Listen to the Podcast
You may not need to read this post. Perhaps you already fully understand the implications of the topic and stand firm on the safe side of the issue. If your opinion lies on the side of complacency or anywhere in the middle, this post is specifically for you and if you are the person I'm appealing to, I hope you will read on with a mind open to learning and making a change in the way you think about and see dogs.
Recently, I posted a horrifying video on our Facebook page. It was of a child hugging a dog. The dog was a Rottweiler, though the breed should be irrelevant. As the child was hugging, the dog had a full mouth snarl on, big enough to see all 42 teeth. In addition, his ears were pinned all the way back and extreme whale eye was very obvious. Despite the dog's clear communication that he wasn't happy, the child continued to hug and pat at the urging of the videographer, a woman who was presumably the child's mother. Warning signs rang as clear as a bell to anyone watching, not just those with extensive training in reading dog body language. I could barely watch and was beyond grateful when the video ended abruptly, luckily without a bite. All I could do was sit stunned wondering WHAT that woman could possibly have been thinking. Sadly, I know the answer to that question.
Please.... If you are the person who stands by smiling as your child hugs and crawls on your dog (or the neighbour's dog, or a relative's dog, or a stranger's dog), I implore you to STOP.
PLEASE STOP IMMEDIATELY.
Put down the camera and commit to memory that final hug. Do it now, while you are still in control of making the decision yours. At the risk of sounding dramatic, it could save your child's life. Take a stand and make it the final hug... before your dog does.
One only needs to look at dog bite statistics with children to get a sharp dose of reality. There are an estimated 500,000 dog bites a year in Canada, and three-quarters of the victims are children under the age of 10.*
With that in mind, please, answer the following question truthfully. Do it out loud or in your head, but answer it honestly and let the answer roll around for a moment until it leaves a solid impression.
Of approximately 375,000 dog bites that occurred where victims were less than 10 years of age, how many were NOT a shock to the parent? How many parents who were sitting by watching their child crawl on, hug, pester, pull ears, kick, pull tails, etc. were thinking, this could end badly? I would venture to guess NONE!
Not one of them or they would have stopped it.
Here's my point - it's like getting into a car accident. Nobody expects it to happen, until it does. It's always a shock.
I'll say it again. Every single parent of a child bitten by a dog thought it wouldn't happen to them or they would have taken steps to prevent it. They would have used foresight to realize that their child was in danger and they would have addressed the issue by taking the necessary precautions to prevent the bite. So, approximately 375,000 parents thought what was happening was safe and allowed a dangerous situation to continue long enough that the dog was forced to put an end to it.
I'm convinced that common sense has gone awry when it surrounds kids and dogs. I've written about it before in another article, The Problem with Common Sense and Dogs. We ignore reality and rely more on our anthropomorphized response to living with and loving an animal in order to form our common sense and that is creating a storm that's hurting dogs, not making things better.
All of those 375,000 people trusted their dog, as we all want to do, but I don't think trusting your dog is the real issue. I trust my dogs. I care for my dogs. I love my dogs, as I should. They are always at the forefront of happenings in my day and they never want for anything. They are my family. I include them in every part of my life and I'm lucky enough to have had my path in life lead me in a direction where my work and career gets to revolve around these amazing, furry, fun, intelligent and loving creatures.
I feel about my dogs the same way most do, but with a key difference....
I recognize that they are dogs.
I love them as dogs.
And when we talk about trust, I trust them implicitly AS DOGS! I don't pretend they are little humans or 'fur-kids' and then react with shock when they do things that are completely inhuman. I don't expect them to interpret the world as a human would and I don't put them in positions where I am forced to test that trust. I also value the trust they have in me. I want them to know that I will keep them safe and I do whatever I can to keep that trust solid and reliable and sometimes that means having difficult conversations with parents about the way they allow their children to interact with dogs. Most of all, I recognize that they are dogs and their instincts and drives will be loyal to their species.
They have predatory instincts and behaviours because they are dogs.
They communicate with body language instead of words because they are dogs.
They do not understand how to be empathetic because they are dogs.
They will make a point with a growl, snap or bite, because they are dogs.
... and most importantly, every single one of them will bite given the right set of circumstances, because they are dogs.
Think about all of the amazing and diverse creatures that make up our world. Humans, dogs, cats, birds, snakes, spiders.... on and on the list goes. They will all be bound by the laws of their species. Dogs are no different, but the line has been skewed and confusion has allowed for complacency.
To those of you who think your dogs are different; to those of you who think your dogs will never bite - think about those 375,000 other parents who likely thought the same thing, until life taught them a lesson the hard way.
Please, consider the final hug and how you might get there. Don't let the decision slip from your hands.
Be safe everyone.
*Picard, Andre. "Dog attacks are a public health issue, and should be treated like one."
The Globe and Mail, May 16, 2018.