Troll around on Twitter or Facebook and you’re likely to run across a “cute” child and dog video. I very rarely share them. Why? They make me cringe. Most of the videos you see showing children and dogs together are not what they seem. They are not “cute.”
To a dog owner or parent unaware of dog behavioral signals it can look adorable, but if you know even a little bit about dog behavior, you can see what they do not – most of these dogs are not enjoying the interaction, and in many cases they are being way more tolerant than one would expect. Thank goodness too, because in many cases a dog bite is a death sentence for the dog, even when they were telling everyone with eyes to see that they were nervous or uncomfortable, or felt threatened. To the unknowing owner, they think the attack came out of nowhere, that it was unprovoked, but in truth, this is rarely the case. Most dogs tell you what they are feeling long before they bite.
Recently an online dog-oriented website shared a video of a Golden Retriever and a baby and titled it as “Baby and Golden Retriever share bonding time.” I would have to disagree. What is happening in this video is not bonding. It’s stress and calming signals from the dog, and all the signs indicate that dog and/or baby should be removed from the situation.
What you will see in this video is a series of calming signals. My guess? The dog is stressed by the closeness of the baby, and possibly the fact that the baby has already grabbed its jowls and pulled on his face, and is very much trying to calm himself and ease his stress.
What dog signals did I see?
- Yawning (several times)
- Looking away(several times)
- Avoidance (pretending the child is not there; avoiding the child)
Dog and baby videos just aren’t as cute as people think. You just have to be watching to see it.
It seems children and dogs have been at the forefront of my mind lately. It could be because I have read several great blog posts on the subject lately, but I think it might also have something to do with a video I saw a few weeks ago that featured both a child and a dog.
A friend posted it on Facebook and expressed her concern about it. I watched it and was just as concerned. It is disturbing on so many levels… it involves a child and a dog (who does not seem to appreciate the child touching him), it demonstrates poor parenting and supervision of said child and dog, it involves the much maligned breed, a pitbull, and it is a potential dog bite or attack waiting to happen. That the video is still up is disturbing in and of itself.
I honestly debated sharing it on my blog because I knew it had the potential to create a lot of anger. But then I read a really interesting post this week that seemed to be a perfect way to tee up the conversation.
It was a blog post written by Robin Bennett, a certified pet dog trainer (CPDT-KA). The post was titled “Why Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn’t Work.” I absolutely encourage you to read it and then share it with everyone you know. Actually, I beg you to read it and share it. I think it is exactly what we should be telling parents who have both kids and dogs living together in the same house.
Robin hit the nail on the head. It’s not just about supervising a child with a dog, it’s about watching what the dog’s behavior is when a child is near, and then knowing what that behavior means and what to do about it. Parents need to know what their dog’s behavior means or they have no context in which to anticipate a bite or to stop it.
So in honor of that key point, I am going to break down the video I mentioned above to explain why it is so concerning and why any parent seeing this kind of behavior in their own home, should be deeply worried and should intervene immediately to stop it from ever happening again. I have linked to the video here. I encourage you to watch it with a discerning eye and share anything you saw that I missed.
The video: Several interactions between a child and a dog (I chose to refer to the dog as “he”, but it could be a “she”)
The subjects: A young child, a pitbull type dog and two supervising adults (possibly the child’s mother and father)
Behavior of the child in the video:
- Stands next to couch, stretches out arm, pulls both arms back and then grabs the dog’s back foot.
- Pulls arm back, clutches hands together and laughs.
- Reaches out again and grabs at the dog’s back feet, screams, pulls back slightly and then goes after the dog’s feet again.
- Laughs and pulls arms back again, and clutches hands together again.
- Reaches out and grabs the dog’s back foot again with one hand. Laughs.
- Continues to hold onto dog’s back foot tightly and then pulls it towards her. Holds on and pulls harder before letting go.
Behavior of the dog:
- Laying in couch next to the supervising adult with one paw on the adult’s leg
- Sees approaching child and turns head slight towards child. Lip licks. Could be a whale eye showing.
- Turns fully towards child. Ears are back. Mouth is tight. Clearly worried and stressed.
- Lunges towards child’s hand as it reaches for his leg. Encloses child’s right hand completely in his mouth. Lets go and puts mouth on left hand which is touching his foot.
- Pulls body closer together and scoots towards the supervising adult.
- Reaches/Lunges out over the edge of the couch to grab the child’s right arm before it can come over the couch fully. Encloses mouth around the child’s right arm. Mouths the child’s right hand. Lip licks.
