Forsake Magnetization, Gain Harmony (Part 4)

Here’s what I want for you and your babies and your dogs – a life lived in harmony.  I want you to enjoy your dog’s companionship and delight at moments of kindness and accommodation shown by your dog and child as they build a foundation for a future friendship of their own.

My series on magnetization cautions new parents to think long and hard before encouraging babies and toddlers to “need” to touch dogs in order to enjoy their company.  I hope you’re coming away with some things to think about as you choose the habits you will instill in your developing baby.

I want to leave you with a little photo essay of my kids and dog feeling companionable together without being magnetized.  This isn’t to say that we are perfect or it’s always easy!  There is always a level of stress that comes with being attentive, but I think it’s a fair price to pay for my choice to enjoy children and dogs in my life.

However, giving up on magnetizing does not mean giving up your hopes of friendship between your dog and child.  Far from it!  In fact, the less magnetized your baby is, the more likely your dog will feel safe enough to want to be with your child as he or she grows.  This post is by request to illustrate that “unmagnetized” children can, indeed, enjoy their dogs.  And, even better, the feeling is more likely to be mutual.

Daniel is almost 3 years old. Betty would often find a place to relax near him - because he asked nothing of her but her companionship. I have dozens of pictures just like this.


Andrew is one and a half. Betty went up to the top of our hill to lie next to him. She was willing to stay with him because he does not grab for her.


Our dog is usually an arms-length kind of dog who does not seek out a lot of physical contact. Given that Andrew is the "karate chop boy" in the video on the About page, it baffles me that she chose him to rest her head on. She feels safe with him.


Another day, Andrew was too tired to make it to his bed. He gets to experience sleeping "with" his dog because she is unconcerned. He does not use her as a pillow or treat her as a stuffed animal.


Daniel is 9 years old. Betty is comfortable walking with him.


Andrew wrote this at 5 years old. He rarely touches our dog, but he sure loves her!


Ages 9 and 6 on our regular afternoon walk, just a couple of months ago.


What’s it All Mean?

I’m not saying my path is the only way things will ever work out well with your dog and baby.  And, I’m sure lots of people have happy pictures of their dogs and kids.  The only thing I’m intending to demonstrate with these pictures is that refusing to magnetize your children does not preclude them growing up loving dogs or feeling loved by dogs.  It’s not a one or the other choice.

In closing, here is a sweet story from about a year ago.  My friend had three children under the age of four and one of her dogs was approaching the end of his life.  The family paid attention to not allowing the children to become magnetized and provided for the dog’s need for space right from the start.  In return, they were gifted with this beautiful memory of their dog and three-year-old daughter, shortly before their dog passed away:

“It was such a sweet quiet moment in time and such a nice memory for me.  Fabiola was coloring on the floor of the family room — I was cleaning up in the kitchen and the two younger kids were napping.  And yes, Winston went out of his way to curl up on the floor right next to Fabiola.  (Normally, he would’ve chosen a spot closer to me or somewhere soft.)  And as nice as it was to see him choose to be near her, she really responded in kind – by not touching him or reaching out.  She just looked up at me to say, ‘Look, Winston wants to be with me!,’ smiled wide and went back to her coloring.”

So please don’t feel sad or worried that you are depriving your child by not letting him or her be magnetized at a very young age.  There will be plenty of time to build true friendship as your child gets a little older.  I promise.

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  1. Thank you so much for this great series. We have a dog who we know is not the ideal kid-proof dog. He is a rescue who is fearful by nature and did not like being touched when we got him. We have worked really hard with a professional dog behaviorist and trainer to help him get through his issues. He is MUCH better after 2.5 years with us. We are expecting our first child in 2 months. We have been working with the trainer and reading lots of books to prepare. We know we will have to be excellent managers of the dog and the baby to make this work.

    We knew that not letting the baby touch the dog would be his (the dog’s) preference. I am so exited to read your thoughtful and sensible approach to dogs and kids, and the fact that not touching really does make sense for the baby and the dog.

    Thank you so much for your great ideas and clear articulation!

  2. Your articles are brilliant! We recently introduced a dog into our family (which includes kids aged 2, 4, and 7) and are having a tough time with our kids consistently respecting our dog’s space. Your views on magnetization, licking, and bite prevention are helping us to execute a plan to help our kids and our dog coexist happily. It’s so simple I don’t know know how we were so oblivious! Our house is not very big, so it makes having clear boundaries about the dog’s personal space even more important. The new house motto is, “Be a friend to Chase, give him his space!” Thank you so much for showing me a way to make this work!

    And additional advice for kids and dogs in small houses?

  3. And it’s great to see that your younger son (and maybe your older son too) knows how to help fearful dogs feel safe!

  4. Great advice, but what about a dog that is magnetized to children? My dog is about 3 1/2, and adores kids, wanting to be near my granddaughters (both are 2 1/2) as much as possible. He will almost always choose to lay in the middle of their play activities, follow them around and give them kisses at every opportunity. We always supervise and have taught them “gentle hands” and “space”, i.e., ” Harley is eating/sleeping and he needs space”. I don’t want to work against their obvious bond….is this a bad thing? If one of the girls is napping on the couch, he is right there, curled up with her, big head resting on her…

    1. Thanks for commenting, Lisa. I clearly need to write a blog post about dogs magnetized to children, as this is not the first time I’ve gotten the question! It sounds like you are directing the children well with clear instructions on what to do around Harley. Wanting to be near is a nice feature for a family dog and I don’t think that’s a problem as long as you or another responsible adult is also near. The goal is to make sure they all continue to love each other for a long, long time so you keep up your vigilance to prevent any accidents or misunderstandings. Dogs don’t know that toddlers/preschoolers sometimes have bad ideas about what might be fun for a dog. For me, I’d try to discourage the following/licking behavior if it is more than just an initial happy greeting. These are not your dog’s “puppies” to do with what he wants. See my other blog post on “Should Dog Lick Baby?.” Also, dog too close and too much into kid activities can be annoying to children and lead to pushing him away or yelling at him. There may also be issues when kids are holding food if dog is too close in their space. Nearby and calm and relaxed is what I aim for.

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