This is the second part of the series I am working on for the local paper. Part 1 is here. Again, with a blog I can add in things to illustrate what I am trying to write. One of the challenges I have on my dog safety site if you actually read the link and saw the request is to look at the pictures and look for the stress signs and the situations maybe the dogs and kids should NOT be in.
I have edited this post to add in a few cat videos. I cannot believe I forgot those the first time!
Set the scene: several large dogs waiting in the kitchen. A child of maybe four pours a pile of kibble onto the floor, spreads it out and releases the dogs to eat. LOOK! A four year old can control them! Now is she in control of the dogs or are the dogs showing control?
The dogs are showing control but are not under the control of others. If one dog is having an off day or otherwise feels threatened, becomes possessive of the food on the floor and the control the dogs are choosing to show could fast end. Add in a small child in close proximity and someone could get hurt. Now the child has been taught to do this behavior. She is young and does not have the thought process of an adult. What if parent is in the bathroom or oversleeps one morning and child decides on her own to feed the dogs in such a manner. The dynamics are changed: no adult. The child cannot handle a dog fight if the dogs become possessive over the pile of food. Even in well trained dogs things go wrong. Trust me on this one. This video was irresponsible. Luckily the dogs chose to maintain self-control.
This video shows two Dachshunds fighting over a single tray of food. The video above of the girl feeding the dogs could have easily ended like this or worse if they dogs began to resource guard or not share.
Other videos and pictures show children “playing” with or “showing love” for animals. Cats, kittens, puppies and small dogs being toted around like toys. Cats and puppies carried in uncomfortable ways. Animals used as pillows or step stools. Body parts being tugged and pulled. When I look at the animals’ body language I see stress: flattened ears, eyes with the whites showing like a half-moon, stiff faces, averted gazes, leaning back away from the child. Now animals move to behaviors such as growling and hissing to express their stress or displeasure. Now what happens? The animal gets punished for being mean! The critters are not mean: they were pushed past the limit of their tolerance and letting people know.
If you watch the dog in this video, you will see a lot of stress signals. Yes the dog does do a little playing but look at the whole video.
Look at the body language of this husky. Ears back, stiff face, averting gaze, wide eyes, leaning away, etc. This dog is giving a lot of subtle language that he is NOT happy with the situation.
Here is the same dog showing he is not comfortable with the behaviors of the human.
Extremely tolerant cat who is in a position to do serious damage if this child is not stopped.
This cat is flat out ticked off.
I am a realist and reality is that just because you think it is cute does not mean your pet does. Just because an animal stays put does not mean he enjoys what is being done. I worked hard to teach my children safer interactions with my animals. I work hard to get my animals accepting of handling but it does not mean my children are allowed handle or play with them in certain ways. If I saw my children even looking like they may do something undesired or dangerous, they were stopped and shown a better behavior.
Does this dog look like he does not mind? Actually he does. He is TOLERATING the child, that does not mean he likes it.
Do I even need to comment?
These also speak for themselves.
With one family I worked with, Mom refused to stop the children’s behavior because she could not bear stifling their creativity. They were spirited and needed to express that. Plus what was cuter than children and a fluffy puppy? Want to know what prompted her to call me for help? The puppy was biting the children. There was a reason the puppy was biting the children: she did not like what they were doing to her. She was also developing crate aggressions and resource guarding. The kids were allowed to play on and in the crate while the puppy was resting or eating.
Now this video needs some explanation. The child in this video is Autism Spectrum but with careful work with him and the dog, the dog learned to accept certain things from the child and the child learned to work with the dog.
Here is the boy’s younger sister at age 5 (the same year the above video was taken) working with a dog in a far safer and appropriate manner. Your child can have safer fun with dogs.
This is the same girl at age ten just playing in the back yard.
Teaching appropriate behaviors is vital for more harmonious living and safety. Next time you watch a video or see a “cute” picture, take a closer look.
Karen Peak runs West Wind Dog Training and The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project in Prince William County.