Learning to Live Happily Ever After

Should You Share That Cute Dog and Baby Photo?

Posted by on May 17, 2012 in dog bite prevention, Dog body language, Life With Dog and Baby | 17 comments

Given the interest in my previous post, I gathered a number of GOOD photos of dogs and kids and jotted down what it is I look for when I see dogs and babies/kids together in real life or in a photograph or other illustration.  Because, really, we live in a different world now.  Family photos are not tucked into a box or album somewhere – they are out here for all to see.    See enough dogs-and-babies-together photos and it starts to seem like a normal thing to do.  Other people’s examples become the new normal, but what if what we’re seeing isn’t appropriate or safe?

 

Main Points

#1   The dog has to look relaxed and happy in his or her body language.  See previous post here and check out resources at Doggone Safe and the Liam J. Perk Foundation.  No one is going to learn what an unhappy or stressed dog looks like if they keep seeing photos labeled as happy moments with dogs that look miserable to a practiced eye.

#2   The situation cannot be demonstrating something that is unsafe, no matter if the dog looks like it’s the best day of his or her life.  The issue here is similar to the airbrushed movie stars in magazines in that this is not the reality for most people so let’s not set it up as something to aspire to. In addition, one moment of seeming like Lassie is the first step towards The Curse of a Good Dog.  Remember, too, that your child is acquiring behaviors that are not likely to be safe with other dogs.  In my opinion, this is the big problem — that we spend too much time analyzing dog body language to say whether or not a situation is appropriate.  To me, if it’s unsafe child behavior, it doesn’t matter if the dog looks okay with it.

So, here is the rest of what I look for, followed by more specific examples for different age ranges:

  • Propping a baby near a dog does not prove anything about that dog’s good nature, other than you just used up a little of it for the sake of a photograph.   Don’t do it.
  • The dog should not really be seeming that interested in the baby until the over five age range.  After all, where do you most want your dog’s focus in real life?  On you!
  • Is this an example for others to emulate?  Be responsible about what you share.  How?  Be clear that you moved the dog/baby after a quick shot if it wasn’t the best situation.  Would it be safe or appropriate if someone else set up the same shot?  With any breed dog?  If you have to say it’s OK for you because of your dog’s breed or because your child is mature for her age or because you are a dog professional, you’re on rocky ground for sharing.
  • Are the dog and baby/child side-by-side?  I want to see side-by-side, not face-to-face.
  • Can you take a marker and draw a line between the dog and baby/young child?  Or, are they too intertwined?
  • Look at age of child re: magnetization + sudden movements that turn a good/neutral moment bad.  Little kids sometimes DO do things right and it IS really cute, but then they are back to being normal toddlers/preschoolers the next day with behavior variations you are not always proud of.  Do not share a photo of YOUR two-year-old being “good” with a dog if it’s not a normal expectation for other two-year-olds.

What do YOU look for in deciding a photo is a good or bad example? 

Before we look at pictures, keep in mind: My family is not perfect!! These are just some good examples I picked out for illustration purposes. Do not fall victim to the fantasy that other people’s families are somehow perfect. Believe me, there are days when you do NOT want to be us.  Send me your good examples, too!

 

Infant or Toddler

I’m not a fan of fostering a “relationship” at these ages.  Acclimation and peaceful, relaxed inclusion as part of the same family?  Yes!  “Best Friends?”  No, that’s a fantasy.  Neither a dog nor and infant/toddler can be expected to have good judgment or adequate self-control and empathy to consistently think first of the welfare of the other so let’s not feed that fantasy.

Photos I come across for this age group are usually the baby propped up on or near the dog, either for a seemingly cute photo op or as a way of “proving” that the dog is good with the baby.  I see this second situation frequently with large breed dogs and I find it disturbing.

So, here’s what I look for instead:

  • Babies are safely held or contained
  • NO PHYSICAL CONTACT BETWEEN DOG AND BABY
  • Dog looks reasonably relaxed
  • Baby is not looking at the dog
  • I like to see dog looking at owner or just relaxing
  • Toddler doing his/her own thing with dog companionably present in the room

I can't believe I'm showing how strung out I looked after having a baby, but look instead at the dog and baby. Baby is safely held (no dangling body parts, face/head protected and away from the dog). Dog is just hanging out with me, reasonably relaxed and NOT getting in my baby's space. (He's not her baby!)

 

I understand that everyone needs a photo of their dog sitting next to the swing or highchair. This is my dog and first baby. The dog is being cooperative but is not entirely thrilled, is he? At least baby and dog are not touching or staring at each other, baby is contained and dog is attentive to me (taking the picture). This is much like all the other posing pictures we ask of our dogs - by the Christmas tree, by the pumpkins, etc. Just don't do too much of it.

