Home > Dog Behavior, Dog Training > Humans and dogs: Improvement needed

Humans and dogs: Improvement needed

best friendsRecently, a friend asked me to follow up with someone who had contacted her for advice on what to do after his dog snapped at his granddaughter.

As I read the email she had sent me, I couldn’t help but feel bad for both him, his family and their dog. From their perspective, the dog’s reaction came out of nowhere. It was unexpected and abnormal behavior. It frightened all of them and sent the granddaughter to the emergency room to be treated. I can only imagine the emotions he was feeling as he debated on what to do – keep the dog or get rid of him.

I can understand why he was debating the latter. He had no perspective other than what he had seen and the result. How could he know that his dog likely gave him warning signals before he snapped at his granddaughter? Or that he may have missed his dog trying to distance himself from her? Or, that his dog was his dog was stiff and sore with arthritis and more sensitive to being touched?

I can’t know for certain of what happened that day, but I would almost certainly guess the dog gave signals he was not comfortable and needed to be placed in another room or allowed to distance himself from what was most likely causing him some stress.

We humans need to get better at understanding our dogs. We also need to get better at recognizing that for many dogs, being around children can be stressful. Notice I did not say all children or all dogs. Every dog and child is different. Every parent and dog owner is different too.

As a child, I was bitten twice in the face by two different dogs. In each case, I was at their level, staring at them, with my face close to theirs. Can you imagine what I was communicating to the dog? Can you imagine what the dog was communicating to me?

Sadly, I know that one of those dogs died because of my behavior. I didn’t know any better, but I still caused one to be put to sleep. If only I had known then what I know now.

That is why I try to learn as much as I can about dog body language. That is why I am so attentive to what my dogs are saying to me. That is also why I often don’t share those “cute” pictures of a child hugging a dog or crawling all over them. They make me cringe inside.

I have seen too many dogs surrendered at the shelter and then ended up with a death sentence because someone said they had bitten their child. These were dogs that were nice, well-behaved and loving dogs. Dogs who in a different situation might never have bitten a child at all.

I didn’t know then what I know now, but now that I do, I plan to do better. How about you?


Canine Stress Dictionary 

Canine Body Language: A Photographic Guide Interpreting the Native Language of the Domestic Dog 

Kids and Dogs: How Kids Should and Should Not Interact with Dogs

  1. August 5, 2013 at 11:26 PM

    Learning animal body language is very important in any situation!

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 6:30 AM

      I so agree Kuruk!

  2. August 6, 2013 at 12:15 AM

    Sadly, in a lot of cases people may not know that they can empower themselves to look out for stress signals in the first place. Those are good resources you have shared 🙂

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 6:32 AM

      I agree completely. You don’t know what you don’t know until it is too late sometimes. I hope more parents will at the very least do two things: 1) teach their child to ask permission before approaching a strange dog, and 2) realize that children and dogs should never be left unsupervised.

  3. August 6, 2013 at 12:51 AM

    I’m 100% on board with this. Having two dogs with ‘baggage’ has taught me the importance of observation, intervention and advocacy. Good post.

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 6:28 AM

      Thanks Slim Doggy. I think having a dog with baggage like ours makes us more vigilant on their behalf.

  4. August 6, 2013 at 12:57 AM

    Thank you for this. It’s especially important in a rescue or shelter when families are coming to meet a new dog. Despite warnings (and common sense!), you can’t believe how many parents let their kids get face to face with a dog they have never met before.

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 6:30 AM

      I can Audrey. Seen it way too many times. Hell I did it myself. Twice.
      I think there is such an opportunity to educate parents on appropriate behavior for children with dogs. Some kids won’t always listen, but if we start young, less children would be bit.

  5. August 6, 2013 at 6:50 AM

    I say it every time I hear of someone getting bitten by a dog. My first reaction is…..what did that person do to that dog to make the dog so uncomfortable that it felt it had to defend itself. Most dogs don’t just bite because they feel like it.

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 11:07 PM

      My first thoughts mirror yours Amber. I sonde what the dog’s behavior was before the bite. I wonder what the person’s behavior was before the bite and if there was one behavior that precipitated the bite. There are some dogs who will bite without warning, but it’s not a common.

  6. August 6, 2013 at 7:27 AM

    Last weekend I took care of a new neighbor’s dogs. One is a super sweet Golden. One is a Yorkie who is driving the neighborhood nuts with his barking. I told her it’s fear. He was trembling when meeting me, on her lap, but reached over to me with kisses and he’s really very sweet. I told her there are classes that can help with this, and told her how my dog is so fearful she needs personal work, etc. When she came over to pay me yesterday, I was feeding treats and treats to Stoli, and bam- the woman knelt and thrust her hand out. Fast. Stoli was thrashing and barking already… We are all lucky nothing happened! Normally I put Stoli in her zone and step outside, but I can’t dispense treats that way, and she goes crazy when I am just outside the door…. Why can’t people at least ask??

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 11:05 PM

      Ugh. I am so sorry Natasha. Yes. Sudden movements from strangers and non-strangers can startle a dog, especially a fearful one. If there is one thing IO appreciate more than any other it’s when adults and children ask. Some people just don’t understand that all dogs are different and not all of them like people or children, especially when they loom over them. I am so sorry that happened to you.

