Wednesday, April 27, 2011

Kids and Furkids

Having just read an article about a young girl who was bitten by a service dog of another young girl who suffers from brain cancer, I am compelled to throw in my 2 cents.  The outcome of the incident can be found here.  (According to the original story, Ava, the dog, was on leash with the owner's father when a game in the neighbor's yard resulted in the bite.)  We'll never know for sure what actually happened, but nobody really won in the end.  

Little people and dogs go hand in hand.  Er, hand in paw.  Young children just seem to take to dogs without reservation or fear.  They’re fascinated by them, as soft, warm toys that play back! That relationship stays strong as long as fears aren’t instilled in them by worried, overly anxious parents.  As the puppies roll into the clinic with their new families – we are in puppy season, after all - we see these new relationships burgeoning into what will hopefully become life-long friendships. 

You can’t help but smile when a little child announces, “This is Bella!”, or “This is Cody!” signaling to the family’s new furkid.  Their voices ring with pride at the announcement of their new family member.  Some of these kids will fall head over heels in love with this new pup and spend hours each day playing with him, trying to keep him awake from puppy naps and forcing him to sit at tea parties in pink frilly dresses.  Other kids see the new puppy as competition for their parents’ attention, an intruder that has made the entire family suddenly switch focus from child to canine.  Still others just giggle at their parents’ frustration at this new biting, chewing, pooping little demon. 

Strangely, though, all of these children will lay their hands all over the new puppy.  They’ll stroke her fur and gaze into her eyes.  Even the toddler that pushed his puppy away screaming “NO!” as the small writhing form tried to climb into his lap, eventually relented.  He allowed her to settle in his lap by the end of the exam visit, playing quietly with her toes.  Another little boy laughed loudly when we took his pup’s temperature, later poking the poor pup’s bum with his finger until his mom scolded him, “We don’t want to hurt her, darling, she’s ours to care for!”  At this, he smiled, hugging her tightly.

None of these kids showed any fear of the puppies.  All were filled with curiosity.  The lessons were becoming clear – there is another besides me with feelings, thoughts, and wants.  If I am gentle with this puppy, I won’t hurt it.  It wants to be near me and play with me.  Where is that adult fear of dogs?  Where are the preconceived ideas about breeds?  

They simply aren’t there yet.  Those ugly things are taught. 

I’ve always been amazed by peoples’ ignorance about dogs and their behavior.  And in trying to become a calm, assertive leader to my dogs (both human and canine), I see where others are anxious and ambivalent (or entirely absent) with training.  As a society that welcomes dogs into our homes, shouldn’t adults apply themselves to learning not only about dogs, but teach kids how to behave calmly and appropriately around dogs - both familiar and unknown?  All kids should be universally educated to live with dogs. At least one segment of 1st or 2nd grade science class should be dedicated to understanding dog behavior, and proper etiquette around them.  

"Always ask if it's okay to pet another person’s dog."
"Never stare straight into a dog’s eyes at eye level."
"Don’t take food away from a dog while she's eating."
"Never run away from a strange dog or pack of dogs"

You know, all those common sense rules…All the rules we hammered into T so she could love dogs respectfully and simply.  We didn’t yield on the animal rules.  If she broke them and behaved poorly around animals, she earned a time-out.  Today, at 13 years old, she has beautiful dog manners.  Now we are teaching her about body language and calm, assertive ways of being around the girls.  

Let me clarify - I am NOT saying that children are responsible for dog bites.  I am simply saying that the best defense is a good offense.  If parents teach their children  how to deal correctly with a dog while the children are young and curious, their relationships with dogs will be richer.  They'll understand them and not fear what is mysterious, or unknown.  They'll fight the media hype over breed absurdities and listen to their experiences and hearts. They'll read body language and become more aware of the world around them.  

Kids love dogs because they're pure and honest.  They’re warm and soft, and they make time for them when the adults are busy.  The lesson to pass on here, is to trust the lessons of nature.  Those 1st impressions of dogs and the natural world are real, untainted and precious.  Parents are ultimately responsible for their children's knowledge and ignorance.  Learn about what you don't know first, then share that knowledge with your kids.  
The Universe and the dogs of the world will thank you for it!


  1. Great post! W put a lot of time and effort into teaching my God-daughters the right way to approach animals. It is so terribly sad to see a good animal at risk of being PTS because of human error in training and thought.

