Q&A: My French Bulldog throws tantrums

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Question submitted by Kayla G.

I have a four-year-old French Bulldog. I rescued her from a pet store when she was six months old. Before I got her, she had no socialization at all. She hadn’t been put on a leash, played with other dogs, or let out of the cat carrier they kept her in. She had cherry eye in both eyes so bad the tissue was necrotic and she couldn’t close her eyes. I got her eyes fixed and spayed her. To this day we are dealing with her ”tantrums.” If she is laying with us and we have to get up, she growls. If we have to move her, she stiffens out and growls. Sometimes she will get to the point where she’ll grab our arms or legs and wrap her front paws around it and just shake and growl. She has never bitten us, but she seems so unhappy I feel awful. I know this has to do with her rough beginning, but I cannot hug, kiss, or pick her up without her throwing a fit. When we take her for walks, she bites and pulls on her leash or she’ll pull my other dog’s leash and harness and has pulled it off of him several times. What can I do to curb these behaviors?

Kayla,
Holy moley – you’ve got yourself a handful. Thank you for saving her. Let’s take this one issue at a time.
It seems like this behavior has been going on for awhile, so take a deep breath and let’s start over with her. First, make sure her reactions are not based on a physical issue. You don’t say what her eyesight is like after the surgery, but her reactions may be due to failing eyesight (frightened of the movement). If that is ruled out, as hard as it can be with rescues, try not to baby her and don’t treat her like a rescue meaning feeling sorry for her and letting her rule the roost. Dogs love structure. It tells them what to expect and what they can count on. In her early life, she had no structure and no expectations. Now she is trying to create her own (like keeping you from moving, or moving her). When she growls at you for moving, or moving her, it is the equivilent of me walking up to you at the mall and hitting you. If you let me get away with it and there are no consequences,  I’ll probably do it the next time I see you (not really – just a demonstration). When she does that, do one of two things: calmly (no words) put her on the floor and ignore her. When she quiets, put her back up. Repeat, repeat, repeat. Or just get up and walk away from her (again no words). She will begin to understand that in order for her to be where she wants to be (with you), she must demonstrate good behavior. If you are already up, when she puts her legs around you and clings into a crate she goes until she is calm, then she can come out.  Have something in the crate for her to do, Kong, toy, so she doesn’t see it as punishment.  This is only a small time out. As soon as she is calm for a minute, let her out and praise her.
If she is having an aversion to petting or snuggling, try having her next to you and giving her something really yummy while you gently pet her. Peanut butter on a wooden spoon works great. Whatever you use, this should be the only time she gets that yummy treat.  Soon you should find that when you get the peanut butter jar out of the pantry, she will head for the couch to get some attention.
As far as the leash biting (hers and your other dog’s), try putting some hand sanitizer on your hands and rubbing it onto the leash, or spraying some listerene onto the leash.  If you are walking her with collar and leash, you might try a harness on her.  Also, dogs usually like to walk at a faster pace than us. You might try picking up the pace so she is too involved in the walk to have time to bite the leash.
I hope doing these things will help you give her the self-confidence she seems to need.  Frenchies are usually known for their goofy faces and silly antics. With the patience you obviously already have and some consistency with the training, you will see the better side of her. Please let me know how the progress goes.

Terry Meeks is a dog trainer, APDT Member an CGC Evaluator in Pinellas County, Florida.  Find Four on the Floor Dog Training at FourontheFloor-Dogtraining.com and on Facebook.

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