Bites hands. Aggressive Barking. Territorial. Protective.

Frenchie bites handsBetty 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.
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Aggressive Barking at People. Fear or Anger?

Two-year-old Belgian Malinois Jake’s home is now with people who have considerable experience and knowledge as dog owners. I’m sure if Jake had gone to them as a puppy they would have nurtured him into a reliable and friendly adult dog.

Physical neglect and domestic abuse

Poor Jake spent the first year of his life suffering severe physical neglect and domestic abuse.

This is a far cry from the life he should have had – one where he was loved, given kind training and most of all, socialised with people.

In all respects Jake received the opposite.

My clients have made considerable headway with him, particularly with respect to training. There is nothing they won’t do in order to help him.

Their main problem is Jake’s antipathy to people, demonstrated by his aggressive barking at them.

When out, his lunging and barking has a fear component too. From the moment he leaves the house he is on high alert for people. He is necessarily muzzled and, for control, they use a head halter underneath it.

This is Catch 22. He must be under control to keep people safe, but he’s going to feel trapped and uncomfortable. They can’t do anything about the muzzle, but they can use better handling equipment where they have just as much control should they need it and with Jake feeling comfortable.

Aggressive barking and two attacks

He has attacked a couple of people and only didn’t cause injury because he was wearing the muzzle at the time. On both occasions, to his humans, it seemed without warning.

Jake is constantly ‘living on the brink’ due to his invisible internal arousal levels. On both these occasions there will have been a build-up. One was at the end of a walk with all it’s challenges and the other he was in a situation that was far too much for him. It only takes one small extra frustration to send a dog like this over the edge (see ‘trigger-stacking‘).

When anyone calls to the house, Jake is always shut away. It makes having friends or family visiting very difficult. Catch 22 again. Without encountering people how will he ever change?

Due to the lady’s work, many people do actually come and go. He will bark from behind the kitchen door; he will bark at people and other dogs through the long windows.

This daily and frequent aggressive barking at people in or outside his house, people he can’t get to, will be very frustrating for him. It is also constant rehearsal of the aggressive barking which, he will undoubtedly believe, drives people away in the end.

When I visited yesterday we set things up carefully. I needed to see for myself whether fear was involved or if it was simply rage that another person was in his house. 

It looked like rage.

To Jake, his job was to get rid of me.

They had him muzzled up ready in the kitchen when I arrived, with a training lead hooked to both front and back of a harness and the man for company. I had announced my arrival on my mobile so as not to ring the doorbell. We wanted his arousal levels to be as low as possible.

I sat at a table as far from the door as possible. I could see through the open door and down the short passage from the kitchen.

The lady had instructions not to talk to Jake but just to walk him towards the room. As soon as he barked she was to turn around and walk him out of sight just round the corner.

As soon as Jake caught sight of me he exploded. He barked ferociously, lunging on the lead. The lady had to use her strength to remove him but because of the harness it would cause him no discomfort (discomfort would be yet another reason for him to hate me).

I asked her now to say ‘Jake – come’ each time she turned around and as he got a hang of the process he became less resistant.

Soon Jake was looking at me without barking.

After several attempts there was a distance outside the door where he could see me without any aggressive barking. He was quiet. The lady had worked previously on eye contact and he was looking at her all the time which she rewarded. I now suggested she waited until he looked at me, said ‘Yes’ and then fed him.

We worked on the lady approaching a step at a time, continually reinforcing Jake each time he looked at me. It didn’t take long before she could sit on a chair already placed some way away from me near the door beside the man, and Jake very soon lay down quietly.

After a while I tested this. I moved my legs. I stood up. Nothing. I got up and moved about a little and he was still relaxed.

aggressive barking at people

Jake for the short time his muzzle was off

I suggested the lady, hanging on to the lead, took his muzzle off.

He was fine and I even manged to take this photo (whilst looking the other way). I also chucked him food from time to time. This doesn’t look like a frightened dog, does it.

All went very well until something small happened.

I think the man got up to do something. This little bit of extra arousal suddenly sent Jake over the edge again and he lunged at me with aggressive barking as before. I was doing nothing.

It was almost like he realised he had forgotten himself and his job to get rid of me!

The lady took him straight back out.

We rehearsed the procedure again and then left him in the kitchen. We rehearsed it one more time before I left. Both times we finished at a point where it was going well.

They will now need frequent callers to work on.

Reducing Jake’s stress levels underpins everything.