  2. Well said!!! We walk a lot throughout our neighborhood and there ARE a lot of children. The elementary school and one of the high schools that our area attend both have the Siberian Husky as their mascot. So you can imagine how popular we are with the little ones who all want to sing their school song for us. Mom tells them that they can't come to pet us unless Mom or Dad says yes first. Then they have to walk toward us, no bikes, no skateboards, no roller blades, no scooters. And WE have to sit. No more than three children can approach at a time. We have done this for so long now that the experienced kids now tell the new kids on the block all the rules. It is a great way to teach both the kids and us pups.

    Woos ~ Phantom, Thunder, and Ciara

  3. Hi Y'all,

    Great post. I never cease to be amazed at adults who claim to like dogs but reveal their true feelings with other peoples dogs.

    BrownDog's Momma

  4. The one thing that sort of sticks out to me from this story is that in theory, a service dog should have enough bite inhibition to not inflict that amount of damage, even if startled (something about the choke chain tightening?). It didn't look like a playful bite to me, that's for sure. I truly wonder if this dog was socialized and trained as well as it should have been.

    That said, blaming the dog never does any good, so I blame who ever allowed the dog to wind up in such a situation (and ANY situation involving a bite). Maybe the dog was being used as a service dog when her temperament really wasn't right for it. Maybe the girl was teasing the dog and no adult stopped her. Same goes for all of those ignorant parents that leave their babies in the same room with their large dog, unsupervised. People have to be proactive and recognize dangerous situations before they occur.

    Just yesterday, a little boy ran up towards Marge (and another dog I was walking) with arms outstretched going "Awww!" I walked past him and did not allow him to pet the dogs. I heard his father reprimand him, but part of me wishes that I stopped to teach him how to correctly approach a dog (though honestly, part of the reason I didn't stop was to make sure Marge wasn't scared by the encounter). Hopefully, my cold-shoulderdness had an affect.

  5. What an awful moment. I have so many questions over the incident, but I guess I'm just relieved that the dog isn't being put down.


  6. Such a sad story. :(

    Woofs & hugs,


  7. A sad preventable story. You are so right about teaching the young proper dog rules and manners. But then again, it is a lesson unlearned yet by so many adults.

  8. I don't have children but I know some parents who should read your post... You are so correct. Being kind and behaving gently around dogs is so important for kids to learn. I think that it affects a far bigger part of their lives than just their dog relationships. It teaches them how to treat a being who has less power than them and who relies on them.

  9. We have worked really hard with Bailey, Katy and the children in the family to make it a safe environment for all parties. It is hard when you meet children in public who have not been taught how to approach dogs.

    As for this story there are reasons for many of the training guidelines used for guide dogs for the blind. Those rules have not always been carried over into training programs for service animals and the results are dogs that are not always suited for the positions they are given. It is a higher standard than pet. These dogs are allowed access to places that other pets are not and therefore need to be trained and evaluated to determine they can handle stressful situations without responding in dangerous ways. With the expansion of service animal programs, the training programs have not kept pace with the need for safety.

    I have no idea what happened with this animal. I have had some nasty neighbor experiences with kids who were nasty to my pets. However, once I knew I made sure my pets were never outside alone unsupervised when those children were around. We replaced a 5 foot fence with the highese allowable fence in our City limits to protect the dogs and ultimatley the children from harm.

    It is important that all children learn to be safe. However, it is equally important that we protect our animals from children who may not have parents that supervise them. Believe me replacing a perfectly good fence was not money I wanted to spend. However, it did prevent the kids from having access to my dogs and that was important enough to justify the expense. I couldn't train the kids, but I could protect the dogs.

  10. Great comments here - it's a volatile subject, indeed, and one that desperately needs more attention. Are there any communities out there in blogworld who's schools / community centers / shelters have addressed the issue in a positive way? I wonder what we might be able to do (aside from the tremendous fence poor Bailey's family had to build - although I couldn't agree with you more on that). Maybe we could put our heads together...

  11. I don't know how I missed this story. What a shame. Thank you for such a wise, thoughtful post. Kids flock to Tommy when I walk him around the neighborhood. They don't have any of the fear of pit bulls I often see in adults. You have great ideas about educating kids about dogs. A program like that could be transformative.


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