Guard barking includes growling and because it includes growling people often interpret this as aggression. Aggression can be displayed in many different ways but not usually barking. Guard barking shows itself when a dog is defending himself or something that belongs to him. This defensiveness is a result of insecurity, stress and fear. The sound of this bark is always accompanied by growling. The bark itself is generally a lower pitch than fear barking but if the dog is really worked up about defending himself the bark can reach a fever pitch.
The behaviors that accompany the growling bark include lunging, snarling, snapping all of which can lead to biting. The dog uses these behaviors because he believe he in survival mode.
What to do about guard barking? This is dependent upon what the dog is defending. Here is what you can do. 1) Avoid situations where the dog feels he has to defend himself. For instance if the dog is defending himself from another dog, immediately put some distance between the two dogs. 2) Learn what signals your dog gives when he begins to become defensive. Respond immediately, and hopefully proactively, to avoid any confrontation. 3) Before the situation escalates you can show the dog you are taking on the responsibility of his safety by stepping in front of the dog. But the distance needs to be there first in this situation or can find yourself involved in a dog fight. Certainly do not step in front of the dog if the oncoming dog is not on a leash. In this case, retreat. 4) When approaching another dog who is on a leash, change your approach to a wide arching curve. This will help diffuse the situation.
Now – how to train a dog to be less defensive/reactive. Enlist the help of a friend with a nonreactive dog. I like to start with the friend and dog about 40 – 50 feet away – or whatever distance where your dog can walk parallel without showing escalating behaviors. It will be easier if you make sure the buddy dog is on the other side of you. In the initial training the buddy dog should be stationary so you can walk parallel to the dog and the dog experiences approach and walking away from him Walk on by for another 30 feet or so, and then turn around and repeat the exercise. If your dog can tolerate this, on the third exercise try to decrease the distance by about a foot or so and repeat. I try to stay as neutral as possible and keep the training session short, no more than 15 minutes. This exercise is exhausting for dogs and they will need to process the effects of exercising self control. Once a dog can tolerate the situation where the trigger is not moving you can begin to walk the two dogs parallel to each other – again, as far apart as is necessary for your dog to be nonreactive (under threshold) and over time, decrease the distance between you and your dog and your training partners.
There are several variations of this exercise and I will attest to the fact that it can be quite successful. Much can be accomplished in just a couple of sessions but be mindful of pushing the dog too quickly or training for too long a time. Let me know if you want to know more about this method.
Tomorrow – Frustration barking. Talk at you then.