 

Everyone looks happy except the dog. That may be partially because of the camera pointed at him, but note that his body is relaxed and snuggled up. Baby's hands are not reaching for the dog. There is a clear separation between the nice side-by-side orientation and my husband has his hand on our baby should he try to reach for the dog.

 

My son at one at puppy class. My hand and eyes are on him, he is not reaching for the dog(s) or showing much interest, owner is watching and has hand on her puppy.

 

Here's a questionable one for sharing. I LOVE this picture because my dog chose to come up the hill and lie next to my son and is very relaxed. He is not touching her or overly interested so that's good. But, it feeds the fantasy a bit, doesn't it, that they now "know" what to do with each other? I took the picture for me to have and went back to being engaged with my dog and baby. I would have to clarify that before doing any sharing of this photo.

 

My favorite dog and toddler picture! It will definitely NOT make any "Dogs and Babies" calendars, but it's EXACTLY what you want to see: dog and toddler in parallel position, peaceful and companionable so I can enjoy BOTH their company.

 

Here is some nice attentiveness from the parents on BOTH dog and baby. Dog appears relaxed and calm, baby is not close enough to put dog on edge and is not "aiming" for the dog.

Preschooler (Age 3 – 5)

Photos in this age range are hard to resist because I think 3-5 are particularly cute ages and kids really enjoy posing.  This is the age where I tend to see the most frequent “magnetized” child photos where the child is hugging the dog or otherwise “loving” the dog.  (See past post about “Luv.”)  The children sure are cute and happy, but the dogs rarely look comfortable.

Remember, even if the dog DOES look comfortable, this up-close-and-personal is not behavior you want your child, or anyone else’s child, to aspire to so please don’t share photos where your child is doing something that would not be universally safe.

  • Dog must look happy or relaxed.  Pretty much by definition, a photo of a dog and child cannot be “cute” if the dog looks pained to be in close proximity to your child.
  • Side-by-side orientation, never face-to-face
  • If child is touching dog, it’s one hand only along the closest side (not going over the back in any form of a hug)
  • Best is companionable and relaxed in each other’s presence – where they are keeping each other company as they each do their own thing
  • Often, it’s cute to see a dog and child looking at something together

Young child doing his thing, dog is relaxed enough to close her eyes as she keeps him company. His play does not involve the dog so she feels safe close to him. Of course, children can have "different" ideas in a flash so you don't leave them unattended.

 

Here's another photo that I treasure but that would be questionable to share. It's a good picture because our dog clearly chose to be near my son and he is not responding by grabbing for her. The dog's behavior is indicating that, in this moment at least, she felt safe enough to relax up close to him. This is a GOOD interaction, but it's not something you can "make" happen. It's also easy to see something like this and drift into the fantasy that she loves her boy so much she would never bite him.

 

Great example with a toddler. Makes me look like a super good parent, doesn't it? It's a nice illustration, though, of how my dog is with me while I am with my toddler. We are all very companionable together.

 

This is a nice photo of my children and a friend doing something in the company of their dog. (I'm sure it was educational TV.) With toddlers, you really need to see the balance of the children not magnetized to the dog and the dog looking relaxed and/or demonstrating the nice training skills that make a dog a welcome part of the family (like, "Don't eat the kids' pancakes when they sit on the floor!")

 

Side-by-side, child engaged in something else with a calm, relaxed dog as his companion. THIS is what training default behaviors like "Relax on a Mat" buys you. (See book, Chill Out Fido, by Nan Arthur.)

 

Child Over Age Five

Here, I want to see either a similar comfortable companionship as above for the younger kids or the dog actually happily engaged with the child.

Very rarely do I see a photo of a dog and young child where the dog is “with” the child – looking at him with relaxed, happy body language and seeming responsive or “in conversation” with the child.  This means the dog is looking at the child’s face, not at an ice cream cone or barely containing himself from launching at a toy the child is holding.

 

Side by side, dog is relaxed, child and dog are companionable. If the child were touching the dog, I would like to see the dog looking at her and seeming relaxed and happy about it.

 

 

Here is where fantasy becomes reality -- where your groundwork through the younger ages leads to nice friendship around 8-9-10 years old. This dog is clearly "with" her boy so the arm around her is appropriate for their relationship. It's still a nice side-by-side orientation, too. Photo by Virginia Broitman, used by permission.

 

 

Side-by-side, dog looks happy to be with his kids in a companionable way. Kids are not hugging or grabbing dog. Used by permission.

 

Not being magnetized to the dog as a very young child does not preclude a nice, happily ever after friendship. With older kids actually doing things with dogs, I like to see a connection, a togetherness. I always want to see a loose leash and get the feel that the child is looking out for the dog. Two friends enjoying each other's company.