Unless they can do lots of things to reduce Jake’s stress levels so that he is calmer in general, nothing will change. In this state he’s unable to exercise self-control. They then will be able to introduce activities to a calmer Jake that are incompatible with aggressive barking and lunging, maybe a ritual of some sort.

I did what I call a complete ‘behaviour health check’, looking for all areas where they could reduce excitement, arousal, fear, frustration levels. Accumulating stress levels can make his ‘explosions’ unpredictable – and inevitable.

In those most important very early months of his life, Jake had missed out on socialisation – encountering different people. When he should have been treated kindly and trained using force-free methods for the first year of his life, he received the very opposite.

They are now picking up the pieces. If anyone can do this, they can.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Jake. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly, particularly where aggression or fear issues of any kind are concerned. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (click here to see my Help page)

Fearful Barking at People, Especially Children

Dave was picked up from the person who bred him at ten weeks old. It’s obvious that before this he had met few people and probably no dogs other than those he had lived with.

Another red flag should have been the aggressive unfriendliness of the male German Shepherd that was Dave’s father.

His young gentleman owner does all he can and it’s not his fault. The seeds were already sown.

A cocktail of under-socialisation and ignorant breeding.

German Shepherd pup fearful barking at peopleA cocktail of under-socialisation and genetics – ignorant breeding – has produced a five month old puppy who already does fearful barking at people he doesn’t know and has nipped a child.

Dave will bark at anyone approaching him, particularly if they look at him or he feels they may touch him.

He’s is taken to work with the young man so life for him should be good as he spends little time alone. Work is a retail outlet with staff and with the public coming and going.

Dave is tethered under the man’s desk and is okay there so long as he’s ignored.

When he grows to be a large adult German Shepherd, if Dave continues his fearful barking at people this will be a big problem. The new dog law of 2015 states that a dog need only cause someone to feel intimidated for the owner to be in trouble.

Dave barked at me from the moment I arrived, hackles up, and continued to do so on and off for much of the evening. This barking wasn’t the sort of fear that meant he was backing away or wanting to hide – it was full on barking in my face. GO AWAY!

Despite himself, he was friendly from time to time. Because he’s just a puppy I didn’t feel at all intimidated with the barking right in my face. I was more concerned about how to help him and we made a start. I shan’t document here just how, as assessment is so important in cases like this so that we get it right.

In the three hours Dave lay down just twice, for only a minute. He was restlessly pacing and reacting to noises or my own movements all the time. From time to time he took himself out of my sight, only to start barking again as soon as he came back and saw me again like I had suddenly arrived.

Being on high alert during the day too, the puppy must be seriously sleep-deprived which can’t be helping his emotional state.

As I explained, it’s not the barking itself that’s the real problem – it’s a symptom. We need to work on the emotion that is driving the fearful barking at people. Over time he needs to be helped to feel people are good news.

Unfortunately, the young man, desperate, had been introduced to Cesar Millan’s programmes by a friend and he manages to stop the barking – by scruffing the pup. This can’t possibly help the feelings of fear that drive the behaviour. The very opposite in fact.

But scruffing works. Temporarily. It scares him. The pup dare not bark.

Scruffing also looks to anybody watching like he’s doing something about it. ‘Disciplining’ his dog.

I pointed out that because Dave is scared of people, if his owner then turns on him too, people will be even worse bad news. (If he had a child scared of dogs, say, then physically punished him for screaming with fear, scaring him further, would that child feel better or worse about dogs?).

The other problem with physical punishment is that as Dave grows bigger it will take more than scruffing to stop him. The stakes will have to rise. Where does this lead? In some cases a meek dog may just shut down. In a dog like Dave it can only end up with increasingly aggressive behaviour, maybe even directed at the source of the punishment, the man himself.

I was called out because the young man wanted a dog that would share his life. The fearful barking at people, especially children, isn’t what he expected and he’s out of his depth. He wants to learn how to help him and has now already made a start.

Our project is to help Dave to feel better about people. There is only one way to do this and it’s by forming positive associations. This will be a long and hard road requiring patience, understanding and consistency.

Certain precautions need to be taken, Dave needs to be muzzled when children are about. At work he will be either behind a barrier or on a harness and lead. He will wear a yellow vest with ‘I Need Space’ on it to discourage people approaching to pet the cute pup. He will be given a quiet store room leading off the office where he can spend time peaceful and safe. Hopefully he will relax and sleep for part of the day.

I go to many German Shepherds who bark aggressively at me when I go into their homes, that have to be kept muzzled, on lead or even left out of the room. I don’t remember going to a German Shepherd with fearful, aggressive-sounding barking as extreme as Dave’s at just five months old.

