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Shelley Bridgeman: Why the royal family portrait upset me

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Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge with their son Prince George and pet dog Lupo. Photo / AFP
Prince William, Duke of Cambridge and Catherine, Duchess of Cambridge with their son Prince George and pet dog Lupo. Photo / AFP

People all across the globe erupted into fawning fits of hyperbole when the latest family photograph of the Cambridges (William, Kate, baby George and dog Lupo) at their Kensington Palace apartment was released. "OMG! George's personalised sweater is so cute." "OMG! Kate's hair is so gorge and didn't she wear that blouse in Canada?" "OMG! Lupo is adorable." One could forgive William for thinking: "What am I? Chopped liver?"

In stark contrast to all the besotted admiration, my initial response to the photograph seemed churlish and mean-spirited. I couldn't help but wonder why the dog's face was so close to that of the baby. I'm no expert on dogs or babies but I've always thought that it was best to keep small human faces away from canine teeth.

Still, fashions change in the world of raising infants so maybe that was an outdated philosophy. I trawled Twitter for someone, anyone, who had a similar reaction to mine.

It took a while but there were two kindred spirits amongst all the gushing approval.

Read more: Talk to the Animals: 5 Royal fun facts

Alluding to the fact that Lupo seemed fed up with all the posing at the window, one woman asked "how over it is that dog"? And an Australian veterinarian wrote: "Lupo the royal dog looks decidedly anxious. Check out his facial expression. Take care with babies and dogs." Thank you, Dr Joanna Paul of Melbourne. It's not just me then.

The first family photograph that showed off George as a newborn also included Lupo but the dog was firmly held by William. Most importantly, its face was nowhere near the baby and the dog's attention was elsewhere. After this most recent shot in which George and Lupo are eyeballing each other at close quarters, someone tried to initiate an informal contest on Twitter: "Caption competition: what's Lupo thinking?" I wonder if anyone suggested: "Is this lunch?"

As the veterinarian said, successfully and safely mixing babies and dogs is a serious business. A website dedicated to "Dog Bite Prevention Through Education" offers detailed advice on baby safety around dogs: "Experts recommend that you prepare the family dog before the baby arrives". Such preparation includes placing a teddy bear in the baby carrier to serve as a body double, walking the dog with an empty stroller and using a CD of baby noises to familiarise the dog with these sounds ahead of the baby's arrival.


The Duke and Duchess of Cambridge with Prince George and their cocker spaniel Lupo. Photo/ File

It goes on to advise parents to "[n]ever leave the baby alone with the dog even for a second" because "[d]ogs can become agitated by the sounds and movements of a baby." Also, "[k]eep your baby off the floor when the dog is around." Not only is extensive preparation recommended before the baby arrives but it seems you can't really relax for a moment afterwards either.

Crucially, in light of the Lupo episode, the website said: "Avoid face to face contact between dog and baby." This supports my initial concern that while both the parents were looking at the camera the dog was just one stretch of its neck away from coming into contact with the third-in-line to the throne. Perhaps it would be opportune to mention to the royal couple while they're on New Zealand soil that dog-versus-child encounters do not always end so well here. In fact, our own Talk to the Animals expert wrote that "[a]ll dogs have the potential to react aggressively in response to certain triggers".

But, hey, it's probably antimonarchist to address the royal parenting style while the royal tour is underway. Never mind that legions of royal and not-so-royal nannies will be having purse-lipped conniptions at such a devil-may-care photograph. And anyway: OMG! Did you see the way George was looking at Lupo? OMG! It's cuteness overload. Or, as several people really did write, it's "adorbs".

What's your view on how to handle dogs around babies? Is face-to-face contact really appropriate? Can you ever completely trust a dog with an infant?

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Shelley Bridgeman

Dwelling on injustices, bad behaviour and modern day dilemmas.

Shelley Bridgeman is a truck-driving, supermarket-going, horse-riding mother-of-one who is still married to her first husband. As a Herald online blogger, she specialises in First World Problems and delves fearlessly into the minutiae of daily life. Twice a week, she shares her perspective on a pressing current issue and invites readers to add their ten cents’ worth to the debate.

Read more by Shelley Bridgeman

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