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 Three of a four-page article
Promoting the Development of the Watchful Canine Brain
Like the human brain, the portions of the canine brain that are highly stimulated early in life will develop physically to a point well beyond what would have otherwise occurred, in order to support the increase in neural activity that is required to buttress that stimulation. What that means in practical terms is that if - during your dog's critical stage - you make watching and reporting a rewarding pursuit and, conversely, you make doing it wrong an aversive undertaking, the parts of your dog's brain that deal with that sort of activity will actually grow and form differently than they would have otherwise done, as they develop new neural pathways. As a result, early watchdog training may quite literally cause your dog's brain to develop in a way that could contribute to his becoming a genius at watching and reporting.
The Critical Stage Watchdog
By working with your sentry-in-training right through his critical stage of development, you can foster his neural development and in that way, you may quite possibly be able to cause him to grow into something of a genius when it comes to watchdog work. But don't expect your tiny critical stage pup to immediately figure it all out and instantly know what he is and is not suppose to bark at - because he won't. You critical stage pup will be something between clueless and oblivious. After all, he just arrived on this planet and he hasn't yet had time to figure out which end is up.
Nonetheless, by tending to his barking behavior in a markedly intense, yet gentle and loving manner, you will stimulate the development of the part of your dog's brain that deals with such matters, while bringing him to the realization early in life that who he does and does not bark at is a matter of great consequence.
Before starting work with your critical stage pup, be sure to read The Age At Which Training Should Begin.
Learning to Trust and Communicate with Your Watchdog
This page began with the story of a Sacramento woman, who suffered a home invasion because she failed to properly sentry train her dog. The very first time her dog barked at a cat she should have let loose a good loud no, in her best unsettling voice, and maybe tossed in a nose chuck to go with it as a way of saying: Pussy cats? Don't tell me about pussy cats! I don't want to hear about no stinking pussy cats!!
If she had done that, a few reprimands and a handful of corrections later the dog would have ceased to alert to cats. In which case it would have been more likely to have occurred to the woman that she was in genuine danger when the animal tried to alert her to the presence of an armed intruder.
Remember then, the rule is that if you don't go, you won't know. You must respond to your dog's every bark, unfailingly, until you reach the point that you know beyond question that he knows just exactly what it is that he is supposed to bark at. You need to keep it up until he gets to the point that he always barks at those things, and that he never barks at anything else. Until you reach that point, you must answer his every bark because your dog will still be in training. After that point, you must answer every bark because, by then, his vocalizations will have become a reliable indicator of an intruder on your property.
When your dog barks and you go out to investigate, you will find that it is not always readily apparent what the animal is alerting to. If that is the case, then, when you arrive on the scene, the next thing you need to do after looking for some obvious stimulus that might have set the beast off, is to ask yourself where your dog is looking. Follow his gaze.
If there is nothing readily apparent to account for the fact that your dog was barking, and he is looking at you or looking at something you don't want him to bark at. Or, if he is just kind of looking around in general, then, punishment is in order.
A master watchdog will stare either directly at the person or in the direction in which he last saw the person to whom he is alerting, and will continue to do so, as opposed to looking around to greet his human partner when he comes out of the house to answer the summons. If that is the case with your dog, then, walk to where he is and stand next to him either with your leg pressed up against his body or with your hand resting on his shoulders.
That will serve to reinforce your dog's barking behavior, while letting him know not only that you are there, but also, just exactly where you are, which is essential information he needs as he tries to sort through the various shadows, scents, and sounds to figure out exactly who is there, exactly where they are, and just exactly what they might be up to.
As you stand there motionless, in physical contact with you dog, don't touch his head since that could interfere with his hearing, and don't speak. Just follow his line of sight. Then, hold very still and listen, and try to see what he sees. And try to sense what he knows.
Building Your Dog's Self Esteem Through Watchdog Training
There seems to be a great aura of dignity that descends on a guarding type dog who has been assigned the task of watching for danger. There is just something about being entrusted with a responsibility that could mean life or death for everyone in the family that makes all the difference in the animal's sense of self worth.