  7. August 6, 2013 at 8:16 AM

    I`m quite agree, that children and dogs shouldn`t be unkept, as a healthy dog won`t bite without a reason till someone or smth disturbs it! We should better understand our dumb animals and they won`t hurt us!

  8. jan
    August 6, 2013 at 9:18 AM

    I think too many parents have seen too many dog movies and they think the world of dogdom is the magic kingdom instead of taking an intelligent approach to understanding the mind of the dog.

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 11:03 PM

      It’s definitely possible Jan. We only see those well-trained and well-socialized dogs acting in movies. It’s easy to be fooled if you don’t know that all dogs are not like that.

  9. August 6, 2013 at 9:49 AM

    Yep, also count me in the “dogs with baggage” category. Luckily we don’t have friends/family with small kids, as small kids can be a little more unpredictable with their movements and whatnot. When “strangers” come over (especially big men) I have to warn them not to make any sudden moves, and I have to keep one eye on Rita. She’s getting better about it, but it’s important to not get complacent!

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 11:02 PM

      I agree. Small children, especially toddlers, tend to be more erratic and unsteady in their movements. Knowing that I think most dogs would be safer behind a gate. I did not know that about Rita. Cupcake can be the same way with strangers. Not that she would hurt them, but she is less trusting than Daisy and Jasper. I am always vigilant when they are around stingers, especially children.

  10. August 6, 2013 at 5:22 PM

    Amen! If only more people realized that understanding dog communication would protect more children from bites they might take it more seriously.

    My beloved childhood dog bit someone (and adult) who was told by my parents not to approach the dog. He waved off their warnings by explaining how well he understood dogs since he had GSDs of his own as he walked toward a barking, snarling dog on the end of a chain.

    Unfortunately, most people don’t understand what they don’t understand until someone gets hurt.

    I hope this little girl who was bitten learns something that will help her in the future. No dog deserves to die because he couldn’t make himself understood. And no child should go through the pain of a dog bite.

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 10:59 PM

      I am hoping more and more will learn about dog body language Pamela. I hope it does help children. That adult from your past was a fool. I hope that this little girl doesn’t have a fear of dogs as she grows up. I also hope one day she will learn about dog body language.

  11. August 6, 2013 at 5:54 PM

    This makes me so sad. Friends had a very large beautiful Lab Shepherd cross that was always good around me. I heard he had been given a bone and was outside. Guests were there and a woman went over to him and tried to pet him. He bit her. They took him to the vet and he was pronounced sound and healthy. But they put him down. What person goes up to a strange dog with a bone?
    Needless to say, ignorance about dogs and animals is so frustrating.
    Thanks for sharing this story.

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 10:57 PM

      Oh Catherine. How awful. I would never presume to take a bone from a dog. Or a toy for that matter. I usually will use “trade” as a better option. 😦

      • August 10, 2013 at 4:21 PM

        Yes, sigh. So much ignorance and confusion about dogs. Dogs are not toys. Dogs are true, loyal, loving, but not cuddle puppies especially when they are eating.

  12. August 6, 2013 at 6:05 PM

    A good post. Amen to all that!

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 10:56 PM

      Thank you. 🙂

  13. August 6, 2013 at 6:14 PM

    It’s sad and makes me angry. Too many people think it’s cute to see young children or toddlers pull at the dog, sit on the dog, tease them, annoy them, take away the dog’s toys. Then when the dog snaps the people blame the dog. These people need to wake up and smell the roses.

    The problem is that these are the same people who read articles like your blog and say, Oh, that’s not me.” The same people who don’t do anything with their dogs when there are fireworks and the dog is afraid.

    You can’t fix stupid.

    • Mel
      August 6, 2013 at 10:56 PM

      I feel mostly sad BJ. I think it’s a matter of people not knowing what they don’t know. Living in the dog world as we do, we have the luxury of being exposed to lots of information about dogs. It’s sad, but it can be changed. We just have to keep spreading the word.

  14. August 6, 2013 at 10:52 PM

    Dogs have feelings the same way humans do. We have to treat them fairly so they would love us back. Dogs are indeed amazing animals.

  15. August 7, 2013 at 1:53 AM

    Great post and I completely agree. It’s amazing that despite having being bitten twice you only deepened your bond with dogs. That’s really admirable. I am constantly wracking my brains about new ways to help people improve their relationships with dogs. I always appreciate reading posts like this one and I’ve Stumbled it in hopes that many, many others read it!

    • Mel
      August 10, 2013 at 5:00 PM

      Thank you! Such high praise coming from you.

      I think my love of dogs was just too strong to stop loving them after being bitten. I am always looking for new ways too. I think together we are making a difference. 🙂

  16. sandgrubber
    August 30, 2013 at 9:41 AM

    Reminds me of a very sad dog story told to me by a veterinarian. Family brings old Labbie in to be PTS because it bit one of the kids. After the green dream was administered, the vet noticed the poor dog had several staples punched through its ear.

    I was bitten some ~60 years ago, as a five year old. I got scolded for bothering the dog. It’s not just dogs that need to be socialized.

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