Well, I guess that depends on how you define the word, “love,” doesn’t it?
Just to make sure we’re talking about the same thing, here are a couple of competing definitions:
- Unselfish, loyal and benevolent concern for the good of the other
- Strong predilection, enthusiasm or liking for anything
For example, I love crab, meaning that I love the way they taste, as in definition #2. To keep it straight, let’s channel our inner teenager and call this, “luv.”
Because, if I really loved crab, per the first definition, do you think I’d choose to yank them from their ocean homes, boil them up, dip them in butter and eat them? Not really in the best interests of the crab so, out of love, I’d refrain from doing it (regardless of how good they taste).
So much of what we perceive as “love” between babies and dogs is really “luv” being inflicted upon a dog who tries to make the best of it.
Haven’t you had squealing toddlers run up to your dog at the park or visiting nieces and nephews that pester your dog? What do their parents say? “Oh, she just loves dogs!” Mmm, not really or she’d take notice that the dog is trying to get away or is using body language to say, “No, thank you. Please don’t do that,” and lovingly respect the animal’s wishes.
Developmentally, that’s not going to happen until maybe a child is closer to age five and perhaps not at all if the child continues to rehearse harassing behavior and have it labeled for him as “love.”
In the meantime, little kids are in Luv Land and that’s a dangerous place to be because it’s so intoxicatingly cute to see babies laugh in delight. Babies and toddlers don’t know any better, and they’re going to do what seems interesting to them or what their parents encourage and laugh about.
Hugging or kissing dogs is a prime example. This is encouraged by parents with good intentions and embraced by children who may even feel a genuine affection for the dog. Trouble is, no one asks the dog how he feels about it. Do you think these dogs are feeling the love? (Or is it luv?)
(See body language post for what to look for.)
Watch this cute toddler interact with Otis the dog and listen to how his mom labels his behavior as love: “Do you love Otis very much?” The baby may very well love his dog but is this the way you want him to show it? I don’t think it comes across as “love” to the dog, despite everyone’s good intentions.
Or, check out this one with a laughing baby who now has in his repertoire of “What should I do when I see a dog?” the behavior of charging into the dog’s space, expecting a grand old time and lots of approval. How is he to know at this age that this is generally NOT safe or appropriate behavior?
By letting kids acquire these, and worse, behaviors, parents are essentially rolling the dice — hoping the good dog doesn’t have a bad day and never considering that the child will do these same things with every other dog he comes across, some of which may object. Strongly object. With their teeth.
The safety of your child can’t rest upon the judgment calls of a toddler or a dog. Despite what we may wish to believe, neither of them “know better.” (See separate post to come on Friends at Five.) Don’t settle for the fantasy of “Luv” if you’re aiming for happily ever after.
So What Should Parents Do Instead?
See separate posts on how to keep your baby from becoming “magnetized” in the first place, along with tips on how to “de-magnetize” a toddler.