Another piece originally for the newspaper. Now, I suggest you read this in conjunction with the two “Not Cute” pieces which I will link after this.
Recently I was at a busy, pet friendly garden center waiting for my daughter to return from the restroom. I had just checked out and was standing at the entrance. Two patrons: one with a small, fluffy dog and one with a very young toddler, crossed paths in a very unpleasant manner.
Here is what most people saw:
Stunningly cute child toddled up to say “Hi” to the cute doggie and the nasty brute tried to attack. Luckily Mommy screamed and yanked the child up – saving her from doom. The dog’s owner yanked him away while soundly punishing him so he learned never to go after a child again! The dog learned his lesson and the child was safe! Huzzah!
This is what I saw:
The dog was stressed and really did not want to be in that crowded place. Anyone who knew dog body language could see that. The owner was standing in the congested checkout line: distracted, not paying attention to what was going on around her dog and oblivious to her dog’s building anxiety. The woman was looking at displays, talking to people, etc., while her poor dog was behaving like a stalked cheerleader in a horror movie. Stressed dogs are more likely to react in ways people do not like: “If you cannot escape – get it to go away.”
The child’s mother was similarly distracted, talking to people. The child was neither held nor looked at by Mom. For a child, the world is an adventure and the store was a playground. Mom was chatting. The child, seeing the dog, toddled, hands waving, gleeful and joyously, right into his face.
Let’s step back to the dog. He is already stressed; no one is paying attention to the clear body language he is giving. In fact, his owner had been misreading him, thinking stressed signals were excitement. I heard her say earlier that he was such a happy little dog. No, he was scared and getting no assistance from his owner. So here he stands in a congested line, strange people, carts, plants and oblivious owner when… “This little, squealing thing, hands waving, charges right into my face and my leash is tight, there are legs all around me, I HAVE NO ESCAPE !!! BARKBARKBARKBARKBARK! Child screams. I PANIC!” Mom is convinced dog was going to eat her poorly supervised child and starts yelling. Dog is yelled at, jerked around and people are freaking out.
We had a child who was poorly supervised near a strange dog. The mother had seen the dog. The dog was not intent on hurting the child. Regardless of how fast owner yanked back or parent grabbed child, if that dog wanted to hurt that child, there would have been blood. The dog’s actions were in order to get the child out of his face.
The possible results of this situation are many. The dog may have a future distrust of children, crowded places, etc. The child may develop dog fears. Child and dog were not well managed and in a situation inviting trouble. I can only hope the dog and child will be worked with.
The scariest thing for the surrounding people was how fast this happened. It was over and done in moments.
The upsetting thing is the incident was 100% preventable.
Now, please go read these two earlier blog entries, look at the body language these dogs are showing and how people are putting the dogs (oh and a couple cats) and children in danger.
Here is an excellent video from Family Dog on dog body language:
And here, look at the body language of dogs and hugs – dogs do not like hugs generally. If your dog is upset, lunging, etc at something, physically restraining your dog could lead to bad things for you and the dog.
Karen Peak is owner/operator of West Wind Dog Training in Prince William County, founder of The Safe Kids/Safe Dogs Project, a published author, wife, mother and the manager of a multi-dog, multi-species household.