Licking the Baby. Confused and Worried.

Chip was licking the baby’s face as she sat on the floor. Now that baby is becoming mobile, Chip is becoming increasingly troubled by her when she moves or makes a noise.

Her licking the baby is compulsive.

When baby is sitting on the floor at the same level as Chip, the dog simply can’t relax or leave her alone. There is no stillness or growling, simply concern. She keeps licking her face.

It doesn’t take a dog expert to read Chip’s worry in the photo as she watches the baby from the sofa.

Each time she started licking baby’s facelicking the baby, stressed and confused, mum or dad told her ‘No!’. They are understandably on edge all the time the two are together. Chip is a very well-loved dog and it’s hard.

A calm dog licking the baby in passing is very different to a seriously aroused dog repeatedly licking the baby on the face.

I’m sure the couple’s anxiety and constant necessary ‘nagging’ of Chip is contributing to the situation.

I immediately began calling Chip away from the baby, rewarding her for coming. Soon we introduced the clicker.

After a while Chip was just looking at the baby and voluntarily turning away – which we marked with a click and food.

However, stress builds up and Chip’s arousal level became such that she became increasingly slow in responding to being called away. She was snatching the food when she did come.

Well before things are able to get to this stage the two should be separated, but how?

The environment needs to be better managed.

There was nowhere to put dear little Chip apart from excluding her from the room behind a door.

Before the baby arrived, the four-year-old Jack Russell went everywhere with them. Their jobs involve touring and staying in different places. They always took Chip. She was given plenty of attention by all the people they met and loves people – if not so good with other dogs.

With the arrival of the baby a year ago, Chip’s life has been turned upside down. The couple are unable to enjoy her in the way they did and her own life is very different.

One simple thing can change Chip’s compulsively licking the baby. It will change everything. They will all be able to relax.

They will get a small dog pen.

Chip has been used to a pen from an early age when they travelled. They can put all her toys in it along with other special things for her to do and to chew. They can sprinkle her food in there.

Within the safety of the pen, they can build up strong and positive associations with the baby. Chip won’t have to be excluded.

It seems she feels possessive or protective of the baby. This is born out when other dogs approach the buggy – she does tend to guard things form other dogs.

Possibly some of the licking is about covering the frequently washed baby’s face with her own scent? That’s just a guess.

As baby gets even more mobile it’s important she’s unable to corner Chip who must always have a baby-proof bolt-hole. A pen can be opened out and adapted.

Chip’s signals of unease are very clear when you know what you’re looking for.

Baby was upstairs for a while and her crying came through the baby monitor. Chip licked her lips. Uneasy. Worried. This is an opportunity to give her a little bit of food. Every time she looks at the baby or hears her, they can pair it with food. She need not eat all her meals in bowls – her food can be used for something more useful for now.

Though they are able to give her quality time when the baby is in bed, Chip’s walks aren’t what they used to be. It’s hard to negotiate some of the best walks pushing a buggy and it’s also hard to beat a hasty retreat if a bouncy young dog comes running up, jumping all over her and around the buggy. Chip never has liked her space invaded by other dogs.

A positive approach by the couple, replacing scolding and anxiety when Chip is near the baby with reward and encouragement, should transform things.

Physical management is vital – the pen. I also suggest a soft harness and longish lead for when they are somewhere else. This way Chip can be comfortably restrained, called away from the baby, rewarded – and then gently kept away instead of constantly being watched.

With management in place they will be able to work on getting Chip happier and more relaxed around the baby. She should then also become less stressed in general.

Chip can get some of her old life back.

 

NB. For the sake of the story and for confidentiality also, this isn’t a complete ‘report’ with every detail, but I choose an angle with maybe a bit of poetic licence. The precise protocols to best use for your own dog may be different to the approaches I have worked out for Chip. Finding instructions on the internet or TV that are not tailored to your own dog can do more harm than good as the case needs to be assessed correctly. One size does not fit all so accurate assessment is important, particularly where babies or young children are concerned. Everything depends upon context. If you live in my own area I would be very pleased to help with strategies tailored to your own dog (see my Help page)

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