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Posts Tagged ‘dog bites’

Analyzing dog behavior: Baby and Dog on the bed – What do you see?

October 26, 2015 9 comments

It’s been a while since I’ve done one of these posts, but after seeing a picture today of a child dressed like a jockey and sitting on the back of a Great Dane like it was a horse, I can’t help but feel like I haven’t done enough of them. We humans constantly place our dogs in situations that put them, and kids, at risk. How do we educate millions of dog owners on dog body language? How do we help them to see beyond the cuteness to see what a dog is really telling them?

No dog is fool-proof. Ever. Some dogs are more tolerant than others, but pushed far enough a dog will bite, especially if he cannot flee from the situation. If we can learn to recognize when a dog is uncomfortable, we can intervene and stop whatever is making them uncomfortable or we can remove them from the situation and place them somewhere they feel safe. Dogs and kids are at OUR mercy. It is up to us to protect them both.

Below is a video I’ve had in my video file for some time. Overall, it is not a terrible video. It doesn’t have a child standing or jumping on a dog. It doesn’t have a dog snarking at or biting a child. But, it is a good example of the subtle behaviors a dog displays when uncomfortable, and in this video, the cues are really easy to see.

Watch the video below and then see my observations and analysis.

What I see…

A baby and a dog are laying on a bed. The child is on her stomach and she is lying next to the family dog, who is looking out the window. The baby is propped up on her hands and is looking in the opposite direction. The dad is the one videotaping what looks to be a very cute moment.

.04 sec: Dog looks at camera and does a lip lick. Baby is looking down and away from the dog.

.05 sec: Dog does another small lip lick and looks at the child.

.06 sec: Baby looks at dog

.07 sec: Dog looks at baby and does a small lip lick. His ears are way back on his head. It appears he has a whale-eye, but hard to tell since he has turned to face the baby and we are only seeing him from the side.

.08 sec: Dog does another very small lip lick and ears are back. Child raises the hand nearest the dog.

.09-.10 sec: Child raises are and swings it towards the dog a couple of times. Blink.

.11 sec: Dog does another lip lick. Ears appear even further back on his head. Blink. Blink.

.12 sec: two more quick lip licks from the dog. Looks at camera. Ears are spread far apart on his head and are back.

.13 sec: Baby leans forward. Another lip lick from the dog. Slight whale-eye.

.14-.16 sec: Baby leans towards dog. Lip-lick. Dog pulls lips back (no teeth shown) and looks at child.

.16 sec: Child touches dog’s mouth. Dog does another lip-lick. Whale-eye.

.17 sec: Dog leans sideways towards child and does another lip lick.

.20 sec: Child raises hand. Dog pulls head away slightly and turns it. Looks slightly away from child.

.21 sec: Dog looks at child. Blink.

.23-.24 sec: Dog and child look at man behind the camera. Dogs ears are back.

.25 sec: Child rocks up and forward on hands.

.26 sec: Dog looks up at ceiling in opposite direction of the child. (Distraction?)

.26 sec: Dog looks to side. Eyes focused. Mouth slightly open.

.30 sec: Child rocks forward. Dog looks at child. Lip-lick.

.31 sec: Lip-lick. Looks at camera. Blink.

.33 sec: Dog yawns. Baby yawns. both look towards camera.

.36-.37 sec: Baby lifts arm and drops it on bed near dog. Lip-lick from the dog. Blink.

.38 sec: Lip lick. Blink

.43 sec: Lip-lick.

.44 sec: Lip-lick. Baby looks at dog. Blink.

.48-.49 sec: Baby lifts arm that is further away from the dog and places it on dog’s paw. Dog immediately turns and licks child’s hand.

.50 sec: Licks child’s hand again.

.51 sec: Dog licks child’s hand again and moves face closer to baby’s face. Lip-lick. Displays whale-eye.

.52 sec: Licks baby’s face.

.53 sec: Licks baby’s face again and then her ear as she turns away.

.54 sec: Licks baby’s ear twice more.

.54-.55 sec: Two more lick-licks. Baby and dog look at camera.

.57 sec: Dog glances away from baby and then back at camera.

