How to Not Magnetize Your Baby (Part 2)

In the previous post, we talked about some of the reasons why you would not want to “magnetize” your baby to dogs – primarily because your baby or young child is not going to be developmentally able to be successful interacting with your dog until closer to maybe age five.  There is always time and opportunity to allow your child to do MORE later so don’t be in a rush to prompt your child to touch dogs.

Classic “magnetizing.” Notice how the dad has eyes only for the baby. Even though surprised (“I thought they were just going to look!”), Emily looks out for her dog and makes it OK with a treat while blocking baby fingers.

Just like all the other things you baby-proof and control access to until your child is ready, it makes sense to do the same with the dog.  However, because it’s not appropriate or desirable to keep your dog under lock and key and even the best “supervision” is always going to have gaps, it is essential that parents give their babies another layer of protection by mindfully not “magnetizing” them to dogs.  After all, what are you going to do when your child is 18 months old and makes a beeline for the dog whenever you turn your back and now you have another baby with a giant poop explosion in the other room?

Yikes!  So, let’s talk now about how to prevent the magnetization right from the start so you never have to find out!

(As  you’ll see, this post turned into more of photo essay than an article.  That’s what’s great about a blog – it can be what it wants to be!)

The First “Meeting”

I’ll have a lot more to say about bringing baby home, but, for now, I’d like to remind you that the dog and baby are not actually “meeting” or making any plans for the future.  Your dog doesn’t have to get up close and personal with your newborn child.

If you can’t resist and just need to have your dog sniff your baby, the baby should be tucked in close to you, with no dangling limbs and facing away from the dog.  Sniff, sniff, sniff…All Done… go do something else with the baby.  Neither the dog nor the baby should linger and get fascinated with each other.

Your newborn can’t even hold her head up or focus very far in front of herself.  Do not start off by calling attention to your dog and then hoping you can turn that off at will.  Let your baby be your baby and your dog be your dog.  They are not available to each other for exploration.

When Baby Notices Dog

By eight weeks of age, most infants can focus their eyes to better notice things around them.  By three months, babies are usually tracking motion with their eyes and beginning to reach for things.  What you do in these first three months sets the stage for what your baby will want to explore when she starts reaching and grasping.  The intent is that your dog is not one of these objects.

Oh, no! Cover the baby’s eyes! (Just kidding…)
But, yes, DO engage your baby with YOU, instead!

When your baby notices your dog, acknowledge her interest without making a big deal about it or bringing the baby over to touch the dog.  The dog is simply not available for touching.

“Yes, that’s our dog, Fluffy.  Fluffy is a good dog and watches over the family.” Sing a little song, engage your baby with you as you move on to do other things.  There are a lot of other interesting new things when you’re just born.  Don’t let your dog upstage you — be more interesting than the dog!!

That’s it.  Simply resisting the urge to magnetize your baby by not prompting contact is enough at this stage.

What if Baby Reaches for Dog?

If baby reaches her hand to touch the dog, gently slide your hand under hers so your dog feels your familiar, comfortable touch.  This will keep your baby’s hand from being able to grasp and pull fur.  Reassure your dog, “Good dog, thank you,” and shift your baby’s position so she can no longer reach the dog.

Remember – this is for accidental touches, not something to set up on purpose.

Begin to build an interior monologue for your baby.  I call these “internal prompts.”  Tell your baby what’s going on in ways that inform her what to do:

“Dogs like a little more space.  Let’s move over here so she feels safe.  Look, our dog is staying with us!  You helped her feel safe.  You are a good friend to dogs!” Don’t worry, you’ll come up with your own wording that sounds natural to you.  The point is that you use this pre-crawling time to teach your baby the behaviors you most want to see in her repertoire.  If she spends this time rehearsing reaching for and touching your dog, that’s what you’re going to get more of when she’s on the go in a few short months.

Remember, your infant can’t get anywhere on her own just yet.  This is your best time for a good foundation!  (Maybe this is why babies don’t crawl for so many months — so you can help dog and baby acclimate!)

Really, don’t you want to be able to hold your baby and still enjoy your dog relaxing next to you?  This will never happen if you let your baby experiment with reaching for the dog as an infant.  Well, maybe “never” is too strong, but it’s less likely your dog will feel relaxed and comfortable when he’s busy wondering if the baby is going to pull his fur again today.

The Remote Control

Just like if you’re sitting on the couch watching a big game, you don’t want the baby messing with the remote.  At the same time, it’s not like you want to get UP and flip channels manually, either.   So, generally, parents figure out not to call too much attention to the remote control and keep it out of reach of the baby.  No one worries that their baby is going to grow up techologically-challenged.

If you can do it for the remote control, you can do it for your dog.  (And if you didn’t do it for the remote, don’t you wish you did?)

If you magnetize your baby to the remote control…
You might miss that big play when the baby grabs the remote at the wrong time!
Ahh, that’s better!
This is my goal – that you can enjoy both your dog AND baby! (My poor beautiful dog never did like having his picture taken, though.)

What Does Your Dog Think About All This?

First of all, no one really knows what dogs think.  Half the time, we probably don’t want to know!  However, we CAN get a hint based on their body language.