But, with the dedicated young man on his side, his outlook is good.

Here is a good article by Linda Michaels: Puppy socialisation and vaccinations belong together. Left too late, as in the case of Dave, the horse has bolted so to speak and now we are playing catch-up.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Dave. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important,particularly where any form of aggression is concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)

Controls the Front Door Area

Kerry Blue Terrier controls the front door area

Fudge and Tara the black dog on the right

Tara controls the front door and acts like she feels responsible for comings and goings.

She is a beautiful three-year-old Kerry Blue Terrier who has lived with them for seven months now, and is a companion for the very youthful Lakeland Terrier Fudge, age 13.

Tara has nipped visitors several times, all in the vacinity of the front door.

She tries to control Fudge also. He’s not allowed attention without her intervening and if he has food or a toy she thinks that should be hers.

There is a lot of barking from both dogs which results in the atmosphere being highly charged at times which won’t be helping.

Where Tara will bark more frantically when people come to the door, Fudge barks at everything – especially for attention and food – and in order to make him quiet they give him what he wants. They realise they have actually taught him to bark!

There is only one way out of this and this is to show him it no longer works and that he will get stuff for being quiet instead. Unfortunately he won’t like this, so the neighbours will be warned that the barking is very likely to get worse before it gets better.

Lakeland Terrier controls the front door

Tara

Against a calmer and less stressful background they should better be able to change Tara’s behaviour around the arrival of people to the house. She’s like two dogs. After five minutes and so long as the people don’t go near the front hall, she’s friendly and happy. She allowed me to walk around the kitchen with no reacting, but when I walked into the hallway she rushed in front of me, stood by the front door and staring at me, barking fiercely.

I would have been asking for a nip had I advanced.

The reason the dogs bark so much in general is that it works so well! They have constant access to the view out of the front window and as people pass they bark. What happens? The people pass by. The postman comes up the path and they bark frantically. What happens? The postman, having put the letters through the door, goes away.

The dogs’ barking, they are convinced, is successfully driving unwanted people away from their territory.

The lady needs peace because she works from home. The dogs bark and she feeds them treats to keep them quiet. They now bark for treats and what happens? They get them! Fudge even stands and barks by the cupboard and sure enough, sooner or later, someone will open the door and give him food.

We have worked out a strategy for when people come. The knocker will be changed for a bell and the dogs will be taught that when they hear the bell they run into the kitchen. Only when callers are settled will the dogs join them – Tara initially on lead. They will gate the kitchen door and people should then be able to move about more freely.

I suggest Tara is weaned into happily wearing a muzzle – just in case. If the family are at all concerned, a muzzle will help all relax and if done properly it will be acceptable to Tara.

Currently when someone knocks Tara is shut away but Fudge will be at the door, barking and jumping excitedly at people. Knowing she has lost control of Fudge as well as the front door will, I’m sure, be making poor Tara even more upset. The dogs should be shut in the kitchen together.

I’m sure it’s insecurity behind Tara’s controlling behaviours and I am also sure that the lovely family will help her to become more confident and chilled.

With new management in place the teenage kids should be able to bring their friends home again, the lady in particular will be less stressed and the dogs will slowly learn what works and what no longer works – and given time Tara should relinquish her control of the front door.

From email received just over three weeks later: “Just wanted to share with you that we’ve had two great, stress-free days! Fudge and Tara are now both coming to me immediately on ‘OK’ at alarm barking, we then go into the kitchen to calm down. ….The Sprinkles game is so enjoyed that both dogs ignored next door’s dogs barking today and just happily foraged in the garden……..I can’t believe how unstressed I feel and how good the dogs have been, I’m so happy!…..3 weeks ago I was at the end of my tether and it was me or the dogs. I didn’t know how to stop all the barking, dreaded callers to the house and generally wondered why on earth I had dogs. It has been hard, the first 10 days or so was stressful trying to remember all the things to do, I lost my temper, I shouted, the dogs seemed worse than ever before but now I am seeing results, it feels good, I feel good. The dogs are brilliant, I love them again.
NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approach I have worked out for Tara and Fudge. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good particularly in cases involving potential aggression. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see myGet Help page).

Wary of People in Their Home

Two dogs who were picked up as strays

Basil and Rosie

The two stunning dogs of mixed breed, Basil and Rosie, recently came back to the UK with the couple who adopted them in Hong Kong where they had been picked up as strays or possibly street dogs. It’s a pity I didn’t get a better photo of them together.

