How to Use the Engage Disengage Game to Help Fearful Dogs

By: David Codr

Published Date: July 9, 2024

engage disengage game

For this Omaha training session, we trained two anxious Terrier mixes named Max and Bessie. Max is 3 years old and Bessie is 2 years old (Bessie is not pictured).

We taught them the engage disengage game. This game helps prevent them from barking at things they find unpleasant or frightening. We taught them the engage disengage game to prevent them from barking at things they find unpleasant or frightening.

Max and Bessie both react strongly. I separated them to meet them one-on-one.

This is because Max sometimes copies Bessie’s behavior. Bessie was the more fearful of the two but their anxiety was in different categories. Bessie was fearful of new people, Max was showing more of a protective / territorial aggression.

Since Bessie’s fear was so great, she spent most of the session keeping her distance. When you have a dog whose fear or anxiety is too intense, putting them in a situation where they are reactive is not productive. Both dogs would benefit from medication to help them better process the things they are reactive to.

Engage Disengage Game & Combating Dog Anxiety

This link to Insightful Animals tele consultation may be something for the family to consider. Medications are a great way to help a dog turn down the volume on their stress and anxiety which makes treating their behavior issues more effective and often easier.

I spent the first part of the session sharing a number of dog behavior tips for fearful dogs. I wanted to help the family focus on rewarding desired behaviors and avoid many of the common mistakes people make with their dogs.

I suggested creative forms of exercise, mental stimulation, how to provide structure and motivation as well as the importance of rewarding desired behavior and petting with a purpose. There were quite a few things we covered and while none of them will fix the dog’s problems on their own, adopted comprehensively – they can have a profound impact.

One of the dog’s most pressing issues was reacting by barking and lunging at things they didn’t like or were afraid of. This is a common behavior for fearful dogs as it becomes self reinforcing.

One of the best tips I share with people who have anxious dogs is to find ways to help turn the “boogie man” into a positive. A great way to do this is the engage disengage game.

What is the Engage Disengage Game?

The engage disengage game is a great game to play with a dog that is reactive to new things; both in a fearful or excited way. The goal is to help a dog learn to watch the stimulus (oftentimes it’s another dog or person) and not react.

Pro tip: before starting training your furry friend on this new game, make sure they’ve burned a little bit of energy.

You can learn how to use the engage disengage game to stop a dog from barking at people or other dogs by watching the free positive dog training video below.

As you can see in the video above, it did not take long for Max to catch on to the goal of the Engage Disengage game. Be sure that your furry friend masters the “engage” part of the game before moving on to “disengage.”

How to Use the Engage Disengage Game to Stop a Dog from Barking

Although we were using a very low level to introduce this secret to stopping fearful dogs from barking, I think it’s going to do wonders for Max and Bessie. The key will be to practice in short successful sessions. If the dogs bark or react, the humans set things up too close and the practice won’t be effective.

I’d like to see the family set this exercise up with each dog once a day for a week (while setting them up for success by exercising them 20 min before), then report back to me with an update. I asked them to hold off on starting this until its been a month after our original session.

I want the family to have time to make all the other changes we discussed in the session first, so they can become habit. These small changes will add up to big results – but only if the family adopt them so they are occurring daily. This is why it’s helpful to work on these things first to create new habits allowing these behaviors to become second nature; done without intent by the humans.

To help the family remember all the little things we covered in this in-home Omaha dog training session, we recorded a roadmap to success video that you can watch below.

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This post was written by: David Codr