Remember this picture? Betty is leaning away from this contact with her right ear pulled back and away. She is not engaged with anyone in the picture. Interpretation: She doesn’t like what we’re doing.
But a non-touching baby (doll) is regarded with apparently calm curiosity (not that you’d ever prop your real baby up near your dog like this – purely an illustration!).

The less your baby reaches out to touch your dog, the more comfortable your dog will feel around your baby.  The more comfortable your dog feels, the safer it is for your baby.  If you want your baby to be safe around your dog, your dog has to feel safe around your baby.  This is just common sense, isn’t it?

Parallels to “Parallel Play”

A normal and preferred play style for toddlers and preschoolers often involves what’s known as parallel play: “a form of play where children play adjacent to each other, but do not try to influence one another’s behavior.”  This comes up all the time in parenting Q&A columns where a new parents worry about toddlers who don’t seem to engage with each other.  It’s explained as a completely normal developmental stage and parents are discouraged from trying to force kids to play “with” each other before they are ready.

Two toddler friends play near each other, but keep their personal space
This is a favorite photo of mine because my baby is not messing with our dog and she is relaxed enough to lay near him while he plays. They are companionable without being “magnetized.” (Note: Do I trust the judgment and maturity of a one-year-old or a dog enough to leave them alone like this? No way! After the picture, I’m right back engaged with them.)

It makes sense to a baby/young child to be by the dog without reaching for it.  We are not depriving our babies of any essential life experience by refusing to magnetize them to dogs.  It’s just the opposite — we are giving them the opportunity to be just the way they’re supposed to be.  Your baby will be perfectly fine being friends with your dog without touching.  And, your dog will be more likely to reciprocate that friendship.

Coming Up

Next upcontinuing efforts with crawlers and toddlers and how to “de-magnetize” kids before there’s a problem.

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  1. Thanks for all your great articles! I’m nervous because my 13-year-old dog growled at our five-month-old when she grabbed his fur recently. And after reading your posts I see we’ve been doing all the wrong things. I hope it’s not too late to change things. Already today I’ve been distracting my baby whenever she notices the dog walking by, trying to take her fascination away from him. Will continue to implement your advice and read your articles. Thanks!

    1. Good work, Jill. I have so much more to write about this whole topic that it will easily fill my book project if I can ever find the time to concentrate on it. It shouldn’t be too late to change things for the better for your family. While you work with your baby to demagnetize her, consider a physical evaluation from your vet to make sure your dog is not developing greater body sensitivities or pain issues as he ages. It’s also good to work in-person with a qualified trainer who can show you how to reinforce tolerance and attentiveness to you through positive reinforcement. The Family Paws Parent Education website has a list of affiliated trainers/educators that might be a good start. See: http://familypaws.com/resources/

  2. Any tips for how to unmagnitize a mobile 10 month old? She’s not old enough to understand all of the concepts in your post about toddlers but she’s not a tiny baby who’s just meeting him either. She’s walking and I can tell my 80 pound pit bull mix is starting to feel harassed.

    1. Hi Jody – ugh, my blog is so disorganized after a couple of years of neglect – it’s no wonder you can’t find what you need. I’m glad you took the time to ask. Here is a list of all the posts related to magnetized/de-magnetizing babies and toddlers: http://www.dogsandbabieslearning.com/category/magnetized-babies/. Your daughter is right in the age where they start wanting to go over to the dog and (usually) the dog is not pleased with the new turn of events. Good for you to notice how your dog might be feeling about it! This post in particular is pretty close to your situation: http://www.dogsandbabieslearning.com/2012/02/15/our-lab-is-a-magnet-for-the-baby/. The novelty and attraction to the dog will decrease with a concerted effort to make the dog “unavailable,” thus creating an opening for your daughter to develop new interests. Her whole world is expanding and there is so much to explore! It doesn’t have to be all about the dog so don’t feel like there is any element of “depriving” your child. There is plenty of time for her and your dog to develop a relationship when your daughter is more apt to be a consistent friend your dog will enjoy. When I work in person with families with magnetized toddlers, we have a lot of success setting a two week period of really enforcing a policy of not allowing the child to access the dog’s space (3-5 feet, generally). This is with a combo of parent intercepting child or calling dog out of the way or creative use of gates/barriers or strategic stocking up at the dollar store for a variety of novel activities to give the child other things to do each day. A friend or neighbor can take dog out for a walk if there are predictably challenging times of day for you you manage both dog and child. Brainstorm what works for your family. Remember, it’s two weeks – not the rest of your life. Pretend the dog has ringworm if that helps heighten awareness of dog and child proximity. I don’t think we’ve ever failed to significantly demagnetize a toddler – and it often takes less than the full two weeks, too. Families have different expectations for what they consider “good enough” so see what makes sense for what you can manage. Keep in mind that large dog that feels harassed + fragile, unsteady baby = heightened risk of injury so it is good that you are staying on top of things. Always put safety first.

      1. I’m trying to work out the best way to separate them in my super small house. It looks like I’ll be gating the living room off from the rest of our fairly open layout. Thanks for replying. I found your blog through a Facebook group but they have limited posting times and I always seem to miss them.

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