Learning to Live Happily Ever After


This website is to help us all keep our children safe as we guide them into true friendship with the animals we love.  I welcome your comments and shared experiences.

As much as I might wish to be Dog Trainer to the Stars (or at least Bruce Springsteen and William Shatner), my dog training path has led to helping families with babies and young children live well with their family dogs.

Ironic, because I used to be as baby-phobic as they come.

I started teaching Dogs and Babies classes in 2001, when I was pregnant with my first son.  At the time, I managed the Behavior and Training program at the San Diego Humane Society and we were always looking for new educational classes (and good visuals of a pregnant lady helped land some extra TV spots!).  My first class was more about useful things you can teach your dog to make it easier to enjoy having the dog around — stuff like pick things up so you don’t have to bend over when you’re pregnant.  Very dog trainer-y.  However, I did include a photograph of a woman sort of holding out her baby to her dog and passed it around for people to check  off whether they thought this was cute or horrifying.  About 2/3 of the class chose “cute.”  That was an eye-opener for me as I realized that there is a common blind spot when it comes to dogs and small children.  Here is the original picture:

Anyway, I had my baby and went back to my regular behavior work and just did my thing with baby and dogs at home.  It wasn’t until my son was a little over a year and I brought him to help with socialization at a puppy class that I realized that people found it odd that he could be very close to dogs (puppies, even!) and not be reaching out to touch them.

Everyone talked about the stuff their kids did with (to) their dogs, finding it hard to believe that very young children could share space with dogs in a friendly, relaxed manner without getting into the dog’s space.  For us, it was natural – I guess my baby-phobic-ness made me assume my dogs wouldn’t really want much to do with a baby either!

I still did a Dogs and Babies class from time-to-time at the San Diego Humane Society but started including more “kid training” and photographs of dogs and kids together to illustrate and discuss body language.  When I had my second child, it was a good test to see if THAT boy could also be the kind of kid dogs feel safe around because he was very different from my first son.  Lest you think I just have easy, calm children, here he is in action at age three:

I pulled out the camera that day just to show my mother what I was up against.  Later, though, I looked more closely and realized that our dog did not seem all that concerned.  Me?  I flinch all the time when he comes running by like that!  Seriously, if dogs can feel safe around THAT child, your kids will be a piece of cake!

After I left the humane society, one of the major hospitals in San Diego, Sharp Mary Birch Hospital for Women, asked about adding the class to their Women’s Education offerings.  A couple of other hospitals also picked it up, notably Scripps Memorial Hospital in La Jolla, and I’ve been teaching the class and specializing almost exclusively in dog/baby/young child issues since early 2005.  I teach about 20+ classes a year and do bite consultations and work with families to help resolve concerns with dogs and young children.

I’m all about dogs and babies and kids.  No glitzy, star-studded life for me.  Just stuff like cleaning dog vomit off the Harry Potter wand before the kids get home from school (although, you’d think if it was MAGICAL, it could at least roll out of the way before the dog puked on it…).  In a way, my life with kids has been one long science project because I have paid attention to every bit of what goes on with them and our dog(s) and our friends with their kids and dogs and my dog/baby clients through the years.  I know what works and what doesn’t work, and I’m happy to share my experiences and insights through this blog.

I hope it helps your family get to your own “happily ever after.”

Madeline Gabriel, Certified Professional Dog Trainer



Join the conversation and post a comment.

  1. Amy Beam

    Hi Madeline,
    I took your last class and I think learned a lot. Both my husband and myself consider ourselves to be dog savvy, but we now know that we are going to take a different approach to raising our baby with our dog than we would have.

    Anyway, I thought of you today when I saw this on the onion’s site….

    • dogsandbabies

      Hi Amy – thanks for the feedback! I saw that photo on The Onion and, like a lot of their stuff, it was funny only because it was so true. We can laugh at it there but still be blind to seeing that our own dogs might reach that point of “too much.” Maybe because I was a bit baby phobic while pregnant I never had that fantasy that my dogs would want anything to do with a baby either! :-)

      This evening we had a mishap that could have been an issue. I was heading out for an appointment and thought my husband was on top of cleaning up after dinner but he left the garage door open to the trash and our dog got a rib bone without anyone knowing. In the meantime, he sent our older son (The Cat Boy) over to give Betty a piece of left over meat. I hear him talking to her and then saying she doesn’t want the meat b/c she’s chewing a bully stick. I came over to see and said, “Ahhh!! That’s not a bully stick — it’s a splintering rib bone!!!” Once I cleaned everything up, I realized that a) my dog did not growl at my son approaching her and standing over her while she had valuable contraband and b) my son is not casually all over my dog so he didn’t unwittingly get close to her face. Because, wow, if she HAD bitten him, wouldn’t everyone have said it was a tragic accident and understandable that a dog would bite over a rib bone? That’s what I think doesn’t have to happen.

