It is, in a lot of cases, possible to train your dog never to bark at all. However, I think that's a little silly, as the nature of the beast is to be vocal now and then. But if you have a dog that barks for an hour and a half every time he sees a leaf fall from a tree, maybe this technique will help you not kill him.

First, we've got to give the critter a reason to hush, and generally speaking, hollering "Shutcher goddamned trap!" is ineffective. Besides, it sounds ugly and mean, and it is my philosophy that if ugliness and meanness can be avoided, then why not avoid it? So, the first step is this: Stand in front of your dog when he's not barking or doing much of anything at all. Say "Thank You!" in an interesting, sing-songy tone, then release a food reinforcement to your pooch. Repeat rapidly about 10 times. Wait fifteen minutes or a half-hour, then do the whole thing again. You need to repeat this procedure 4 or 5 times a day for three days or so. (Repitition is the key!) On the third day, stand about 10 feet from your dog and repeat your "Thank You!" signal. Your dog should at this point come running over to you, as by now we will have created an association in his head between the "Thank You" stuff and the food reinforcement. If he doesn't get up and join you, he should at the very least snap his head up and gaze at you adoringly, or otherwise indicate to you that he knows your signal means something grand and wonderful. If you get no response at all, be patient, and repeat the first step for another day or three.

Once your dog will reliably get up and join you when he hears the "Thank You!" thing, start testing him at various times during his day. See if you can get him to quit sleeping when he hears it, or interrupt his own meal. The food reinforcements that you use have to be out-of-this-world delicious, so that they will be more compelling and interesting than whatever else might be going on for him at a given moment. Remain at the testing level of the exercise for another three days or so. Repeat about 10 times daily, at various intervals rather than all in a rapid row.

Now, your dog should be quite an expert at showing up at your side when he hears the magical "Thank You," and you can begin to use it for what you originally intended. The next time your dog starts to bark hysterically, sing your 'Thank You!" out over the din. The dog should stop his diatribe and come to see what you've got. Praise him like you mean it. Eventually, you can reduce the food reinforcements little by little, until you are only using them intermittently. A random reinforcement schedule makes particular behaviors addictive. Ask any slot-machine afficionado.

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