We’ve all seen it—the Amazon Prime TV commercial featuring an adorable baby girl and the loyal family pet. We can’t help but sigh with sympathy for the poor, misunderstood Golden Retriever, whose approach frightens the little girl. The baby is much more comfortable cuddling her toy stuffed lion, a fact that does not go unnoticed by her doting father. As the forlorn-looking dog sadly retreats a safe distance away, Dad has a stroke of inspiration that causes him to order something, using the Amazon Prime shopping service.
Next, a re-introduction of the family dog is staged; this time the dog is sporting a lion’s mane costume. He appears as the stuffed lion’s much larger sibling. The spot ends, as the little girl suddenly leans in, reaching with both hands toward the dog’s face, as she looks into his eyes. We sit back, relieved and satisfied: The magical human-dog connection has been secured—albeit under the guise of yet another species’ identity.
What just happened here? Why is the viewing public so darn pleased with this ‘story’? I’m sure the ad tested off the charts prior to its airing. That’s not surprising, but I’d wager there were no dog trainers in the test audience shown the ad. Why do I think that? Because this commercial perpetuates a type of human-canine interaction that greatly appeals—to us. We long for a close connection to our dogs, and we prefer the language of primates to express it: lots of full facial orientation, lots of eye contact, “hugs & kisses”.
We ignore the prevalence of “unhappy endings” between kids and dogs…in the real world.
Now, lest you think I’m just being a big bummer (come on, it’s just a commercial, right?), consider, indeed, the huge popularity of this ad. Dogs and kids are successful marketing tools. For sure, I’d rather see images of dogs selling stuff than a bunch of scantily-clad women. What I am concerned about, is that this ad tells parents it’s perfectly okay for kids to stare at and reach toward a dog’s face. It often isn’t okay. Not at all. Initiating contact this way is 100% human-centric, and is often totally misinterpreted by the dog. Even a family’s pet dog that “knows” the child may not respond well. Kids, as well as adults, often make major assumptions about what a dog will tolerate, if not enjoy. Hugging, chasing, grabbing, riding on, staring at, dressing them up…the many things children “do” to their family pets, often put kids in harm’s way. And who gets the blame?
I propose we become more pro-active in our inter-species communication dilemma: Can we agree it’s worth our while to try to learn more about less-obvious signals of doggy discomfort? There’s plenty of family-friendly information on the internet to learn the way dogs’ faces and bodies reflect stress. Many good books exist on the subject. Or, you could hire a Certified, Professional Dog Trainer to help you and your family.
Dogs try to make the best of these situations, but who has the real responsibility to learn, observe, adjust, and accomodate?