Oh, Gus, please stop your angry barking at me!
The French Bulldog burst out of the utility room and charged at me where I was sitting at the kitchen table, sending his water bowl flying. There wasn’t time to think.
He was out like a rocket.
They quickly grabbed his lead which was already attached to his harness.
But it gave me a clue. If Gus was simply afraid he would more likely have hung back and barked – or at least hesitated to see who I was before flying at me. As it was, it didn’t matter who the person was – the door opened and he charged, running across the kitchen and slamming into me.
Gus also behaves like this initially when familiar people and family come to the house.
I would say the angry barking is due mostly to frustration. He spends a lot of the day watching for people going past the house and barking at them. He barks at people he hears from the garden too. What do these people do in response to his angry barking? They move on sooner or later.
Fear does actually come into it as well. Being protective by definition means the dog is afraid something might happen to a resource or to himself. Guarding something means that the dog becomes angry if he fears that thing, or person, is under threat.
Interestingly, if someone comes into the house when the couple aren’t there, he’s a different dog.
I am sure his behaviour has a genetic component. What won’t have helped is that Gus broke his leg at the age of four months and was out of action for several weeks at this crucial time for socialisation.
Gus has a lovely home with people who have always done their very best for him. He is treated very kindly. It’s distressing for them to see the state he gets into and it means they can’t freely have their friends round. They’ve not had anyone he doesn’t already know in the house for a long time.
One approach when the dog barks to get rid of somebody is to remove him instead, so that the opposite happens. This unfortunately can increase frustration so things can get worse before they get better. Also, it’s hard to do when the dog, despite harness and lead, is very resistant. Although Gus is large for a Frenchie, the man was able to lift him. He alternated walked Gus out of sight as soon as he barked at me and brought him straight back when he wasn’t barking.
The breaks in the barking were really only long enough for him to draw breath.
This was tiring work and constant. In the end we put him in the utility room for a while before having another go later on.
The good things happen to a quiet dog.
The other side to this is that when (if) he is quietly in my presence, it has to be a good place to be – food, petting and attention. But no food, no petting, no attention unless he’s quiet.
They should limit sessions to five minutes at a time before giving him a break in the utility room to quieten down. They should first perfect their technique with familiar people as his barking at them is nowhere near as extreme.
I have found with a few dogs who behave like this one other thing that is worth a try first. It may or may not work for Gus. They will experiment with a family member who visits them regularly. They won’t let him ring the doorbell but ask him to text a short way from the house to make sure Gus doesn’t know he’s there.
Then they can leave Gus alone in the sitting room and go out to get the caller. There is nobody left to guard. The important thing is for them then to lead the man into the room – they must be in front. They should talk to each other and ignore Gus.
Working on the emotion that drives the behaviour.
Dealing with the actual angry barking at people is one thing. The frustration if someone doesn’t go away another. We really need to get to the bottom, underlying cause. The barking is a symptom. Fearfulness of something happening to resources belonging to him (his humans) means they need to show him over time that protection duty is their job and not his.
Anger and frustration happen when things are out of Gus’ control.
I believe that when all the bits and pieces are fitted together, most importantly reducing the barking at passing people, they will have a calmer dog with less need for angry barking and he will be easier to work with.
I couldn’t take the photo but look at that face!