1:00 min: Baby rocks forward and towards dog. Dog does another lip-lick. Ears are back on his head.

1:01 min: Lip-lick. Whale-eye. Dog leans over and licks child’s face.

1:02 min: Licks child’s face again.

1:02-1:03 min: Two more quick lip-licks from the dog. Looks at camera. Child is now leaning forward and almost looming over dog.

1:03-1:04 min: Two more quick lip-licks. Dog closes eyes on second lip lick (exaggerated blink?).

1:05 min: Blink and lip-lick from the dog.

1:06 min: Child leans over and hand touches paw again. Dog immediately leans forward and licks child’s hand.

1:07 min: Licks child’s hand again and places at the camera.

1:08 min: Two more lip licks.

1:09 min: Lip-lick. Dog raises head. Mouth is slightly open. Dog is looking at the camera.

1:11 min: Child touches dog’s paw again and he licks her hand again.

1:12 min: Licks child’s hand twice more and looks at camera.

1:13 min: Lip-lick.

1:15 min: Lip-lick.

1:16 min: Dog blinks.

1:18-1:19 min: Child lifts arm and touches side of dog’s face. Dog gives a lip-lick and closes eyes.

1:20 min: Dog flicks ear and lip-licks.

1:21 min: Dog blinks.

1:22 min: Child raises hand towards dog’s ear. Dog closes eyes.

1:23 min: Child touches dog’s ear. Dog blinks and then does another lip-lick.

1:24-1:25 min: Child grabs on dog’s ear and pulls, Dog lip-licks. Mouth is closed. Blink.

1:26 min: Child pulls his ear. Dog looks at child. Whale-eye. Looks at child. Lip-lick.

1:27 min: Two more lip-licks from the dog. Moves face closer to child.

1:28 min: Lip-lick. Blinks. Pulls body away from child. Looks at camera.

1:29 min: Lip licks again and pulls further away from child. Mouth tightly closes.

1:30 min: Small lip-lick. Dog seems stiff. Lips are drawn. Child is touching dog with hand.

1:31 min: Child touches dog again. Dog appears stiff. hale-eye. Dog looks at camera.

1:32 min: Lip-lick.

1:33 min: Lip lick. Child touches dog’s paw. Dog freezes. Dog leans head away from child and pulls paw away from child’s hand.

1:34-1:35 min: Dog lays head on bed. Paw is in the air. Dog rests paw on bed.

1:36-1:37 min: Owner tells dog he is a good boy and dog lays back further and closes eyes.

1:38-1:39 min: Child touches paw with a finger and the dog sits back up quickly.

1:40 min: Whale-eye.

1:41 min: Lip-lick. Dog looks at baby.

1:42 min: Two more lip-licks. Licks child’s face.

1:42-1:47 min: Dog licks child’s face and ear multiple times.

1:48 min: Owner moves hands toward dog and tells him “That’s enough Spencer” while chuckling. Dog  gives another lip-lick.

1:49 min: Lip-lick.

1:50 min: Lip-lick.

1:51 min: Lip-lick.

1:51-1:53 min: Dog lifts himself up with front paws and stands up on bed and makes move to jump off.

Video ends.

My analysis: Spencer the dog displayed numerous appeasement and stress signals throughout the video. I don’t think I have ever seen so many lip-licks in such a short period of time. The number of lip-licks and blinks in just a mere second of time was amazing too. All of these (lip-licks, blinking and yawning) are appeasement signals. They are telling the child (and the owner) that he is uncomfortable and would like the behavior (touching him, leaning over him and grabbing him) to stop. He is especially not comfortable with the baby touching his feet. I think these moments were some of the scariest moments to watch. I literally held my breath because I thought the potential for the dog to bite was there (examples can be seen at .16 sec, .17 sec, 1:01 min, 1:31 min and 1:40 min).

Spencer the dog was exceptionally tolerant. Thank goodness. The number of times the baby’s face was near Spencer’s were way too frequent. If Spencer had bitten, he could have done some serious damage. What amazed me is how many signals Spencer gave in just one second of time. In one second, he could have bitten the baby and the father would have been unable to do anything to prevent it. Just one second is all it takes.