  2. Nan Arthur

    Love the video of Andrew doing his break dance, bouncing off the wall, and near Betty! I was exhausted after watching that! Dogs are pretty amazing to put up with humans, especially those under 5 years old.

    • dogsandbabies

      Well, I guess you can see why I’d have to think twice before ever sending him to karate class. No need to weaponize him! I’ll write more in a real post about this, but I think the thing with Andrew and Betty specifically is not so much that she is so patient as it is that she does not see his antics as having anything to do with her. Because he has never involved her in “gentle touching” or anything else that’s normally encouraged in small children, he does not think to include her in crazy karate kid moves either. This also leads to our dog defaulting to feeling safe around him. In fact, I think she is the LEAST concerned of all of us when Andrew comes dashing by.

  3. Kristen & Craig Weiss

    Your class is a fantastic resource on how to introduce baby to dog or vice versa. It truly seems like common sense stuff but you just don’t think of taking that sort of approach. I love your approach and we will definitely apply your techniques asap!

    Thanks for the tips!

  4. Marcella Ahern

    HI Madeline,
    Someone in our Greyhound Welfare group posted a link to your site. As I am pregnant and due to have this baby in August, I was very interested in your comments. I live in Virginia, and was wondering if there’s any way to get the info you share in your classes, particularly the information about learning to read your dog’s body language? Thanks so much!

    • Madeline Gabriel

      Hello Marcella — congratulations on your future arrival! I’m always so pleased to hear of people planning well in advance for dog concerns. When I first started teaching my classes, most of the group was due within a week or two. Now, the word is out to come earlier rather than later. In Virginia, you have the excellent resource of Colleen Pelar, author of “Living With Kids and Dogs.” Her website is: http://www.livingwithkidsanddogs.com/ She has lots of good information about body language and a new book geared for all dog enthusiasts called “Kids and Dogs – A Professional’s Guide to Helping Families.” Also, did you see my other posts about body language?

  5. Kim

    Just saw your site today, very informative. Husband and I are empty nesters, and we have a 6 week old grandson who will be coming to visit monthly. We’ll apply what I’ve learned here as we plan to get a Belgian Malinois puppy very soon.

    Question: What do I do and say when I have this Malinois in public on leash, and people approach me with their toddlers and kids and want to have their child pet the dog?

    I want to be gracious and polite, and also keep their children safe.
    Thank you

    • Madeline Gabriel

      Hello Kim – I’m glad you found the info helpful! I’ll be adding a lot more but it’s a little at a time. I’m going to write a whole series on kids and dogs meeting in public with examples of what to say and do. Did you see my older, short post on “May I Pet Your Dog?” It’s in the archives from last year. You may also like my entry to the Canis Film Festival. It’s called “Dogs Like Kids They Feel Safe With” and you can get to it at http://www.canisfilmfestival.com. Once the winner is announced this weekend, I’ll know if I can put it on the blog, but either way, I’ll write more explanation about it. Your overriding principle when you’re out with your puppy is that you are responsible for protecting the puppy and doing your best to make encounters with all kinds of people a positive experience for your puppy. If you don’t feel confident you can control for that with a very young non-verbal toddler, decide if you are willing to “roll the dice” and take the risk. You’ll have a better feel once you get your puppy and see how he or she is temperament-wise. Also, every encounter should be very short — stroke, stroke, stroke, thanks, that’s it. If you’re standing around chatting and everyone is calm and you want to do it again, that’s fine. Repeated short encounters are better than one long petathon that the dog gets sick of or the child gets carried away.

  6. Michelle

    So glad to have found your blog. I have a lot of dog experience, but not much when it comes to kids, so combining the two tends to make me nervous! With a new nephew on the way, I’ll definitely be coming here for some good tips :)

  7. Sarah DeLone

    As a humane educator and coordinator of our local therapy dog group, I have found your blog to be both informative and thought provoking and have changed the tenor of my dog bite prevention sessions with kids because of things I have read here as well as on other websites.

    I regularly work with kids at our local domestic violence shelter with therapy dogs, and have changed my interactions with them to focus much more on making sure they know how to make the dog feel safe and comfortable and role play with my calm, relaxed dogs how they can more safely interact with all of the dogs they meet.

  8. Jane Gerard CPDT-KA

    What a great website/blog, your work is inspirational and much needed! I have just recently moved to a higher demographic population, which includes babies and young children, your training programs have inspired me to educate the families here, thank you Madeline!

  9. Susanne

    Thank you so much for making this information available!
    I volunteer at a shelter and just yesterday showed a dog to a couple who mentioned that they have a 2 year old child at home. The father then proceeded to lightly tug on the dogs tail and ears and seemed pleased with the dog’s lack of response. When I kindly suggested that they would benefit from teaching the child how to respectfully handle the dog the couple stared at me dumbly for a few seconds and grew silent.
    This site is exactly what I was hoping to find. I’ll definitely be redirecting folks here in the future. =)

  10. Faith

    Great website. I loved watching your son in this video. He reminds me of my spirited little guy.

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