Our Little Max’s New Guardians Learn How to Play the Engage Disengage Game

By: David Codr

Published Date: February 18, 2021

For this Omaha dog training session we showed newly adopted 9 year-old Border Terrier Max’s guardians how to use the engage disengage game to help introduce him to neighbor’s dogs in a positive way.

Max is a special case for us. As detailed in one of the videos below, Max was first a client’s dog but due to an environment that was not healthy for him, they decided to rehome him.

Max came to us with a lot of anxiety and lower self-esteem. He wouldn’t look anyone in the eye, was dog aggressive and tended to get obsessive about certain things or anxious; like when he was trying to grab a ball that was too big for his mouth.

After spending a lot of quality time with me and my dogs, Max is a lot better although he still has anxiety and is probably never going to be the happy-go-lucky I want to meet and play with every dog I meet type of dog. If introduced slowly, Max can become friends with dogs, but the introductons need to be conducted in a structured way. Letting Max run up on another dog without doing so wouldn’t be a good idea as he still has some reativity to unknown dogs, especially puppies and little dogs due to his Terrier heritage.

I wanted to find Max a home where he would be the only dog so he could get all the attention. My only concern with Max in his new home was the fact that the backyard neighbors have a pair of German Shepherd‘s separated by a chain-link fence.

As a Dog Behaviorist, I have found a great way to stop dogs from acting aggressive towards other dogs is to build up some positive associations. An easy way to do this is something called the engage disengage game. Since it was too cold to do this outside during our session (literally -15), we practiced the exercise in Max’s guardian’s new basement.

If you’re looking for an effective way to stop dogs from barking or lunging at other dogs, you should check out the free positive dog training video below.

I’d like to have the guardians use this dog behaviorist secret to stoping dog on dog aggression at least once a day once the weather clears. I recommended that the guardians coordinate with their neighbors as the ideal time to practice this would be when the German Shepherd’s are outside one at a time and win the German Shepherd’s are not super energetic. This trick to stopping dog aggression is heavily reliant on gong slow with the dog not reacting.

This exercise works with dogs of al breeds, so you dont have to be a professional Border Terrier dog trainer to do it. It would be great if the guardians can all take turns with this exercise to stop dog on dog aggression.

By creating a positive association with the visual sigh of these dogs at a distance that Max feels comfortable at, i.e. not reacting, they can gradually start getting him closer and closer to the other dogs while Max practices a calm behavior. Once he can be up close near one of the other dogs without reacting, they should start the same process, but this time wiht both German Shepherds in the yard. Again hopefully at a time when they are calm.

Another great way to help a dog get over dog on dog aggression is to take the dogs for walks together. Just like with the engage disengage game, it will be important that the dogs are far enough away so that neither one is reacting. Often this needs to be accomplished when one dog is on the other side of the street, but after a few successful practices, you can start reducing the distance between the dogs until eventually they’re only a few feet apart.

In a perfect world, it would be great if the guardians can work with Max and the neighbors German shepherds‘s to the point where they can have occasional meet ups. Having the dogs play together is a great way to ensure there’s no fence fighting.

Once we get out of the dead of winter, I hope the guardians reach out to me after they’ve completed the engage disengage game and gone for some walks so that I can supervise a few in person play dates to make sure they start off on the right foot, or paw, LOL.

One thing I neglected to mention at this session, when we were shooting the engage disengage training video Max got a little bit anxious. When he did that, he went over to his guardian and she petted him. I have found that it’s better to redirect the dog into some sits, downs, etc. This is a great way to redirect the dog’s attention and help them focus on something else. You dont want a dog to practice anxiety, you want to change the environment or behavior as soon as you can so its not practicing the behavior. If this is not possible, it may be necessary to move Max further away from whatever it is that he is reacting to.

Although his new family has done an amazing job inthe week that Max has been in his new home, I shared a number of other dog behaviorist tips that should help Max settle in even more. Incorporating a few rules like asking him to wait for an invitation to eat his food, sitting before he is let out the door, told to drop before the guardians reach to grab something for fetch can go a long ways towards helping Max practice a little self control. Doing this in small iterations multiple times a day is less work for the humans as it quickly becomes a habit.

Combined with regular daily exercise such as a few games of fetch, some games of tug the toy, scent games, feeding out of snuffle mat and omega paw treat ball along with lick mats and kongs filled with peanut butter and treat puzzles, Max should be sufficiently physically and mentally stimulated.

To help the family remember all of the tips that I went over in this in-home dog training session, we 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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