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?
#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?
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
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
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.
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.)