As I write this Blog, a five year old child is on her way to our local Children’s Hospital, with bites and tears to her face, that have just been inflicted by a dog. The child had been told not to go outside, and did so anyway.
“Oh, Mistress Savannah, that’s awful!”. Yes. Yes it is.
“I hope they put that dog down! I bet it was a Pit Bull, wasn’t it?”. What I am about to say may be a very unpopular opinion. I do not care. I hope they don’t put the dog down but they probably will, and I am not telling you what breed the dog is, other than to say, “No, it was not a Pit Bull”. Why am I not telling you what breed it is? Because it does not matter. Any dog can and will bite under certain circumstances, and the sooner people realise this, the better. The dog is simply being a dog. Responsible dog ownership would more than halve these attacks, and many dogs would not need to be euthanised because they attacked someone, if people took responsibility for their dogs. But people do not want to be bothered with such things. It’s too much work, isn’t it?
I have had dogs in my own life since I was a child. This is the first time in many years that I have not had a dog in my life. My son (who is now an adult) grew up around dogs. My son was never bitten (neither was I, btw). Was it because he was lucky? No. It was not. It was because I was a responsible parent, a responsible dog owner, and I speak ‘dog’ fluently.
My son was never left alone with the family dog as he was growing up. This was not because our dearly departed Rob was a bad dog. No. In fact, he had been trained to within an inch of his life and had a beautiful temperament but, even though I could know with a 99.9% certainty that he would be safe alone with my son, he was still a dog and could, therefore, only think like a dog.
That .1% chance that he may act like the dog he was, was simply not one that I was prepared to take. And so, any interaction was always supervised, and I taught my son to ‘speak dog’, too.
Dogs always give warnings of their intentions and, if we are paying attention, or take the time to learn what these signs are, we will see those warning signs. No dog attacks without giving a warning first. No. Don’t try to tell me that you know of an example where this happened. You were not paying attention. In rare cases the warning may only come within a second of the attack, but it is always there.
One of the main reasons why children end up attacked by dogs stems from the fact that they do many of the things that, in ‘dog speak’, are signs of threat to the dog, and the dog responds accordingly.
Children stare into a dog’s eyes. Staring in this fashion is ‘dog speak’ for “I am challenging you. I am the alpha here”. Dogs will not tolerate this kind of thing from anyone other than the actual ‘alpha’ (and if you have an untrained dog, then let me tell you right now that your dog is the ‘alpha’ in its own mind because that is how dogs see the world. Someone has to be ‘alpha’ and a dog will make itself one if no one else does so) and children are simply not ‘alphas’ in a dog’s mind.
Children do not approach dogs in a way that allows for a dog to adjust to a child’s enthusiasm. If you have a dog, you have a responsibility to socialise that dog, while it is still a puppy, to become accustomed to behaving around humans. Yes. You have a responsibility. The child just wants to pet the dog (which is perfectly understandable) and will usually run straight up to the dog, ignoring its need for an ‘introduction’ first. Dogs see this as a threat, too, and will respond, strangely enough, like dogs.
Children tend to pat dogs on the head. In fact, adults do this too. Many people do not know that dogs do not actually like this kind of thing. Standing over a dog, reaching out, and patting it on the head is another challenge to the dog. If you watch the way that dogs who like each other behave, you will see that dogs actually ‘pat’ each other by bumping into each other’s sides, not each other’s heads.
I could go into a great deal of detail about ‘dog speak’ right now and I could tell you all the different nuances inherent in dog language; I have barely scraped at the surfaces of this language, but that is not the point of this Blog entry. My point is a very simple one. Be responsible. We humans have the ability to think in a much broader scope than dogs do. Be a responsible parent. Be a responsible dog owner. Never forget for one minute that your dog is a dog and looks at the world from a dog’s perspective.
There are incredibly dangerous dogs out there that really should be euthanised. I am not talking about ‘badly behaved’ dogs in this instance; or dogs that have been trained to be aggressive. Such training can be undone with patience, knowledge, and understanding. No, I am referring to dogs with medical conditions that affect the brain. But there are also a great deal of dogs out there that are simply being what they can only be, and are blamed when they act like the creatures they are.
What happened to responsible parents? What happened to responsible dog owners? Train your dog. Supervise your dog. Never allow your dog to roam the streets. Educate yourself about how dogs see the world. Learn to ‘speak dog’. Watch over your children. Teach them responsible behaviour, be responsible for your children. They are in your care. They need you to look out for them because they cannot do so, themselves. Accidents happen, but a lot of these accidents could be prevented with a bit of care, a lot of observation, and a huge dose of common sense!