So what did you see? What did I miss?

Want to learn more about dog stress and appeasement signals? Victoria Stillwell has a great piece on it on her Canine Body Language page.

5 things NOT to do when you first adopt your dog

June 1, 2015 40 comments

Low Section View of a Man with His BulldogI often try to remember back to when I adopted my first shelter dog. I was so uninformed and inexperienced back then. I had never adopted a dog before. I had absolutely no idea what to expect with an adult dog, especially not one who had a whole history behind her that I didn’t even know about. I probably made a lot of mistakes and bad decisions in those early days (I am sure of it).

What I didn’t know then, but know now is that for a rescue or shelter dog, the first few days and weeks in their new home are risky ones. They are at the mercy of their new human to make the right decisions for them. One mistake, and the dog could end up back at the shelter, or worse, euthanized for a serious mistake that could have been prevented if the human had made a different choice.

That last part is what I was thinking today when I read a story on my local station’s website – “Brainerd Woman Suffers ‘Serious’ Injuries from Dog Bite”. If what the dog owner said was true, and he actually did just adopt the dog who bit the woman in the story, then he just put his new dog’s life in danger. Most likely, when he and his dog are found, his dog will be quarantined, and then euthanized. One mistake. One life.

I don’t want make pet adoption seem so serious and dire, but it kind of is. We can make a lot of survivable mistakes with our newly adopted pets, but there are a few that could place their lives, and others, in danger. Knowing what not to do can be the difference between life and death.

Here are a few things NOT to do when you adopt a rescue or shelter dog.

  1. Take him to a pet store – A dog in a shelter environment is already stressed out. Taking him from one stressful place to another stressful place, with a complete stranger (yes, that would be you), is a recipe for disaster. A stressed dog may do things they might not do in a another time and place. I remember one dog that was adopted from our shelter and taken immediately to a pet store to purchase some things for him. He ended up biting a child and as a result, lost his life. I know another dog who was adopted right off the rescue transport and taken to a pet store. He escaped the car and was missing for several days. When he was found he was almost 20 miles away from where he was lost. It almost cost him his life. Luckily, a stranger came upon his dehydrated body and saved him.
  2. Take her to the dog park – Not only has your new dog not had a chance to bond with you, but even more importantly, she doesn’t even know you yet. I still remember a couple who brought their new dog straight from the animal shelter to the dog park and ended up spending a couple of hours trying to catch her. She might have been having a ball, but they were not. Luckily, their dog was not aggressive, but many people have brought an adopted dog to the dog park who was. To assume a dog you just adopted is not dog aggressive or will not harm another dog is not only naive, but dangerous. Get to know your dog before introducing her to other dogs and people. You may also want to work on training her to come when called before letting her off-leash in a dog park.
  3. Invite friends and family over to meet her right away – People often want to show off their new dog right after they adopt them, but this can be a huge mistake. Strangely enough, dogs are very much like us humans in that they need time to get settled into a new place. Imagine how overwhelmed you would feel if your new neighbors came over and started making themselves at home while you are still unpacking from the move. Pretty uncomfortable, right? So imagine being a dog and having complete strangers invade your space and touch you and get in your face when you haven’t even had a chance to get settled into your new home. Not fun. It’s also a recipe for disaster. One mistake, one dog bite later, and you may have a dead newly adopted dog.
  4. Let him off-leash in a public place – See #2 above. No, seriously, why would you let a dog you don’t know off-leash in an unconfined area? You don’t even know if he likes squirrels or people or other dogs. If you have a dog like Jasper (my Sheltie), then you might find out that he likes to herd runners and bikers and skateboarders and…. yeah, you get my point. Once you let a new dog off-leash, you have no control. Not only do you risk him getting lost, but you also risk being liable to the danger he might do to another person or dog (see the news story I mentioned above).
  5. Leave him out in your yard unattended – This one might sound silly, but I really cannot emphasize it enough – Do Not Leave Your New Dog Unattended In Your Backyard. The riskiest time for a new dog to become lost is in those first few days and weeks in a new home. Your new dog is probably stressed and scared and disoriented. One strange noise or sudden movement or scary incident and he can be gone in a flash, right over the fence. Being in the yard with him tells him he is not alone. It also ensure that he won’t have a chance to dig under a fence or look for an escape route, and if he does, you have an opportunity to redirect him before he makes it out.

