Thanks to the sharing by some other people with greater reach than I, my older posts on Babies Magnetized to Dogs received a flurry of new activity and questions about what if it is the DOG that seems “magnetized” to the baby? For example:
Abigail asks, “Can I ask a question please? What about dogs who are magnetized to the baby? My youngest dog is a terrier mix who I rehomed when he was 10 months old. His old owners had two young children who definitely “luvved” him and he’s the right temperament that he now “luvves” children back. He will go out of his way to be next to our baby, despite the crawling, climbing, grabbing, pulling and screaming. How do I discourage interaction between baby and dog when the dog is seeking it?”
Rachel asks: “So… What if you’re the owner of the oddball dog that seems to be magnetized to babies? I have a 4-month-old baby and my dog dropped me like a hot potato the second she came home from the hospital. He loves her and wants nothing more than to sit next to her, lick her, cuddle with her, etc. if she is doing tummy time, he is on her mat next to her. If she is in my arms, he in next to me. She is just starting to notice him and reciprocate, throwing her arm around him on the couch or reaching for his fur, and he is ecstatic. I don’t want her turning into a grabby toddler but he seems to savor her every attention. I tell her not to grab, and I pull her away from him, and he follows.”
Lisa asks: “Great advice, but what about a dog that is magnetized to children? My dog is about 3 1/2, and adores kids, wanting to be near my granddaughters (both are 2 1/2) as much as possible. He will almost always choose to lay in the middle of their play activities, follow them around and give them kisses at every opportunity. We always supervise and have taught them “gentle hands” and “space”, i.e., ” Harley is eating/sleeping and he needs space”. I don’t want to work against their obvious bond….is this a bad thing? If one of the girls is napping on the couch, he is right there, curled up with her, big head resting on her…”
Why This Can Be a Good Thing
There is nothing better than a dog that appears comfortable and friendly with your baby or young child. That’s what we all hope for, isn’t it? It is so much easier to work with a friendly, curious dog to develop self-control and some boundaries than it is to work to change the mind of a dog who is leery of your child.
I don’t have a problem with a dog that looks at your child or even tries to engage with him or her, like your dog would with you or another friend. That’s all good on the dog’s part and you can count your blessings. That same dog, however, would still like your child if your child did not touch him as much until she develops more consistent self-control. For example, what Lisa is doing with her grandchildren is giving terrific instruction throughout the interaction so there is clearly nothing “bad” happening here at this point and she is observing the dog choose to be with the kids. (Snuggly dogs are the best!) The question throughout toddlerhood is, “Can I count on this staying the same through the developmental ups and downs to come?”
I like to see a dog that joins the family and “accompanies” family members. Lying down near the children or relaxing close-by as you play together is beautiful. A restrained lick greeting is probably fine, too (see “Should Dog Lick Your Baby” for additional considerations).
Your job is to be clear on how you want to direct and manage your dog’s interest, rather than just leave it up to hoping the dog has good ideas now and forever going forward. As Rachel and Abigail observed, you have to always notice and consider what behaviors your BABY is acquiring in response to your dog’s attention – that’s the Curse of a Good Dog that no one can get away from so let’s read on to consider why your dog’s interest in baby/child might be a “bad’ thing if left unfettered. Then, you can decide for yourself how your family is going to roll.
Why This is Might Be a Bad Thing
While a dog that seems to want to be with children is everyone’s dream come true, my goal in my work with families is to preserve this goodwill through all the ups and downs of toddlerhood so as to build a foundation for friendship that lasts a lifetime. Let’s make sure a seemingly nice start does not backfire.
My personal bent is towards not encouraging much up close and personal contact between dog and babies or toddlers. Sure, there will be casual, incidental contact and that’s nothing to freak out about or feel like you need to keep them entirely separated all the time. I just don’t want to make the “perfect bond” call too early and check out of my parental role as their guide. When things are looking good is when it’s natural to slip into assuming everything will always stay good and we tend to leave them to make their own judgment calls. The thing is, dogs and very young children probably don’t have the best consistent judgment so there is an element of rolling the dice and hoping for the best.
