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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

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