I was recently at a seminar about dog behavior and a few of the speakers showed YouTube videos of babies or very small children interacting with dogs – generally large dogs. I suppose on some level they seem cute but what is really happening is quite different. What you generally see is the small child poking the dog or pulling the dog’s hair to try and stand up and the dog doing everything in his power to not act like a dog. It is the equivalent of leaving a young toddler with her six year old brother – how long would a six year old let the toddler pull on his hair or poke him in the face before he socks her in the arm? The parents would be upset, but they are the ones who put a child who has no clue how to behave with another child who has virtually no impulse control.
It’s the same with dogs – bite inhibition is something humans want in dogs but it is a always a battle if a dog is being provoked. In the case of videos where the humans are actually encouraging the provocation, we’re not letting our dogs fight, nor are we letting our dogs flee. Since fight or flight are the main options dogs have to protect themselves, the fact that a dog does actually sit there while somebody videotapes them is a credit to the human dog relationship. Nonetheless, it’s incredibly stressful to the dogs and not all that cute when you look closer.
On an additional note, I’d speculate that there are a lot of situations where a child poking a dog while dad films has resulted in a bite or a snap or a scratch but these videos don’t get posted (at least I fervently hope they don’t). Dogs move fast and you can’t possibly intercept a behavior while you are filming.
If you absolutely feel the need to take pictures or videos of a dog and child please be sure that you:
- Really, really know your dog – certainly never do this with a strange or new dog;
- Don’t let the child do anything inappropriate. If that is not possible, find another cute situation to film or photograph;
- Have an adult near the front side of the dog. Have the adult give the occasional treat
There will be lots of opportunities to take wonderful pictures of your children and dogs. Just think about using a lot more care if you want them together.