Posts Tagged ‘canine body language’

Video of child and dog demonstrate why understanding dog behavior is so important

August 26, 2013 17 comments

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.

Understanding Animal Behavior & Communication

A Canine Stress Dictionary

Book: On Talking Terms With Dogs: Calming Signals by Turid Rugaas

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.)

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