 

Side-by-side, happy-looking dog, loose leash, no hugging or otherwise being a space invader. I want to see the feel from the dog of, "I am with my family and all is well."

 

So, what do you think?  Do you have any cute dog and kids photos worth sharing?  I’d love to start collecting more GOOD examples.  Send me your pictures and I’ll make a gallery on the website!  (If you find in hindsight that you have a “bad” picture or two, please consider sharing them with me for educational purposes.  For my book, there is no way I’ll be putting a child or a dog in less than perfect situations on purpose just to get a picture.)

 

17 Comments

Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Jennifer Zaayer

    Madeline,
    So well done. Thank you for the service you provide to all of us. It is a gift.

  2. Cathy Baier

    Madeline,
    The previous comment says it all. Your talents are exceptional and we are all so fortunate that you choose to use them to educate the rest of us. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!

  3. Tegan

    This blog post makes me all warm and fuzzy. It’s lovely to know that safe dog-kid interactions exist -from the pictures I see on a day to day basis, safe dog-child households seem almost impossible! Thanks for showing us that this is not fantasy.

  4. Dawn

    Great point about being aware of the photos you share… monkey see monkey do…..

  5. Dawn

    how do we send you photos?

  6. dsfser

    nice job! i will share it with my friends!

  7. LoriBelle

    I have to disagree with this. So many times I hear “every dog must be treated as an individual.” As my grandmother would say, this is a cop-out for the parents. Children need to be taught from a young age what is appropriate behavior around dogs or cats or any animal. When my son was a toddler, he kept messing with my dad’s cat. After being told several times and removed, I finally said OK this is a lession to be learned. The cat smacked him on the arm. He left the cat alone after that. Yes, my child knew exactly what he was being told not to do. He’s 27 now and he did survive without any loss of limb. Children are not told “no” anymore. Let’s place them in a bubble. Not the real world.

    So go ahead and attack, I know I’ll be called a bad parent.

    • Kylie Andrews

      So my kid will learn not to pull the dogs tail once the dog has bitten him for doing so? Yes children need to learn how to behave around animals, but at an age appropriate level – you would not allow a two year old to drive an car solo because its dangerous, so why let a two year old lose on a dog or cat when this is an avoidable tradegy waiting to happen? Young children DO NOT have the mental capacity or forward thinking to keep themselves safe – that’s why the rely on the management skills of adults to keep them safe. Your son has to get to know about driving but common sense would dictate that will happen at an age appropriate time – the same goes for learning skills about animals. By “management skills” I mean thast either the cat or the child should have been removed or distracted from the situation. You were not being very fair to the cat either by a allowing your son to upset it.

      • NoName

        Seriously. It was a frigging CAT. The parent told the child “no” and removed him from the situation multiple times. Sometimes children have to learn the hard way. A large breed dog would be a completely different story- stop comparing apples to oranges.

        • Mary

          Good Grief! First off, I’m a dog trainer, not a cat trainer. I just did an evaluation for a family whose 6 month old puppy bit their 7 year old girl so badly that she required plastic surgery. If the bite had occurred at the eye socket, she would be blind. Is this an appropriate life lesson!! And, as for cats, have you ever heard the expression “Cats rule, Dogs drool”? Yep, there’s a reason for that. Dogs have a healthy respect for cats, especially if they are not declawed. Google “Cat attacks children pictures” for some horrendous pictures of children maimed by cats. Honestly. Loribelle and NONAME, you need to reconsider your position on this matter. I have seen horrendous attacks on children. You are living in a fantasy world.

          • Crystal

            My husband’s cousdin lot an eye ass a small child from a Cat. It absolutely can be serious.

  8. Ellen Naumann

    Fantastic article. So glad Center for Canine Excellence shared it on FB. I will definitely continue the share and use your examples with clients.

  9. Teresa

    If I had higher quality photos I’d submit a few (both bad and good!), I was just surprised when I checked my facebook to find that all the ones I’d shared actually followed your rules and I didn’t even realize I was doing that. The pictures you would consider ‘bad’ I seemed to agree with you enough on some weird level not to share them. And that’s over a years worth of photos of dog and baby!

    • Madeline Gabriel

      Good for you, Teresa! That extra step of, “Would it be safe or appropriate if someone else copied this pose?” can give one pause before sharing. Thanks for reading and commenting!

  10. Lori

    Great post! I really appreciate this information. I have a therapy dog who reads with children and visits special education classes. The kids frequently have to be reminded about appropriate behavior with dogs. They REALLY want to hug him! I try to be very careful about only taking pictures that show appropriate behavior. I have some photos I’d be happy to share for examples. I also have one of my own teenage daughter being clearly inappropriate with him. :) Is there an email address to send pictures to?

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