- What if baby gets annoyed with dog? How might your baby or toddler react? Is this likely to be a safe behavior? Ideally, you would have already taught and reinforced the behavior of calling to you, “Mom, I need help with the dog!” so the child has another option other than pushing the dog away or yelling at the dog. Kids can run hot and cold in terms of their interest in having a dog in their space.
- Do you have control over the interactions or does the dog just go over to the children whenever and however he wants? Your baby is not your dog’s baby. You may choose to allow more interaction than I am comfortable with in my family but it should at least be on your terms, not your dog’s terms. This is especially true with actual babies. A fragile baby should not be available to your dog to explore. Same goes for visiting children. At some point, you are going to enjoy having some influence over your dog’s behavior choices.
- How is the child reacting to the dog’s proximity? If the baby/toddler is responding with reaching for the dog, you will have magnetization issues to deal with when she is mobile. Remember, a very young child magnetized to dogs will be attracted to other dogs. In addition, a dog who seems to bid for this attention now may change his mind when he’s having a bad day or when the baby is bigger. Toddlers don’t readily understand this and will need consistent guidance.
- Dogs may choose to remain close to screaming, crying, flailing babies because they want to be with YOU and you are with the baby. It may not be that they “like” that situation necessarily but they don’t know what else to do. I like to see a dog able to relax amid chaos or have a spot where he waits.
Want to De-Magnetize Your Dog?
Similar to how we would work to demagnetize a baby/toddler from the dog, you can start setting boundaries for your dog’s interest in your baby. Yes, it’s nice dog likes baby, but, no, dog does not get to be in baby’s personal space.
How do you manage other things dog is interested in? If you think of your baby as a rotisserie chicken, you might rethink the dog’s attraction to the baby. Just because the dog wants to, should he have the opportunity to indulge his interest?
Prevent physical access. For a short period of time, commit to preventing dog from physically touching your baby/child just to see for yourself if the dog is overly fixated. I like to say two weeks is a good amount of time to weaken a habit but decide what is practical for you. Even just try for a day. You can gate off an area for the baby where the dog does not access or vice versa. The dog can be on a leash with an adult and receive small treats for any calm behavior that is not fixating on the baby. You can teach your dog a “wait” signal and reinforce stopping a short distance away by reinforcing with a treat tossed behind the dog.
Reinforce Attention on You. The baby might be the best game in town right now, but you can up the ante by reinforcing your dog’s focus on you. Whenever your dog looks at you, smile and say, “Yep!” and surprise him with a treat. Or, practice with a kissy sound and follow with a small treat so you can see for yourself that your dog will stop what he’s doing to attend to you. Check out this video from Emily Larlham, using a kissy sound in a different context but the same principle:
Best of All – Relax on a Mat! A dog that can truly relax on his mat will have something else to do while you are attending to baby and most of these concerns will go away because you get to keep both your dog and baby close to you and companionable together. See excerpt here from Nan Arthur’s Chill Out Fido book.
The question to answer is, “Under what circumstances will you make your baby or young child available for your dog to physically explore at will?” I know it’s super fun when the little child is laughing and the dog seems happy but then you’re back to magnetizing the child. I don’t know how you get away from that. See, I say, “you decide” but I guess I’m a big liar because I really want you to decide to focus on accompaniment rather than physical interaction until child is closer to age five. That joy will still be there waiting for you and you may discover new joys along the way as you watch your dog and toddler develop self control.
I’m excited to be back to blogging! My family decided to run away from home together in mid-2014 so we sold the house and bought an RV and traveled around the country for year. We moved from San Diego to Greensboro, NC and are starting to get settled in. I’m finally getting back to work on my Dogs and Babies book, too!