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Does Your Baby “Love” Dogs?







Well, I guess that depends on how you define the word, “love,” doesn’t it?

Just to make sure we’re talking about the same thing, here are a couple of competing definitions:

  1. Unselfish, loyal and benevolent concern for the good of the other
  2. Strong predilection, enthusiasm or liking for anything

For example, I love crab, meaning that I love the way they taste, as in definition #2.  To keep it straight, let’s channel our inner teenager and call this, “luv.”

Because, if I really loved crab, per the first definition, do you think I’d choose to yank them from their ocean homes, boil them up, dip them in butter and eat them?  Not really in the best interests of the crab so, out of love, I’d refrain from doing it (regardless of how good they taste).

So much of what we perceive as “love” between babies and dogs is really “luv” being inflicted upon a dog who tries to make the best of it.

Haven’t you had squealing toddlers run up to your dog at the park or visiting nieces and nephews that pester your dog?  What do their parents say?  “Oh, she just loves dogs!”  Mmm, not really or she’d take notice that the dog is trying to get away or is using body language to say, “No, thank you.  Please don’t do that,” and lovingly respect the animal’s wishes.

Developmentally, that’s not going to happen until maybe a child is closer to age five and perhaps not at all if the child continues to rehearse harassing behavior and have it labeled for him as “love.”

In the meantime, little kids are in Luv Land and that’s a dangerous place to be because it’s so intoxicatingly cute to see babies laugh in delight.  Babies and toddlers don’t know any better, and they’re going to do what seems interesting to them or what their parents encourage and laugh about.

Hugging or kissing dogs is a prime example.  This is encouraged by parents with good intentions and embraced by children who may even feel a genuine affection for the dog.  Trouble is, no one asks the dog how he feels about it.  Do you think these dogs are feeling the love?  (Or is it luv?)

(See body language post for what to look for.)

Watch this cute toddler interact with Otis the dog and listen to how his mom labels his behavior as love:  “Do you love Otis very much?”  The baby may very well love his dog but is this the way you want him to show it?  I don’t think it comes across as “love” to the dog, despite everyone’s good intentions.



Or, check out this one with a laughing baby who now has in his repertoire of “What should I do when I see a dog?” the behavior of charging into the dog’s space, expecting a grand old time and lots of approval.  How is he to know at this age that this is generally NOT safe or appropriate behavior?


By letting kids acquire these, and worse, behaviors, parents are essentially rolling the dice — hoping the good dog doesn’t have a bad day and never considering that the child will do these same things with every other dog he comes across, some of which may object.  Strongly object.  With their teeth.

The safety of your child can’t rest upon the judgment calls of a toddler or a dog.  Despite what we may wish to believe, neither of them “know better.”  (See separate post to come on Friends at Five.)  Don’t settle for the fantasy of “Luv” if you’re aiming for happily ever after.

So What Should Parents Do Instead?

See separate posts on how to keep your baby from becoming “magnetized” in the first place, along with tips on how to “de-magnetize” a toddler.

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  1. Thank you for spreading the word and educating us all Madeline. This is positively terrifying once a person understands what is going on in these videos…that the child does not understand that the dog can bite and inflict injury as a natural response to pain, over-stimulation or fear. Children this age cannot empathize and can’t understand that the dog experiences these mental states…just that it’s a fuzzy, moving object! I recently had child throwing blocks at “her dog” to make it move and entertain her, as the dog had been sleeping! I look forward to more de-magnetizing tips. Warmest regards, Linda Michaels, Wholistic Dog Training.

  2. Thank you for highlighting this issue of “love/luv” which is SO pervasive, not just with children but with so many adults that I see come in to the shelter where I work as an adoption counselor. Even after I point out how the dog is reacting uncomfortably to some behavior they are doing, they do it again while proclaiming how much they just “luv” dogs. Your information is wonderful and I am trying to spread the word as much as possible by introducing people to your material. Thanks for caring and making such an effort to protect both dogs and children.

  3. What a wonderful post! It changes your thinking completely. It’s natural that we think the toddler/child is so cute with the dog. Until I got my dogs and watched Spike shy away from kids I never thought of the dog’s point of view.

    1. Thanks for your comment, Helen. I’m hoping that people will come to see that “reality” is OK! We are all looking for the Lassie fantasy where we can “trust” dogs and they’ll somehow know exactly what to do in every situation with a developing child. I get that. It’s just that I have no power in that fantasy world. In the real world, however, I have lots of power to make things better for both the dog and the child by watching and teaching both of them.

  4. This is a really informative piece of info, and i aggree wholeheartedly that part of a child’s deveopement is to help them to learn how to comminicate with other species that may not give and recieve love in the way that we percieve it. For the sanity of the dog and the safelty of the child. Ofcourse as someone rightly mentions about adults – this is not always easy when the parent hasn’t learned this way of being either!

