Recently I witnessed a nasty exchange on Facebook in regards to a member’s picture of her baby and dog. The baby was sitting on the dog’s chest and holding his muzzle. The comments degenerated into accusations of abuse, which was way over the top and didn’t accomplish anything. The photo did make me uncomfortable, but not because I had any worries that the baby or dog were being abused or not carefully supervised. It made me worry because it was teaching the baby a wrong way to interact with dogs. Kids tend to repeat behaviors that they find enjoyable or that get a reaction from adults and this wasn’t a safe behavior. Here are some tips for snapping photos of kids and dogs.
Is this acceptable for any dog or just my dog? If you’d only let your child do this to your dog and not your friends, neighbors or mothers dog then it’s probably not a good idea. Little kids don’t understand “We can only do this with your doggie but if you do it to another doggie you might get hurt.” The same idea goes for “I’m only going to do this once to get a cute shot.” If it’s not something you want your child to repeat, don’t do it!
Does my dog have a physical and social escape route? Your dog should be able to leave the interaction at any time. That means they can get up and not be chased or grabbed. That also means that they don’t feel social pressure from you to stay in an uncomfortable situation. This was something that took me time to realize with my own dog. He was desperately and subtly signaling me that he was not happy but my praising him lavishly or giving treats to sit next to the kid for a quick photo made him feel unable to leave. Which leads me directly to my next tip.
Is your dog showing calming signals? These are subtle signs that your dog is uncomfortable, but once you know what to look for they are unmistakable. Lip licking, yawning, moving slowly, turning the head or body, whale eye and sniffing the ground are all dog appeasement techniques. Sometimes they are so subtle that I don’t see them until later when I’m reviewing the photographs.
Now in the interest of education I am going to share some of my “Good, Bad and Ugly” photos. Well, maybe not ugly, since my son and dogs are just about the cutest on the planet in my completely unbiased opinion. I’d love to hear opinions on these photos, it could be that I’m reading my dogs wrong. These are in chronological order.
Why this photo is good: Dog is relaxed on his bed and not being coaxed or cajoled in to the photo. He can get up and leave at any time. His facial expression and ear set shows relaxed interest.
Why this photo is bad: The dog is being good, but he’s very nervous. I coaxed him up on the sofa with treats so I could get a picture of them together and he tried to jump down several times. Bad Mom! You can tell by his expression and ear set that he is very nervous and unsure of himself. Of course it makes an adorable photo, but it’s an unfair position to put the dog in. I chalk this one up to being a brand new Mom and being on no sleep.
Why this photo is bad: Again with forcing the dog into a stressful situation so I could get a cute pic of the two of them. I lured him up there and he’s desperately saying “HELP” in dog body language. Note the panting, body and head turned away from the baby, ears pinned back, whale eye and awkward sitting position.
Why this photo is bad: Apparently I have a thing for forcing my dog to sit on the sofa with the kid. Note the whale eye, turning of the head, and leaning away from him. He’s 5 months old here, it took me a while to learn!
Why this photo is good: This is not a staged picture. The dog laid down on the soft baby blanket next to the kid. His expression is alert and interested and he can get up and leave at any time.
Why this photo is good: Not staged, dog enjoying being fed from the high chair. Very interested, alert expression on dogs face. Alert and excited body posture, no signs of stress.
Why this photo is good: Dog is relaxed and interested in playing with the ball. The dog approached the kid on his own and sat down with him.
8) Good and Bad
Why this photo is both: The kid came and laid down with both dogs on the bed. Although the dogs are fairly relaxed and not bothered by it, this is not behavior I would allow with any dogs other than mine.
Why this photo is good: The puppy came and sat down with the kid and can leave at any time. She is alert and interested in the food he’s eating but not grabbing it.
10) Good and Bad
On our last picture, you can see this is a picture of all three of them playing in the pool. The dogs are wrestling and the kid is having a blast. The bad part is that the dogs are getting crazy and wrestling next to the pool, which could be dangerous for the kid. He did get knocked over in the water once but thought it was funny and I scooped him right up. They get so focused on their play that they don’t even see him, which can create a very dangerous situation with dogs that move 35mph.
You can see as time went on I got better at recognizing stress in my dog and stopped the posed or forced photos. I also made sure my son knows not to flop on the dog beds, crawl in crates with the dogs or do anything else that he can’t do with other dogs. It’s a constant learning journey filled with mistakes (I had TONS of bad photos to pick from!) but we just keep learning and doing the best we can.