- Mouth drawn tight. lunges again for child’s out-stretched right hand. Lets go and grabs child’s left hand which now has the dog’s foot. Mouths the child’s left hand. Lip licks. (Dog is now leaning forward with front legs hanging over the front of the couch. Ears are far back on his head.)
- Dog lets go of hand and physically turns head and body away from the child. Brow is furrowed. Ears are back.
- Lunges at child’s hand again as it grabs his leg. Mouths child’s hand. Lip lick as child grabs his foot and pulls on it.
- Hard eyes. Possible whale eye. Pulls lips back to show teeth (does this a couple of times). Lip licks again. Shows more of his teeth.
- Video stops.
What the dog’s behavior means:
The combination of lip licking, furrowed brows, turning away from the child, leaning against the woman or mother, and mouthing the child’s hands and arms are all calming signals and indicate the dog is stressed. This dog was extremely uncomfortable with the child grabbing at him and was trying to communicate this through the body signals.
The wrinkled nose and mouth, and bared teeth looked like a snarl to me, but there was also a lip lick in there so I wonder about a possible submissive grin. Regardless, it was most definitely a warning sign to the child (and the adults) that the dog was extremely uncomfortable. He was definitely being pushed past his comfort zone and could have bitten the child. Maybe he did bite the child. Maybe that’s why the video stopped. This was a situation that was completely avoidable, but the supervising adults had to know what to look for in order to see it clearly. I suspect they had no idea that this was an extremely dangerous situation until they saw the snarl. I hope to god they took action then and didn’t wait for a bite to occur.
I welcome your own observations on the behaviors you saw in the video and on Robin’s post about why supervising is not enough. What did you see? What stood out to you about Robin’s post? Did I miss anything in the dog’s behavior?
I hope that this video motivates parents to become more knowledgeable about dog behavior. To help, I have provided a few links below. They are worth reviewing if you have a child and a dog in your house.
The Family Dog: Dog Training for the Whole Family (My thanks to Pamela from Something Wagging This Way Comes for sharing this one on her blog. They have a great video you can share with children to help them understand dog behavior.)
I have a really great book to share with you tomorrow, but today I thought I would share a video that my friend Kate ( certified dog trainer) shared this past weekend. It features a dog and a toddler.
No. It isn’t one of those videos that makes you cringe as you wait for the inevitable bite to occur (although I have seen many of those). It’s actually a great example of what to look for when you have a dog around children. It’s a demonstration of dog behavioral signals that most parents (and owners) miss.
Fortunately, the trainer taking the video knows what to look for and takes the time to slow it down so you can see what her dog is telling her about his comfort level around the toddler, her niece.
While many people might think this dog is “fine” around children he is actually telling her, and those around her, that he is not “fine.” Knowing what to look for is SO VERY important. I hope you will watch it and then share with other dog owners and parents.
Having been bitten twice as a child – both times in the face, I cannot stress how important it is for parents to supervise their children when around dogs. Even more important is parents (and dog owners) educating themselves about what a dog is telling them when around their child.
Last September, I wrote a piece titled “Parents/Dog Owners:The Most Important Thing You Can Do When It Comes To Kids And Dogs” in hopes that parents would teach their children to ask to pet a dog before approaching or running up to a strange dog. The reason for this was twofold: 1) to prevent another child from being bitten, and 2) to protect dogs from biting a child which often leads to a dog being put down unnecessarily.
This week, May 15-21, 2011, is Dog Bite Prevention Week so I wanted to again bring attention to this issue by promoting an organization that offers educational programs for school-age children on how to be safe when around their dog, a friend or neighbor’s dog, or a strange dog they do not know. Through their Be a Tree™ initiative, Doggone Safe provides children online courses about dog body language and occupational dog bite prevention. They also provide tools and activities that teachers can use in their classrooms to help educate students on how to be safe around dogs.
And, it’s not just children who should be taking this program or learning about dog body language either. I’ve seen my share of adults put themselves in jeopardy of being bitten simply because they misread a dog’s body language (e.g., a wagging tail doesn’t always mean a dog is friendly) or didn’t know what a dog was telling them. Dogs tell us a lot with their bodies – how they hold their head, how they move, how they look at you, etc. Everyone, adult and child alike, should be educating themselves on the signals a dog gives when playing and when they are about to bite. That’s why I encourage parents and educators to check out the Doggone Safe website.
In the meantime, here are some great safety tips to share with your children.
– Always ASK when you want to pet a dog.
– Remember: NO owner, NO petting!
– Hugs are for people, NOT for dogs.
– NO screaming or running around dogs.
– Never go near a dog that is sleeping, eating or sick.
– Remember that a dog tells you how he feels with his tail, mouth, ears and body.