    What i disagree with is the implication of the word ‘luv’ relating the idea that it is somehow not ‘real’ love that the baby or child has for the dog. I think the anolgy of the crab is not comparable becasue what people mean when they ‘love’ a particular food is that they love the taste! Likie me and steak. I love steak. Yum. And guess what. I love cows to! Love is many things. Being a lover of watching babies interact with their world too, i can see how very much love comes through a child in the way they have the need to reach and and touch, smell, taste and FALL IN LOVE WITH their environment. This is not appropriate around dogs or most animlas ofcourse becuase they do not percieve love in the way that we do. But to imply that what a child is feeling is not love i think is misguided. It is not a cheap imitation (‘luv’) at all. In fact a child loves more freely and openly then most adults! They also want to poke, test, and explore (another thing that a dog could become of victim of!) The wonder is teaching children to reach out in a whole new way, then a whole new plain of communication can be explored. And yes, that is the parent’s job to support that. And as you rightly educate, if they can’t, they need a trainer or guide that can help them help their child to help their doggy!

    1. Hi Becky,
      It is apparent that you have a connection with dogs and children.
      And, it is not without concern that you have discounted Madeline’s blog about dogs “loving” children.
      Take into account that science has shown that brain developed is not fully formed until the age of around 20-25 years, and it is not clear about development and learning in the area of guilt, consciousness and emotions and it’s not hard to see the greater picture.
      Check out the science!

      1. Hi there, please don’t feel the need to be concerned. I wonder if i did not articulate myself well enough (although by now, well over the age of 25, my brain *should* be fully developed enough – oh dear! :0)) I ofcourse suport the general concept, but my issue is more with the diffrentiation between ‘luv’ and ‘love’. If we are talking science here, i just didn’t find this an altogether verifiable platform to discuss how a child explores, interacts and feels about those who share their environment. The Love question is probably an unsafe place to open, as love can not be measured, therefore a definition of it in this way can not be science.

        1. Yeah, I know what you mean, Becky. My original post wasn’t meant to be a scientific exploration of anything and it was kind of tongue-in-cheek with the “luv.” I just wanted to differentiate the various ways people interpret a child’s actions with a dog in kind of a funny way. I’ve been meaning to go back to that now very old post and explain how the whole thing started with someone positing at an in-service class years ago that you can’t judge someone else’s definition of love. That rang false to me. I have so much more to keep writing and I’ll get back to it soon. I appreciate you reading! (Oh, wait, I see now that your reply was to Nan, not me.)

      1. I admire and anyone who takes time to study specific important areas around the welfare of animals and children. Both are a passion of mine. Ultimately I think it is paramount that children can learn how to ‘be’ around dogs/animals. It in turn can teach them how to ‘be’ around other humans too in som e cases! It’s so evident that children don’t learn in so many cases and grow into adults handling/interacting with dogs/animals inappropriatly. Just the other day i was watching a (lovely!) elderly lady hugging and kissing her terrier and it (not surprisingly) growled at her. She then held it right in front of her face and called it a naughty naughty boy! Classic moment of one way love!

  5. Hi Madeline,
    There is a reason I tell people they should talk to you about dogs and babies!
    Keep up the good work to inform the public about how kids should behave around dogs!

  6. I feel that although mothers are “teaching” their babies how to love other living creatures, and babies certainly enjoy dogs, the word love needs to be defined as we do in science…operationally.

    What does love do? How does love behave? What can be observed?

    Yes, love is a feeling, but it is the expression of love that reaches others–feelings themselves don’t affect other people or dogs, behavior does.

    All emotional constructs are operationally defined in research so we can measure what’s observed.

    The thing is, baby’s or young toddler’s cognitive brain has not developed sufficiently to understand “other”. It’s all about “me” and “what stimulus can I enjoy” pretty much. It’s the age of exploring and learning about the world, and that’s just as it should be. You can look at child psychologist/Piaget for “stages of development” for anyone else who may want to check out a neat scientific source.

    A young child cannot grasp at least two important things regarding a dog, in my understanding:

    1. The dog could bite them: what sustaining a wound would feel like, and how it might affect the whole family including the dog and

    2. That the dog is a real entitity who experiences pain and fright.

    Because a child squeals with glee at a dog upon throwing a block at the dog to “make the furry thing move”, may confuse the mom, but it’s a natural behavior for the small child. Nothing’s wrong. We just need to protect them from each other and supervise, supervise, supervise…and often separate for the safety of all. Plus, as Madeline recommends, that I like so much… demagnetize the baby 🙂

    Babies and dogs ARE love to me. So innocent and unconditional and unfettered by our mental world. The joy of it!

    1. I found this really helpful in clearing up the definition i was struggling with 🙂 The difference and links between feelings and behaviour…and i aggree with your last paragraph wholeheartedly!!

  7. Though there are lots of times that I feel parents need to manage situations better, I do feel that the laughing baby and dog are equally engaging. The dog clearly has free run to leave the situation and is choosing to come back and “play”. The child is limited in his movements and they indicate to the dog that it is a social interaction. The frequent play bows of the dog and appropriate calming positions that it takes, shows that it is very aware of its situation. I do believe that a child can be taught what is acceptable with it’s own dog and still taught respectful behavior with a strange one.

    1. Hi Lucinda — thanks for taking time to write. I’ll have more blog posts coming about what I think kids can and can’t learn at different stages of development and some of the pitfalls I see when kids are encouraged too early to engage with dogs. It should make for good discussion and you’re always welcome to post a different opinion.

  8. Poor Otis! He’s a victim of “luv” – and his own easy-going nature.
    Thanks again for giving me assurance that it’s OK to say no when kids want to pet my dogs.

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