I stumbled across this as I was looking for elmo videos for my 2 year old. This was too good to pass up a discussion on.
Here ia a dog who is presented with something unfamiliar. This unfamiliar object wiggles, unpredictably and makes foreign noises. Kind of like a baby? As you watch the dog begins to explore this novel object. In fact it is encouraged to do so.
Notice how the dog investigates Elmo. At first a bit timid, not sure. Then when there is no guidance or direction of what to do....the dog becomes bolder. The unpredictability and spontaneous motions of the elmo keep the dog's interest level high. As the dog receives no direction and becomes more interested the behaviors increase in intensity the dog begins backing up stiffening and barking. Funny huh?
Ok, now ....what happens when a toddler giggles or wiggles on the floor? What has the dog learned to do? What about a baby? If the dog acted this way....as it naturally may then we would NOT think of it as funny. We often lead our dogs down confusing paths. We expect them to "know" what is right and wrong but when we egg them on in some circumstances and get upset in others it can be confusing and dangerous.
Why is it funny to create fear? Many of these dogs with the tickle me elmos are like dogs I see with newborns. Fearful and unsure and needing guidance vs. encouragement to "get it" or no help at all. i know people find this funny but.....what does it teach your dog about small moving unpredictable noisy creatures?
This is a great example of dog's investigating novel things and how they do it. Many people think it is funny ....until it is a newborn or toddler.
In the video below the dog actually "guards" elmo from the person. Again, high arousal being encouraged. What if a child were rolling around in the yard? Would we think this funny? Then it would not be appropriate but the dog really is acting like a dog. Many dogs are fearful or unsure of small children and babies for the same reasons they are to this elmo doll. We need to guide and teach them what is appropriate vs. encourage what is unsafe towards children.
One of the things I believe strongly in is teaching dogs what we DO want them to do and also how to relax and accept new experiences. Here is a good blog about the "Look at that game"
I also believe that by not encouraging "get it, attack etc" kind of behavior and replacing it with calm and redirecting behavior is great. Positive exposure with appropriate guidance is key when working with dogs that might be reactive to such things. This blog was really to illustrate how a dog can escalate when they do not have the guidance of their person to direct them. Again, relating to a dog left alone with small unfamiliar baby in a bouncer low to the floor or on a playmat. This is a perfect example of dog's being dogs. Exploring as dog, investigating and experiencing as dogs.
I use this as a "normal" example of dog behavior and relate it to incidents where a baby is unattended and a dog has access and is left to handle things on their own. Sadly this is seen too often and this is an example of how easily it can happen.