Most rescue and shelter dogs are not there because they were bad dogs or had behavioral issues. Most are there because someone had to move or was going through a life change that required them to give up their pet. They need time to adjust to all the changes.

Puppy Wearing BowAnd while these dogs are awesome pets and companions, they also have the potential to bite if backed into a corner or placed in a stressful situation (every dog has the potential to bite when placed in a stressful position with no way out). It is up to us, as their new owners, to protect them. It is up to us to do right by them. Spend time getting to know your new dog, and let him get to know you too. Before introducing him to all the new wonderful things in your world, take the time to bond. You have time. You have the rest of your lives to do all those cool things you want to do together. Why rush it?

Dogs and Kids: Stop pretending that dogs don’t bite them

May 20, 2015 42 comments

Jasper's new friend. He threw his stick for him until he could barely chase it anymore.On Wednesday night, I took the dogs to the dog park (like I usually do). Jasper spent his time chasing after sticks, Daisy explored the woods and Cupcake sniffed to her heart’s desire. We even walked with some friends (Tom and his dogs Ruby and Max), and said hello to a few other friends we know. It was fun evening

It was towards the end of our walk that we first heard them. Children. Little ones. We could also hear their dog barking, and the owner calling it over and over again, with absolutely no success. Trouble was coming. I could just feel it. I called Daisy, Jasper and Cupcake to me and we headed out of the woods and across the field to the far end of the park.

I admit I am always little wary of anyone bringing kids to the park. You just never know what can happen. I watched from across the field as the little children exited the woods with two women. They all turned and walked along the edge of the field – away from us.  I breathed a sigh of relief and led my dogs in the opposite direction.

As we walked, I noticed that the older child, about 5 years old, was carrying an arm load of sticks. The other child a toddler about 2-3 years old, followed closely behind him and then stopped to pick up a stick of his own.

The older boy followed his mom and the other woman down the mulched path, away from the toddler. I kept watching as he and the two women kept moving away from the toddler, widening the distance between them. They got a good distance away from him before they even turned to see where he was. They seemed unconcerned that they were so far away from him.

Jack Russell Terrier SnarlingIt was then I saw the dog approach. He went right up to the child’s hand and face and grabbed the stick right from his hand. (Luckily, the toddler did not try to take it back.) The dog stayed there, looking at the child, no more than a couple of feet away from him and his face, not moving closer, but also not moving away.  It was not until  his owner called him back to her, that he finally left the child. Thankfully, he had a great recall.

The whole time this was going on, the mother and other woman just stood there, almost half the length of the dog park away from the toddler. They did not yell, or call his name, or even start to run back to him. They just sent the older son back to retrieve him. I don’t even think they realized how dangerous a position her child had been in. I don’t think she realized how quickly this incident could have turned into a tragedy.

She was damn lucky. How foolish that mother was to bring her small child to a dog park, filled with dogs she did not know, and then leave him in such a terribly vulnerable position. A dog bite could have happened so easily. Another dog could have caused some serious damage to her child. That this dog, or another dog, did not do so is a miracle. That mother was so very lucky that the dog her toddler encountered was well-trained and had a good recall. She was lucky her child encountered  a “good” dog. But, let’s face it, even a “good” dog can bite.

We humans have to get better at preventing dog bites. We need to take interactions between dogs and kids more seriously. We need to be more purposeful about where, when and HOW we expose dogs and kids to one another. And, I’m not just talking about stranger’s dogs either. More children are bitten by the family pet than by a dog they do not know.

So how do we get better at keeping both dogs and kids safe?