As you can see, although they were now not barking or backing off anymore, both were looking away as I pointed my phone at them which I was trying to do whilst looking the other way.

As I entered the house, the gentleman was trying to corral the dogs down the passageway into the sitting room whilst also trying to keep them quiet – living in a flat they are conscious of their neighbours. I gave my rather large bag to the lady to carry as carrying a bag (like wearing a hat) can contribute to upsetting some dogs.

The barking stopped very quickly as I sat down, but they were both extremely wary. For a short while Basil was ready to bark again at me whilst Rosie backed away. I won them round with food and by making no effort to touch them when they did, soon, come to me.

The owners are particularly concerned because their dogs’ aggressive-sounding barking means that several friends simply won’t visit anymore. There is one close male friend in particular that the dogs don’t like. Apparently he always wears a baseball cap and he’s very tall which apart from the fact that dogs can be more scared of men anyway could perhaps contribute to their unease.

I suggested they had ‘people-food’ ready-prepared, small and tasty bits of food that they only use for when people come to the flat so the only way the dogs get access to this special treat is when people come in or move about.

By trying various different things we worked on a technique whereby I could walk about the room and the dogs would remain relaxed. They can then now do the same things when the friend comes this evening.

This involves, before the person starts to move, one of the owners maintaining their dogs’ attention by calling them over, asking them to sit in front of them and then gently holding onto them whilst feeding them ‘people-food’. By facing their owner the dogs would be turning their backs to the other person. Now the person can move freely about.

I found that once I was up and walking around the room the owner could release the dogs after a second or two and they were fine. This same technique would need to be used for a few seconds each time the person, having been sitting down, moved.

Fortunately these two dogs were not nearly as wary of people in their home as many dogs I go to and this wouldn’t work in more severe cases. It just suited these two. Every case and situation is a bit different.

brown dog

Basil

As always, the guests need training too. They should be asked to move slowly and casually, to give no eye contact to the dogs and when they arrive not to walk too directly or deliberately towards them or the owner. Instead, the owner should turn around and take the dogs with him so that the person follows. Until the dogs get comfortable with someone, they should try not to move too suddenly and to give warning before they stand up. The guest can drop or roll pieces of food.

In a very short while both dogs were actually eating out of my hand.

The barking and anxiety starts with the intercom bell. This is something they can work on easily. Repeatedly one of them can go downstairs and ring the bell while, as soon as the dogs hear it, they get food from the other person. Every time one of the owners either goes out or comes in, they can ring the bell. Because the bell will then only very occasionally mean someone is visiting it will no longer be a trigger, so when a caller is let in the door the dogs aren’t already pre-aroused.

Like everything to do with desensitising and counter-conditioning it takes a lot of repetitions and work. Unless they have a regular run of callers to get the dogs thoroughly at home with people coming and going, it may always need working on to some extent.

Their second issue which I shan’t discuss in much detail now is that Basil, in particular, ignores all calls to come back when he’s on a hunt. The other day he nearly got killed when a chase after a muntjac deer took him across a busy road, followed by Rosie. As a stray who probably had to rely upon hunting for food he will most likely have the chase in his blood.

They have only two safe options really which is hard because dog walks to many people are something where the dogs run free, getting plenty of exercise and doing their own thing. Now they should only ever let Basil off lead in places where there is no escape. If they want him to come back when called, they will need to put in months and months of recall work with Basil. What, after all, is in it for Jack to come back before he’s finished what he is doing? The man’s tone of voice wasn’t such that I, if I were a dog, would find sufficiently inspiring to tempt me to come back! I may not even hear him.

Recall is about much more than just training; it’s also about the dog’s relationship with the person who wants him to come back. To a dog with a high prey drive, it’s quite a challenge for someone to be more relevant, exciting and rewarding than a running muntjac or rabbit!

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’, but I choose an aspect. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be very different to the approach I have worked out for Basil and Rosie. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good. One size does not fit all. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies specific to your own dog (see my Get Help page).

 

Pug Aggressive When Approached

Somebody said “The dog is your mirror. The behaviour you get is usually, in some way, a reflection of your own.” This was particularly apparent in the case I went to yesterday with fifteen-month old Pug, Parker.Pug Parker is protective of the lady He has stolen a slipper and is waiting for the chase

He has problems that only manifest themselves around his lady owner, not with the gentleman. For instance, when the man takes him out, he is unfazed when someone approaches them and is okay for them to lean over and touch him. The man is relaxed about it. When the lady takes him out, he becomes very anxious when a person approaches; the lady is anxious. Parker barks aggressively and if someone tries to touch him he may snap.

