Using the Engage Disengage Game to Help a Dog Feel Comfortable Around the Baby

By: David Codr

Published Date: March 25, 2021

For this Omaha dog training session we worked with Kevin, a 6 year-old Coton de Tulear to help him relax and prevent the dog from feeling anxious around the baby.

Kevin‘s guardians said that his behavior started to change when they were pregnant with their first child. This is not unusual as dogs are very perceptive to smells and can detect the hormonal changes women go through when they are pregnant.

I shared a number of suggestions such as giving Kevin a safe space to retreat to now that the baby is starting to move around. Babies are at the dogs level and are usually attracted to dogs. That wasn’t the case currently with Kevin‘s family but that can certainly change.

I suggested that the guardians create a box with a little bit of a serpentine path that is narrow enough to prevent the baby from getting through but that the dog can navigate. Ideally this would be a two or sided structure (with walls that are tall enough to prevent the baby from looking over the top) with the top open allowing the guardians to look down into the area during training. Once Kevin is practiced at going into the space, they can cover up the top but should include a hole or access point so that they can drop treats inside. Some of my clients do this with a bit of a lattice top so that they can still see inside but the baby can’t get to it when they get taller.

This should be placed in the area that the dog and baby are going to be in proximity together the majority of the time.

The next step is to leave a trail of treats in the maze that leads into the safe space. The guardians should use their marker word when Kevin gets inside of the safe space where he should find a jackpot; a small pile of high-value treats. I’d like to have them practice this treat trail a few times a day for a week or so. As they practice they can start leaving more space between the treats; moving from one treat every 10 inches to one treat every 14 inches then 18 inches and so on. Eventually the treats will only be inside of the safe space.

I also recommended a number of exercises such as tossing treats away from the baby while saying a cue such as “away,” or “distance.” If they practice this with a dozen or so treats a few times a day for a week, they should be able to give Kevin a command to move away from the baby which will come in handy.

It’s not unusual for a dog to become distressed around a new baby. Babies are loud, take a lot of their guardians attention and disrupt the regular routine the dog is accustomed to. Obviously the parents were concerned when Kevin nipped at the baby when he got in his face. But because that was only a nip, that didnt make contact or break the skin and hasn’t happened again, I wasnt alarmed. When babies get in a dogs face, a nip is certainly not what we want, but an aggressive dog will bite multiple times, hold down or break the skin.

I discussed the nipping history with the guardians and since it only happened with humans less than four times in several years, it’s clear Kevin is not an aggressive dog. Providing him with a safe place to retreat to increasing increasing his exercise and mental stimulation while providing supervision anytime he is near the children while they are toddlers should prevent anything from happening.

But I also wanted to give the guardians a tool to help the dog like being around the baby. I decided to use the engage disengage game to help the dog feel good when he is around the baby. You can watch the free positive dog training video below to learn how to use the engage disengage game to help dogs enjoy being around children.

It will be important for the guardians to practice this exercise with slightly lower value treats. We had a little bit of difficulty initially because I was using too high of a value of treat which was causing Kevin to completely ignore the baby which is not the purpose of this exercise. Using a cookie treat or a lower value treat like Charlee Bears should do the trick. We want the dog to associate the child with a treat to create that positive association.

Kevin responded well and his guardians got the hang of the exercise easily enough. Id like them to practice this exercise to prevent the dog from being anxious around the baby a few times a day, in different rooms, for the next two weeks.

I shared a number of other dog behavior tips in this in-home Omaha dog training session. To help the guardians remember them all, I recorded a roadmap to success video that you can check out below

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This post was written by: David Codr

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