If you start early with the dog and you get good enough at reading him, the vibes radiating from the animal as he surveys the horizon for any sign of intruders, with all his senses fully extended, becomes almost palpable. And that particular dog was awesome. He really gave you a sense of having someone there looking out for you.

Had I ever found him sleeping at any key moment, when our well being depended on him conscientiously executing his craft, I would have shook his furry ass awake and called him on it. But it never happened. You never have to tell Eric Clapton that he needs to tune his guitar, either. Like I said, he was a master watchdog, and his pride in what he did was exceeded only by the magnificence with which he did it.

On occasion, the dog would interrupt our embrace to signal someone approaching in the distance, but even then, the animal didn't bark. He had way too much class for that. Rather, he would growl so softly that the person who was approaching from just out of view couldn't begin to hear him. But it was plenty audible to us. So by the time it became evident to our human senses that someone was approaching, and that person actually came into sight, we were already composed. It really worked out quite nicely for a four-legged chaperone and two young people in love.

And the dog never did bark on those occasions. But then, barking was not his job. Keeping us informed was what he was being paid to do.

He was pretty good at watching the house too.

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This page is part of the Watchdog section of the Advanced Course of the
D.S. Dog Training Workshop, and an element of the Dog Science Network