Picture yourself riding the same commuter train to work every day. There’s the usual assortment of regulars. You grow accustomed to who sits where, who reads the paper, who grooves to their iPods, etc. Through your experience with their behavior over time, you feel safe…or perhaps NOT safe in the case of the creepy guy.
Maybe the creepy guy stands too close or he stares at you or he runs into people or he grabs them unexpectedly. He’s unpredictable and you don’t feel safe. You’re worried about what he might do if he comes close to you. This is the train you need to take so you try to just keep your distance, but you remain on guard, don’t you?
Now, picture the train coming to a sudden stop and someone falling on you.
If it’s your best friend, you might have a good laugh about it. If it’s the polite guy that reads the paper, you’d both be courteous and go back to what you’re doing.
Ah, but what if it’s the creepy guy that falls on you? You’re already on guard around him and apprehensive. Don’t you think you’d react with much greater intensity? Perhaps shove him off? Shout at him?
The same interaction can provoke markedly different responses depending on how you are primed to react.
A few months pass and you see you there’s a new neighbor moving in. As you look out your window, you see it’s the polite guy from the train –you know, the one who reads the paper? How do you feel about perhaps becoming friends?
“Hey, welcome to the neighborhood! We ride the same train…Yeah, I do remember that day you fell on me. Small world!” If you have enough in common going forward, there’s no reason you couldn’t be friends or at least remain friendly towards each other.
Ah, but what if it was the creepy guy from the train in that truck? Even if he looks normal today don’t you think you’d be more inclined to keep your distance? You’re not rushing to bake him a “Welcome to the Neighborhood” cake, are you?
There are a lot of implications here for how dogs might interpret the actions of your baby or young child. Remember, they don’t see intent or understand developmental limitations. All dogs can do is boil it down to safe or not safe.
Experiencing your child as simply a friendly acquaintance through the baby/toddler years is actually a nice foundation for building a longer term friendship. There’s no reason NOT to be friends once the child is developmentally able to be a good friend. It’s a lot harder to overcome the uneasiness well-earned from too much unwanted contact.
Moral of the story: Don’t let your baby be like the creepy guy on the train to your dog. Protect the dog’s personal space and let your dog acclimate to the antics of children without having to be on guard all the time.
After all, even if someone wants to dress like Spiderman on your train but is unfailingly polite and helpful and responds appropriately to other people, don’t you think you’d come to accept him? Even if you thought he was kind of weird at first?