Dog and Baby Compete to Say “Mama” First, A Veterinarian Weighs In

Australian Shepherd laying on kitchen floorA recent survey indicates that the average parent will post almost 1,000 photos of their child online before he/she turns five. It is not surprising then that the internet is chockablock full of adorable images of adorable children, adorable pets, and the often even more adorable combination of children and pets. But these videos and photos often reveal situations that put those of us who work in the pet industry ill-at-ease. At best, everyone is ok at the end of the video and there’s a teachable moment that we talk about. At worst, a child, pet or other person might be hurt – badly.

Dog + Baby + Food
One of the latest such videos currently trending features a small child and what appears to be an Australian Shepherd next to a couch where a sitting adult tries to entice the baby to say “mama” by offering a forkful of take-out food. The child does not cooperate but the clearly excited, focused, and very talented dog does – managing a very close approximation to the word “mama” over and over again while anxiously eyeing the fork. Much chuckling ensues especially at the end of the clip when the baby actually reaches out to pet, slap, or push (who knows which?) the dog away.

This particular interaction apparently works out well, without incident, in the end. And there is even a follow-up video to assure the watcher that the frustrated dog, Patch, does get his reward which is (to the owner’s credit) apparently dog treats not any of the tempting take-out food. The second video also ends with the baby reaching for the dog’s face and everyone laughing heartily. But as is often the case, these videos also provide a teachable moment or two.

Teaching Children Respectful Handling To Keep Everyone Safe
First, the easy one. In both clips, the child gets the most laughs for reaching for the dog’s face. I don’t know this dog. Clearly he seems like a nice enough chap: excited but controlled, eager but not pushy, and at no time at all aggressive. Great breed. Apparently, great dog. But I would caution people to always try to be aware of what they are teaching not only their pets but their children in the course of the interactions between the two of them.

Food-Related Aggression Can Bite Back
Secondly, about competition over food. I have always discouraged it. In fact, I have always cautioned my clients to actively train it out of their pets. From the very beginning, puppies should be taught that people (big ones and little ones alike but especially little ones) can always take their food away. No questioned asked. Place the food bowl down, let the puppy start eating, and then have somebody pick the food bowl up. If the puppy doesn’t care, that’s a “good dog”; and you immediately put the food back down. If the puppy get’s upset, that’s a “bad dog”; and you put the food away to try again a little later. The reason this is absolutely essential in a household with children is because you KNOW that at some point, at many points in time, the child is going to drop something and reach to retrieve it at the same time that the dog sees its own opportunity for a treat. Having established ahead of time that the child always wins, hopefully avoids any real conflict.

That’s why I was so happy to see, at least, that the owner did not reward the dog with the ‘baby’s food’. Perhaps, they’ve already taught this dog these lessons. If so, kudos to them, but I would caution other pet owners to always consider safety first before playing these kinds of games. Getting ‘likes’ and ‘clicks’ is never more important than the well-being of all of your family members. Don’t miss these tips for keeping your children and fur babies happy and safe:

Introducing Dogs and Babies >>

Setting the Stage for a Safe Interaction between Dogs and Kids >>

If you have any questions or concerns, you should always visit or call your veterinarian -- they are your best resource to ensure the health and well-being of your pets.

Reviewed on: 
Thursday, August 6, 2015