Jump to section
When Jasper was young, he always loved children when his owner took him on walks to the park or visited friends with kids. However, now Jasper's owner is expecting her first child with her husband, and she is concerned about Jasper and the new baby. Jasper is now what is classified as a senior dog-- he is 12 years old, his hearing is not good, his sight is not as good either and his backend is sometimes sore when he gets up after a long nap. Although he has not shown signs of aggression to anyone yet and is still his happy go lucky self, Jasper’s owner is concerned that the unexpected sights and sounds of a baby may be distressing to a senior dog like Jasper. She is also concerned that Jasper could spread germs to her newborn.Jasper has no compunction about sniffing everything he discovers when out on their daily walks, including poop and dead things!
Jasper’s owners think the best solution would be to teach him to stay away from the baby, so he is not upset by sudden movements and noise and they do not have to punish or yell at him for sticking his nose too close to the baby's face, which would be confusing for Jasper and create a negative association. They want to cause as little disruption to Jasper's life as possible and create a safe place for the new addition to their family.
The best way to teach your older dog to stay away from a baby is to initiate training prior to when the baby comes home. This gives you more time, in a less stressful environment, without having to juggle the needs of a newborn, recovery from labor and delivery, and the training requirements of your dog. There are several strategies for training your dog to move away from the baby including providing verbal commands or hand signals to direct your dog away. By practicing these commands prior to the baby's arrival, and with items like a crying doll, you avoid associating the commands with just your baby, which could create a negative association with your child. Your older dog will learn by practicing these commands prior to the baby's arrival, and they can be applied to a variety of people and things, which will avoid a negative association with commands only being applied to the new baby. Providing a safe place for your older dog to retreat to, away from baby, can also be a useful method to keep a senior dog away from a baby and give the dog a quiet refuge from a screaming baby and frantic parents. Old dogs sometimes just need a quiet spot away from the chaos, and this can kill two birds with one stone.
Teaching your older dog tools to stay away from your baby prior to the baby's arrival is best, however, training can be initiated once baby has arrived, if necessary. Remember that generalizing commands to apply to a variety of objects, rather than just the baby, will avoid your dog creating a negative association with the baby. Using treats to establish commands and providing a safe place, with a bed or mat that an older dog can retreat to can be a good solution; this allows your dog some peace and quiet and keeps him out of baby's space as well. Make sure the “place’ is comfy and has toys or rawhide chews to make it pleasant for your older dog and not a place of punishment.
The Hand Targeting 'Away' Method
Toss a treat
Present a treat to your older dog in your hand, say “away,” and move your hand to toss the treat a few feet away for your dog to retrieve. Your dog will follow the direction of your hand and the tossed treat.
Repeat hand targeting
Repeat often until your dog is following your hand movement to retrieve the treat.
Provide the “away” command and direct your dog with your hand as though you were throwing a treat, but do not toss the treat yet, wait for your dog to move away, then toss the treat. Shape this behavior, tossing the treat even if your older dog only moves a short distance away at first, gradually require him to move further away before rewarding.
Use with doll
Introduce a baby doll and crying noses with a smartphone or computer. When your older dog approaches to investigate, command “away” and direct with your hand. When your dog moves away, toss a treat.
Use hand targeting with baby
Practice repeatedly, gradually stop tossing a treat, and provide verbal praise instead. When the real baby arrives, use the “away” command with your hand signal to direct your dog away from the baby.
The Leave It Method
Present treat in closed hand
A few months prior to your baby coming home, train your older dog the 'leave it' command. Hold a treat in your closed fist, out to your dog. When your dog sniffs your hand, say “leave it”.
Reward 'leave it'
Wait until the dog stops sniffing and licking your closed hand. Say “yes” and provide a better treat from your other hand.
Start putting the treats on the floor, and giving the 'leave it' command. Use a plain piece of kibble or a biscuit, and when your older dog obeys the 'leave it' command, reward him with a much better treat, like a piece of hot dog or chicken.
Place a baby doll on the floor and play crying noises with a smartphone. When your dog comes to investigate, say “leave it”. When your dog obeys, provide a treat.
Use with baby
Repeat with dolls, toys and other items until your older dog is familiar with the command and applying it in different situations. Gradually replace treats with verbal praise and use 'leave it' when the baby arrives.
The Go To Place Method
Provide comfortable place
Provide your dog with a bed or blanket. Drop the bed on the floor and wait for your older dog to come over and investigate.
When your older dog touches the mat with his paw, sound a clicker, if your dog is familiar with that method of training, and provide a treat to create a positive association.
Gradually require your dog to step onto the blanket with one paw, then two, then all four, then ask him to lie down, then require him to stay for a few minutes, then several minutes, in order to receive positive reinforcement.
Add the command “place” or “mat” when your dog steps on the bed, and sits or lies down. Gradually move the bed into a quiet spot out of the way, but preferably where your older dog can still see you and household activity so he doesn't feel too isolated. Start using “place or “mat” to direct your older dog to his mat.
Present a baby doll and crying sounds from a smartphone to simulate a baby. When your dog investigates say “place” or “mat”, and when your dog goes to his mat, praise him, provide treats and attention. Practice often, gradually reduce treats and provide verbal praise. Place favorite toys and chew items in your dog's “spot” so he has something to do when he is in his “place”. When the new baby comes you can direct your dog to his “place” when needed.
Written by Laurie Haggart
Veterinary reviewed by:
Published: 02/22/2018, edited: 01/08/2021