It seems not a month, or even a week, goes by without an incident involving a child and a dog. These encounters tend to provoke a backlash from well meaning people who labour under the misapprehension that their personal opinion on the relative merits of children’s proximity to dogs is an established fact rather than – shock horror – a kneejerk view maintained only by looking at isolated cases in extremity. In other words, they’ll only ever say their catchphrase; “Well, you shouldn’t have kids around a…” (wait for it) …..”dog like that” in the immediate aftermath of a horrible incident involving a child and ‘a dog like that’.
The problem is, we are not immune to making kneejerk responses to kneejerk opinions, barely stopping to consider the odds and to actually look in more detail about where the real dangers in relation to children and dogs actually lies.
So let’s try and tackle the issue head on.
First: Any young children should never – I’ll gladly repeat and emphasise – NEVER be left alone with a dog. Breed, irrelevant. Species, totally relevant. Young children and dogs unattended is not a good mix. Not only do dogs behave completely differently when their owners aren’t around them, children have a habit of doing the same when their parents or guardians are not in attendance. So, no exceptions – this is a golden rule, ignored at peril: Never, ever leave young children and dogs unattended. The risks far, far outweigh whatever possible merits that may exist.
Secondly: Teaching children awareness about how to interact and behave around dogs. It’s well worth the ‘investment’. Why? Well off the bat there’s a couple of obvious benefits; 1) It might save the child’s life and 2) Bringing children up with a healthy respect for all the various things in the world which deserve to be treated with respect (dogs being one) is a very, very responsible thing to do. As a parent, just because you don’t happen to use Britain’s railway network would not be a particularly valid reason not to teach your children about the comparative merits and dangers of trains and train tracks now would it?
And in just a few words we can actually get to the heart of the underlying cause of *most* accidents between dogs and children: Lack of attention and lack of education. If children are supervised and if children are taught how to interact with dogs we’re instantly on the right track to avoiding unhappy incidents. We still haven’t had a cause to recommend that ‘dogs like that’ be treated any differently. Because, sadly, when a ‘dog like that’ is involved in a high profile incident and the well meaning line up to condemn anyone who’d own a ‘dog like that’ in a house with children, it puts an enormous amount of pressure on the owner of the dog, most likely a loyal family dog that has never, ever done anything wrong in its life and who adores the children in his or her family, to give it away in fear of what a ‘dog like that’ might do. It’s peer pressure, plain and simple. It leads to rescue shelters to overflow with ‘dog’s like that’. And when new families attend the rescue centres to look for a new family dog they’ll invariably walk straight past all the ‘dogs like that’ – why? Well it’s not because they read it in a book. It’s not because they consulted with a dog expert, breeder or behaviour professional – no, they’re steering clear of ‘dogs like that’ because Auntie Doreen – who’s never owned a dog in her entire life – expressed her long held, personal view of ‘dogs like that’.
It’s easy to see why people do it. Very easy. But tackling the risks involved when the lives, motives and intentions of children and dogs collide lies with education about the facts, not the myths.
And here is a fact – *some* dogs DO see *some* children as a potential threat. A threat to their status, their territory, their possessions, their food, their way of life. But you know what? Some dogs see adults the same way. And here’s the thing, we ought to be educated and dog aware enough to recognise these traits and deal with them very, very quickly. Failure to recognise warning signs is where the errors lie. Failure to legislate for such behaviour to EVER occur is even worse. As an experiment, it’s probably best to just assume. Just assume that no matter what the dog, what the breed, what the history – it DOES have the capacity to behave in a manner that you may not have expected.
“He’s never done anything like this before!”
A phrase often heard in the wake of a dog attack. And it does give some indication of how people do sometimes misjudge dogs.
By looking at the dog’s behaviour in reverse, it’s the equivalent of undertaking a car journey looking only in the rear view mirror and being completely shocked at the accident that awaits you up ahead.
Circumstances and situations have as large a bearing on how dogs behave as their personalities and their histories. To judge them and to plan for what they will or won’t do based entirely on what they’ve done in the past is a recipe for disaster.
Ever seen an elephant on the TV?
Did it scare the living daylights out of you, give you cold sweats and make your heart beat faster than its ever beat before?
How about if you were to be put in to a small, enclosed room with an elephant? How would that change your mood and reactions?
The point being, when situations change, when circumstances dictate it, a dog can behave as differently in one setting with one group of people or individuals as you would when seeing an elephant on TV compared to how you’d be if you were sharing a room with one. Situations, circumstances – be aware, plan, prepare.
“I trust my dogs with my kids with my life!”
Not smart. I love dogs passionately. I love my own dogs faithfully. But would I ‘trust’ them with ANYTHING with my life? No!!! I absolutely would not. I wouldn’t even ‘trust’ them not to chase a squirrel across a busy road, even though they are very well trained – this is why I put them on a lead when I’m out. I value their life. I see people who walk dogs with no leads on busy high streets and I think to myself; “There we are, there is the person who trusts their dog so much, they are planning their entire route forward based on what’s gone on in the rear view mirror.” At best, at the absolute BEST, nothing bad happens. But at worst? It doesn’t bare thinking about. So why do it? Where’s the ‘pay off’? What’s the reward for this unequivocal, unwavering ‘trust’? What’s the point? Why not just assume that circumstances and situations will play a much greater role in how a dog reacts and responds to various encounters than to assume what their likely behaviour will be based on what’s gone before? It has no merit.
In conclusion: Dogs and children are a great, wonderful, life enhancing combination. Not just my opinion, there are numerous studies to support this view. But a failure to plan and prepare, a failure to understand the variables that circumstances and situations can throw in to the mix, a failure to educate children to be dog aware, a failure to recognise that no dog that has ever lived has been ‘100% predictable’ is at the heart of how accidents happen.
‘Dogs like that’ have got nothing to do with it. ‘Dogs like that’, in fact, are often the loyalist, most sweet natured, children friendly dogs on earth.
What breed is a ‘dog like that’?
I’ll leave it up to you to decide. Because a ‘dog like that’ will be in line for some opinionated, miscalculated, uninformed views by someone, somewhere any moment soon…..