We must:

  • Teach kids that they have to ask permission before approaching a strange dog. ALWAYS.
  • Educate kids on how to tell when a dog is safe to approach and then how to do so safely. Make it a game. Quiz them in the car and in the park. (Stop the 77 has a great video for pre-schoolers called “I Speak Doggie.”)
  • Supervise, whenever a dog and child are together (NO multi-tasking or playing on your cell phone). We need to be completely present and watching their interactions. We also need to be watching for signals that the dog is done with the interaction. (4Paws University shared a great graphic and information today on their Facebook page.) If you see a dog LOOK AWAY, TURN AWAY or MOVE AWAY, the dog has had enough and you need to either remove the dog or the child from the interaction.
  • Stop punishing dogs for growling. This is your warning sign that your dog has had enough. When you punish a dog for growling, you are taking away the alarm bell that tells you a bite could happen. (4Paws University shared a great graphic on this one too.)
  • Teach our kids how to act when a strange dog approaches them that is scary. (Doggone Safe shows children how to Be Like A Tree in order to avoid a dog bite.)
  • Stop pretending that your dog is different from other dogs and that they like having a child climbing on them. They really don’t. Do you like it when a child pulls your hair, yanks on your ear, steps on your gut, kicks your leg or bites you? No? If we don’t like it, then why do we expect dogs to like it any better? It’s not cute. It’s rude (and dangerous).

When a dog bites a child, everyone pays a price.

You lose a dog and a best friend.

Your child loses a friend and his love and trust of dogs.

The dog loses its life.

The kind of behavior displayed in the video below (And if that doesn’t scare you enough, maybe this one will.) has lose-lose results for everyone. Let’s make it stop.

Stop pretending dogs don’t bite.

Dog says: Your hug is not welcome human. Stop it.

May 18, 2015 23 comments

42-17207233As I mentioned in yesterday’s blog post, this week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 17-23).

I’ve been planning for this week for a few months now; collecting videos, graphics and other information, so that I could share it with all of you.

Even with all the prep work, I know that not everyone will read it. This subject is not as sexy as the latest news story about a lost dog or harrowing dog rescue story, but it is a very real problem with huge impacts. Did you know?

It’s not just the emotional and physical damage one experiences when a dog bites, but it is also the cost. Not cheap is it?

One of the most common things people do, that can lead to a bite, is hug their dog.

Woman Watching Television with DogI know. I know. Your dog LOVES to be hugged. So do mine. Well actually, they really don’t. Jasper hates them. Cupcake will tolerate them. Daisy is the only one who actually invites a hug from time to time. How do I know? Because I closely watched their behavior when I did so. They stiffened up, pulled away, turned their heads and did several lip licks. Hugs are just not their thing.

You don’t have to be a dog trainer to see the signs that a dog does not want to be hugged. Just look at her body language.

  • Does she pull away from you?
  • Does she turn her head away from you when you try to get close?
  • Does she seem uncomfortable when you get too near her?
  • Does she put a paw up to keep you away when you try to hug her?

If so, then believe her. She is not trying to be cute. It is not her puppy dog way of trying to be funny. She is telling you that she does not like you in her space. (To paraphrase a quote from Maya Angelou – When a dog shows you what they like/dislike, believe them. They are not kidding.)

The video below provides a great example of a dog giving really clear signals that a hug is not okay. You don’t have to be a dog trainer to see all the signs, but I am glad his owner calls them out anyways. Observe how many signs and how many times this dog tries to let his owner know that he does not want to be hugged.

I wonder how often our own dogs give us these cues.

I wonder how often we miss them.

Preventing dog bites before they happen

May 17, 2015 16 comments

best friendsThis week is National Dog Bite Prevention Week (May 17-23).

Every year, more than 4.5 million Americans are bitten by dogs. By far, children are the most frequent victims of dog bites. They are also the most likely to be severely injured when a dog bites.

I was one of those children. In fact, I was bitten twice, by two different dogs at two different times. In both cases, I was at fault. Of course, each of the dogs bore the blame for the bite. One was euthanized. It’s something I wish I could go back and change, but since I cannot, I focus on spreading the word instead. Children and dogs can be a volatile combination, especially when you have younger children.

