Betty is another French Bulldog that barks loudly at anyone coming into her house. “Go Away!”
Sometimes she bites hands.
I have just looked back through my more recent stories of French Bulldogs. I am surprised how many cases have been about territorial and protective aggressive behaviours towards people coming into their home.
As a behaviourist, I only visit those Frenchies with problems. Of these problems, most have protectiveness and barking aggressively at people in common.
These traits aren’t generally amongst French Bulldog characteristics. The opposite in fact.
Five-year-old Betty barked loudly and bravely at me. Her demeanour was fearless, territorial and protective. By definition, though, territorial behaviour involves fear – fear of the things she is protecting being harmed or removed from her.
They kept her on lead because she bites hands. She only goes for hands – leaping up as she does so if the person is standing.
Human response is key to making things better or worse
Betty has until a couple of weeks ago lived in a very busy family household with lots of comings and goings. Possibly sometimes things were a bit too much for her.
Now the young couple have a new home of their own. Alone with them, Betty is the perfect affectionate pet. They so want their much-loved little dog to be happy, friendly and trustworthy when other people are about.
Over her five years Betty’s ‘aggressive’ behaviour has earned what, to her, must seem like an aggressive response.
People will have told her off and maybe punished her in some way when she bites hands. We instinctively respond angrily when our dog displays aggressive behaviour (we must be seen to ‘deal with it’). This invariably makes a confused dog worse.
It’s not what Betty’s actually doing that needs addressing so much as the emotions inside her which cause the behaviour that need changing. She then won’t find it necessary.
She bites hands. It’s all about hands
Betty’s ‘biting’ isn’t really biting – yet. I would class it as nipping or a snap. She is in fact exercising a good degree of bite-inhibition and self-control. If she wanted to properly bite she could and would do damage. It’s just sufficient warning to get the hand to go away – and it works.
The hand quickly withdraws. It is all about hands.
It’s very unusual to get no warning at all but they see none. She never growls. She may ‘ask to be petted’ one minute and go for the hand the next. It seems to me that they are misreading her wish to be touched. When we feel friendly and want to chat to someone, we’re not necessarily asking them to touch us or ruffle our hair, are we!
Possibly Betty bites hands for another reason – pain. She has had several operations which may have made her over-sensitive to being touched. When younger she had both eyes operated on for cherry eye and recently extensive throat and nostril surgery.
Do Not Touch!
The obvious first step if a dog regularly bites hands is stop all hand-touching from anybody apart from close family – for now anyway. It’s probably now got to a stage where she’s on the defensive just in case a hand may touch her.
Secondly, if Betty is being protective as I believe she is, it makes sense that they turn the tables on her. They now will show her in every way possible that protection duty is their job and not their little dog’s.
They will teach her alternative behaviours that help her to cope when somebody comes to the house.
Treating Betty completely differently is the way forward. They should cut out scolding and ‘discipline’ for barking or aggressive behaviour. This response is, to the dog, countering aggression with aggression and nobody wants it to go down that route. Instead they will praise and reward all the behaviour that they like – constantly look for positives.
They will do this particularly when there are other people about. Using food, they will call her away, give her something she loves to chew and show her that the other people are simply not her responsibility.
People will be asked not to touch her – even if she seems to be ‘asking to be petted’.
Using food for reward and motivation will make a huge difference to her state of mind and the control they have over her.