– Don’t go near a dog in a car, behind a fence or who is tied up – EVEN if you know him.
– Remember, dogs like to chase. If you’re on your bike or your skateboard and a dog runs up to you, STOP and put the bike or skateboard between you and the dog.
– When a strange dog comes near you, be BORING! Stand like a tree!
Please take the time to educate your children about how to be safe around dogs.
About Doggone Safe
Doggone Safe, a non-profit corporation registered in Canada and Ontario, and in the United States, is dedicated to dog bite prevention through education and dog bite victim support.
Dog Body Language Resources
Dogs & Storks™ – Helps expectant families to prepare their home and their dogs for a new baby. (You can also listen to founder, Jennifer Shyrock, share her tips and advice via a podcast interview with Animal Cafe here.)
The Dog and Baby Connection™ - A program that offers positive and practical dog and baby friendly solutions to help increase safety and fun.
Last night our local TV station aired this story “Animal Control Investigates Burnsville Dog Attack” about two Akitas being investigated for biting two children (not the dog owner’s children). Immediately, I wondered about the circumstances. I can’t help it. Whenever I hear of a dog bite I wonder what really happened… what was the back story behind the bite, the dog’s bite history, the dog’s socialization, etc.
In this case, the children were visiting a family friend who was the owner of the Akitas. The kids were playing in the backyard with the Akitas, unaccompanied by an adult, when they were bit. The owner was clear – his dog never should have bitten her in any way, but he also wondered what the children might have done to cause it. He wants his dogs saved. The mother of the children said that her children “would never go up to a dog and aggravate it in any way”. She wants the dogs put down.
It seems like there is little information on either side of this story, since the only ones in the backyard with the dogs were the kids. No adults were even watching the dogs and kids when they were bit. So if you were Animal Control, what would you do?
Just yesterday I saw this important bit of news on children and dogs. It was about the results of a recent study that showed most children often mistake a dog’s bared teeth as a smile. Yikes! That’s not good news!
And yet, it probably shouldn’t be all that surprising to us adults that a child might mistake a dog’s snarl for a smile. After all, how much life experience do most children have with dogs, especially dangerous ones? Most kids love dogs. They love that they’re cute and cuddly, and they’re fascinated by them.
But, as cute and cuddly dogs can be, not all of them are good with kids. The chance of a serious dog bite increases when a child runs up to an unknown dog with the intent on making friends. As a professional dog walker with Mel’s Pet Pals, LLC. it is one of my greatest fears – a child running straight at me (and a client’s dog) with the intent of saying “Hi”. It is dangerous – for both the child and the dog, and yet it happens ALL of the time.
I have learned from all my years of volunteering at an animal shelter that you don’t have a lot of time to stop a child before they get within biting distance of a dog. So, I have learned to say “STOP” very loudly and very quickly. It works most every time. The child stops before reaching the dog, and I have enough time to explain that this is not a dog they can pet.
Parents, you can take a proactive role in preventing your child from being bitten by doing one simple thing. Teach your child to ASK FOR PERMISSION before approaching a dog AND teach her to ask if it is okay to pet the dog first. That’s it. One thing.
Dog Owners, you too can do one thing to lessen the chance a child will be bitten. Reinforce the behavior you want to see. If a child asks for permission to approach or pet your dog, THANK THEM for asking. There is nothing more powerful than praising a child for doing something good. How much better would all of us feel (parents and dog owners) if we could each do our one thing?
Kids and dogs can be great together, but keeping both safe requires a little forethought, training and supervision. If we each do our part, parents and dog owners, we end up keeping both the child and the dog safe. What better outcome could there be?
Hard to believe, but as a child I was bitten twice by two different dogs. The first was by a friend’s puppy and it occurred when I was around 5 years old. He was just playing (like all puppies do) but the interaction left me needing a stitch in my lip “so my lips could look pretty when I wore lipstick”. I was so frightened of getting a stitch to the lip that they had to bind me to the table. Now, you would think that would have been traumatic enough to make me avoid dogs. Nope.
Then, when I was a little bit older, I did what every dumb kid does when they don’t understand dogs. I knelt down and stared the dog in the eyes. Definitely not a good idea. Muffin let me know that she wasn’t happy about it.
Luckily, no stitches were needed that time.
I cannot explain my love of dogs given my past experiences. I have always loved them and I’ve always had a desire to better understand them. That’s why this posting on the Dog Behavior Blog so fascinated me. Thanks to Con for doing the research and sharing it with others like me. I found it interesting to learn which group was more likely to get bitten and what types of dogs were more likely to bite. Check it out. You may be surprised too.