Adding Structure to Help a Pair of Yellow Labs Relax Around the Baby

By: David Codr

Published Date: January 26, 2016

Baxter and Riley

Baxter (Left) is a ten-year-old Yellow Lab who lives in Huntington Beach with his seven-year-old pal Riley (right). The guardians reached out to me to help stop Baxter’s growling and barking when the family’s newborn babbies cry.

When I arrived for the session, I could see two distinct personalities between the dogs. Baxter had a little bit of a territorial inflection to his bark and movement where Riley seems pleased that a new visitor had arrived.

One thing I wasn’t wild about was the baby gates that surrounded the front door. While it makes sense to put up barricades to keep a dog back, employing this tactic makes the barricade the authority figure rather than the humans.

I had their guardian remove the baby gate so that I could show them how they could claim the area around the door for themselves. Doing this will really elevate the human’s authority in the dog’s eyes.

Showing a guardian how to reclaim the area around the front door is one of my favorite exercises. Usually the dogs pick up on it pretty quickly which makes it an impressive transformation.

Now that I had demonstrated how to do it, we reset the exercise so that the dog’s guardian could claim the area around the door himself.

The dogs guardian showed a good confidence and assertiveness which the dogs really responded to. He slipped up in a few areas but once he had his technique and timing down, the dogs clearly understood and respected his wishes.

Due to the new babies in the home, one of the guardian’s mother was there pretty often to help and she expressed that she would like to enter the house without being accosted by the pair of excited labs. We reset the exercise so that I could coach her through answering the door.

What I didn’t realize at the time was that the godmother was a little bit concerned standing between Baxter and his primary guardian who was playing the part of the arriving guest. You can notice a little bit of trepidation and reservation in her body posture; such as holding her arms behind her back and walking side to side rather than forward.

To her credit, she stuck with it and was able to move the dogs away from the door pretty effectively. Her downfall only arrived at the very end when she turned her attention away from the dogs. If she maintains her focus on the dogs the next few times she practices the exercise, she will teach the dogs that they need to stay back and respect her space when she answers the door.

It should only take a dozen or so practice runs at this exercise before the dogs learn to stay behind the line several feet away from the door on their own regardless of who answers it.

Throughout the session, I noticed that both dogs had a tendency to invade the personal space of their guardians. Of course it was easy to see why they did this, every time they got near the guardian, the person reached over to pet them.

I spent the next few minutes going over how the dog’s guardian’s can claim their personal space.

I had previously done a Skype session with the dog’s guardians where I gave them some nonverbal communication cues. To help them practice using them, I showed the guardian’s a leadership exercise I developed a few years ago.

The exercise asks the dogs to keep a respectable distance from a high-value item that is laying in the middle of the floor. Only after the dog gives up trying to take the item do I give it permission to have it.

After running through the exercise with Riley a few times myself, I coached his guardian through it.

After everyone took their turn with Riley, we reset the exercise but this time practiced with Baxter while we kept Riley away on a leash.

By the end of the session, Baxter and Riley’s energy had mellowed out quite a bit. They were showing respect for the human’s personal space, listening to commands and taking corrections right away.

After working with him for a couple of hours I’m pretty sure that Baxter’s growling at the baby was a result of jealousy not aggression.  Now that the guardians are providing the dogs with clear leadership and structure, they were already seeing a difference in how the dog reacted when the babies cried.

Once the guardians master the tools and exercises that we went over in the session, the dogs will develop a healthy respect for their authority. Once that’s the case, it will be a snap for any of the humans to instantly stop the dog from engaging in any unwanted actions or behaviors.

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This post was written by: David Codr

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