The biggest problem for the family is that Parker feels threatened when someone comes to the house (or feels the lady and young son might be threatened – not the man). He is becoming increasingly protective. He will bark quite aggressively at them. He gets very agitated if either the lady or the son leaves the room.

It seems Parker picks up on the man’s confidence and the lady’s anxiety. Because of how she treats him in general, he has the idea that he must protect her – almost as though she is a resource belonging to him.  It is one of the consequences of allowing a dog to call all the shots – in a way the son would never be allowed to.

Parker mostly gets attention under his own terms, and one of the best attention-getters is to steal a shoe! There is then a lot of chasing with three humans trying to corner him. A great game. See him on the right with a slipper? We ignored him so he lay down with it!

A dog full of his own importance may be more precious about his own personal space. A dog used to being in control may feel fear when forced into a position where he lacks control. The recent visit to the vet was a fiasco and in the end he had to be sedated in order for the vet to give him the kennel cough dose up his nose (when the gentleman alone has taken him to the vet he has been a lot calmer).

Parker is a teenager and like human teenagers he needs rules and boundaries presented to him in a kind and positive way. He needs to be rewarded for good behaviour and not reinforced with attention for bad behaviour. His people need to be consistent – to stick to their guns. In the past plump little Parker has been lavished with food, treats and even fed from their own plates. If we were showered with money, would we bother to work for it? It’s the same with attention. If attention is always freely on tap, why should the dog take notice when we need him to do something for us. By rationing attention somewhat, giving it more under our own terms, we become more valued and relevant.

Nearly three months have now gone by, and I have received this email: “Just thought I should give you an update on Parker! We have been working hard with him over the last few months & he is a changed little doggie. It was a real tester over Christmas with people coming & going & although he still barks at the doorbell on occasion, he settles down very quickly. When out for walks he now automaticaly sits when strangers or other dogs approach & we then give him a small treat after they have passed & we don’t ever have any pulling of the lead . He still begs for food (he’s a greedy pug) but realises he is wasting his time. Oh & he is in love with his stagbars”
 

Jack Russell and New Baby

Jack Russell Becky is easily stressedThis is Becky, a four-year-old Jack Russell. She is a superb little dog – very biddable – perhaps a little spoilt!

Becky is, however, easily stressed. This was evident by her excessive nose-licking. Her family hadn’t realised that this was a sign of anxiety – of Becky trying to calm herself.  She can be thrown into a hyper state very easily. In the past this has unwittingly been encouraged. For instance, she will go over the top when she sees a bird or squirrel out of the window and start running from door to door, barking frantically. They let her out. Once outside she has to redirect this overwhelming stress onto something else so she attacks a toy instead. Rather than dealing with this so that Becky can calm down which would be a lot kinder, they believe that doing what Becky is demanding is kind – letting her out to deal with it herself.

As a dog she is naturally on look-out duty, but she shouldn’t then feel it’s her responsibility to deal with the problem. Imagine you have a child and you tell him – ‘keep an eye open for the lion that has escaped from the zoo’. Then, at the window, he starts yelling, “The lion! The lion! It’s in the garden”. What do you do? Let your child out to deal with it? Or do you tell him to shut up? No – I think not!

However, this is not the reason I was called – but amongst other things contributes to how she’s reacting to a new baby in the family. The have a tiny grandchild now, weighing less than Becky. Becky is fixated. In the same room as the baby Becky is very anxious as one can tell from the nose-licking and paw-lifting. She whines. She had tried to grab the baby’s foot. She’s not being aggressive, but here is something that smells fascinating and that makes noises she simply doesn’t understand which she can’t control. And Becky is accustomed to controlling the people around her!

While I was there we worked at stress relief around the baby and associating Becky being relaxed around her with nice things. We watched out for and respected Becky’s stress signals.

I happened to call later in the day and they had been making such good progress that they pushed ahead too fast, letting their guard down and putting Becky into a situation she was not ready to cope with. This was a warning that these things take time. Becky needs to be well within her comfort zone, on lead around the baby whilst out of actual reach before getting near enough to sniff her, and then only when she’s asleep and quiet  – long before removing the lead. This will take days, maybe weeks, not just a couple of hours. One thing at a time!

The whole process needs to be against a background of general de-stressing and Becky learning that she doesn’t actually need to be in control of the humans in her life. What a relief that will be to her.

I can help you, too, with these problems or any other that you may be having with your dog.