There are lots of ways you can keep kids safe, but among them are these:

  1. Don’t let your small child (especially those on the same eye level as a dog) stare a dog in eye – In dog body language this can be seen as a threat and it could well end up in a bite. This is what caused me to be bitten.
  2. Tell children that hugs are for humans, not for dogs – Despite what “your” dog does or does not like, most dogs do not like to be hugged. They also don’t like to be climbed on, stepped on, or crawled over, so when you see a small child doing this, stop him. Remove him or the dog from the situation.
  3. Teach your children to ask before they pet – One should never assume that all dogs like kids. Children need to know that not all dogs can be approached. If they would like to meet a dog, they should ask the owner first. It’s not only polite, but safer for the child and the dog.
  4. Always supervise small children around dogs – Many dogs are unnerved by the jerky and unsteady movements of small children. If your dog is lip licking, his ears are back, he is turning away or trying to get away, or is growling, remove the dog from the room and give him a safe place to go where the child cannot get to him.
  5. Understand every dog has the potential to bite. Yes, even your family dog can bite – Children are most often bitten by the family dog, not a stranger’s dog. Just because you have had your dog since a puppy doesn’t mean he won’t bite. Given the right situation (pain, fear, excitement, etc.) any dog can bite.

This week I will be sharing information (like the great infographic below) on my blog and on my Facebook page to bring attention to National Dog Bite Prevention Week. The goal is two-fold – 1) to keep kids safe from dog bites, and 2) to prevent dogs from being euthanized because of a bite that could have been prevented.

I hope you will share and spread the word. Let’s keep both kids and dogs safe.

National Dog Bite Prevention Week

Dog Bites by the Numbers

Dog Bite she said/she said: How would you have handled this situation?

June 25, 2014 15 comments

I was kind of going to take a pass on a blog post today, but then, a friend sent me this… Tevlin: Rain or sleet can’t stop your mail, but a tiny dog can  (Star Tribune, dated June 25, 2014, by Jon Tevlin). Seriously. I’m not even kidding.

Here is a quick synopsis of the story:

  • 11 lb dog gets loose from its leash while out on a walk.
  • 11 lb dog runs to mail carrier and jumps up on her and barks.
  • Owner apologizes profusely and gathers dog up (one added detail) and she apologizes profusely.
  • The mail carrier does not react or say anything to the owner.
  • Next day, Minneapolis Animal Control visits owner and reports mail carrier claims she was bitten on inner thigh and has several puncture wounds.
  • Mail carrier claims to have gone to Urgent Care for treatment, but no photos can be provided.
  • Owner agrees to get dog trained and to keep her on a short leash and to keep dog inside when mail is delivered.
  • Next day, mail delivery is stopped for the entire building where the owner and dog reside.
  • Post office manager notifies residents that they can either get a P.O. box or get rid of Nano (the dog).
  • Post office manager refuses to respond to resident’s calls to discuss the issue.
  • Now owner must move out or euthanize her dog. (Her agreement with Animal Control forbids her from giving the dog away.)

Jack Russell Terrier SnarlingI can think of all kinds of cuss words I could use to describe how I am feeling about this story, but really, all I can think of is “Where the hell is the adult in this story?” I mean I read this and all I can see is a lot of miscommunication, lack of communication and just plain old poor communication. I don’t see a whole lot of negotiation or reasonable boundary setting. I don’t even see proof of the actual bite being shared.

So here is what I would love to do today. Instead of posting this story and having a bunch of people angry people post negative and hateful comments on my blog, I would love to have you, the reader, offer ideas of how this could have been handled differently. How would you have handled this if you were one of the adults in this story? 

Feel free to rewrite it in a way that you think it could have gone if people had communicated effectively. How could it have been handled in a way that was better for all involved? What would you have done if you were any one of the parties involved in this situation?

I really look forward to hearing your ideas.

 

Dog and baby videos are not cute

November 25, 2013 12 comments

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?

Dog and baby videos just aren’t as cute as people think. You just have to be watching to see it.

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.)

Humans and dogs: Improvement needed

August 5, 2013 30 comments

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?

Resources: 

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

Dog stress signals and babies – Do you know what to look for?

June 16, 2013 17 comments

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.

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