Close encounters of the human-dog kind are a bad idea
Videos of kids having fun with dogs abound on the internet. Early today I learned of one showing a husky and an infant "talking to one another." The lead-in for this popular video with 130, 490 views and growing, reads, "These two must be having a really meaningful conversation, if only we could translate! The question is: Has the Husky learned to speak baby or has the baby learned to speak Husky? You be the judge:"
In addition to people asking if I'd seen the short video, I also had a number of people ask me if it's a good idea for an infant and a dog to have these sorts of face-to-face interactions. I don't, and I'm an unapologetic killjoy if people want to look at it this way.
Let me say up front that the video really is "cute," but I have to say if the infant were my child I would have gently broken up their on-going conversation. I know dogs pretty well and while there was nothing that I found alarming in this dog's demeanor, it just got too close for comfort for me.
Coincidentally, just this week I received a review copy of an excellent book called Babies, kids and dogs: Creating a safe and harmonious relationship, by Melissa Fallon and Vickie Davenport. The book's description reads:
Children and dogs both benefit mentally and physically from a harmonious relationship. Dogs help to develop empathy and social skills in children, as well as build their confidence. It is, however, important to also develop this confidence in our dogs, and prepare them to be around babies and children. Bite prevention is vital, and, therefore, we need to teach our dogs and children how to behave correctly around and with each other.
'Babies, Kids and Dogs' will help you to create safe, positive and harmonious relationships between your children and your dog, and allow your dog to relax in the presence of children. Included within are instructional colour photographs, tables to assist with assessing and training your dog, and step-by-step training exercises. Educational illustrations of 'Charlie and Champ' will also help engage your young children, in order to teach them about behaving appropriately when interacting with their canine friends. Throughout the book are ideas to promote safe interactions, and develop lifelong friendships.
Safety has to come first, and as I was writing this short essay, I recalled a piece by NPR writer Dr. Barbara King about a youngster having fun dipping the family dog's tail into little cups of paint and then using the tail as a paint brush. This also is a cute video but in this video, Dr. King notes, "judging from the dog's body posture, facial expression and gaze that he was just a little uncomfortable with the proceedings."
I agreed with Dr. King that the dog seemed unsure of what was happening. I noted, "If she were my child ... I would have stopped it as soon as possible. I fully recognize that the likelihood that something 'bad' would happen is very low, but if something did it would be tragic on all accounts, for the child, her family and, of course, the dog. There are many other ways to have fun with one's family dog."
So, do I think these sorts of interactions are "cute?" Yes, I do. Do I like to see them plastered all over the Internet? No, I don't. I've heard kids say to other kids that they can go face-to-face with their family dog and have seen them try to do this with other dogs at dog parks or on hiking trails. This is not a good idea, to say the least. The videos set bad examples that can be disastrous. And, I also know adults who have been attacked by familiar dogs for a variety of reasons when they go face-to-face, although they've done this many times before.
As I wrote above, I'm an unapologetic killjoy if people want to look at it this way. However, I'm thinking of all of the animals involved, the humans and nonhumans. If something unpredictably bad happened, in addition to possible serious injuries to a youngster and the pain suffered by other members of the family, the being who also would pay the price for this sort of indiscretion would be the dog. And, it could be a huge price at that. Most likely they'd be shipped off to a shelter and if they couldn't be adopted because of the warning that they "weren't good with kids," they'd be killed. Clearly this wouldn't be a happy ending for any of the animals involved.
Babies, kids and dogs would be an excellent place to begin to learn about safe ways for kids and all family members to have fun with their dog. I hope people will choose these over cute, but potentially dangerous, close encounters of the human-dog kind.
Marc Bekoff’s latest books are Jasper’s Story: Saving Moon Bears (with Jill Robinson), Ignoring Nature No More: The Case for Compassionate Conservation, Why Dogs Hump and Bees Get Depressed: The Fascinating Science of Animal Intelligence, Emotions, Friendship, and Conservation, Rewilding Our Hearts: Building Pathways of Compassion and Coexistence, and The Jane Effect: Celebrating Jane Goodall (edited with Dale Peterson). The Animals’ Agenda: Freedom, Compassion, and Coexistence in the Human Age (with Jessica Pierce) will be published in early 2017.