While releasing their brute of an Alsatian in a park crowded with children and toddlers, some dog owners often boast, ‘my dog is harmless and more over he is fully trained.’ My retort to such comments is ‘that your dog may be a graduate in obedience, but the little one trying to pull its tail does not know a thing about discipline.’ The wagging tail of a dog always fascinates a toddler and he wants to pull it and find out what it is! The consequences sometimes are disastrous.
Yet another similar scene is enacted sometimes in side the house. Suppose you have an eight month old toddler. To keep him company you bring home an eight week old Lhasa Apso puppy. The toddler is fascinated by this ‘toy’ on four legs and he is keen to grab it. The puppy though chary of the ‘slightly larger’ dog (toddler) is curious to go near and sniff. Poor puppy does not have hands and fingers to explore. He does so with his mouth only. Even at that tender age his fangs are sharp enough to puncture the skin of the baby. The next moment the puppy is declared a biter and the flustered parents begin to look for a pediatrician to give anti-rabies shots to the infant.
Before going in to further details it is better to know the mind of the dog. What does he think of the baby and what are his immediate reactions. The new puppy in the home presumes the members of the new family to be the members of his pack. He begins to treat one of them as the pack leader. The toddler for the pup is another ‘member’ of his pack. The puppy sniffs the baby, finds the odor interesting and begins to lick at the baby. The baby on the other hand is curious and catches the puppy by the neck. The pup takes this as a cue for some kind of game and he holds the baby’s hand in his mouth. Poor puppy never knew that merely holding the toddler’s arm is going to create such a ruckus in the house!
The baby’s skin being too soft, gets punctured by the puppy’s teeth. The puppy can not and should not be blamed for this accident. Neither the baby can be accused of being harsh with the puppy! Baby was just being curious. Therefore conclusion is that both the baby and the puppy at their respective ages are curious and try to find out about each other in their own ways.
Now imagine another scenario. A family has an adult dog, which is fully trained for obedience. A guest arrives with a two year old kid. The dog, an Alsatian sniffs the guests from a distance. Chary of strangers, as the breed is, the dog does not make any move to befriend them. The owner decides to introduce the dog to his guests. He brings the dog on a leash and the dog sniffs them one by one. When the turn of the little boy comes, the dog sniffs him but backs out and wants to go to his ‘place’. Dog does not know that the guests are going to stay there. Next morning as the guests are enjoying a cup of tea, gossiping with the hosts, there is a growl from the dog’s corner.
The two year old kid found the dog an interesting creature and went near him for a closer inspection. The boy was attracted by the dog’s prick and moving ears! He moved still closer and tried to grab one of the ears. Out of reflex the dog gave a deep throated growl. Now look at it from the dog’s angle. Being highly territorial for a dog his bed and place are very sacrosanct. He does not want another dog/animal to intrude and explore his privacy. Being highly trained, he did not bite or attack the baby, but did give a warning growl. Fortunately the dog’s owners understood the meaning and the baby was immediately removed from the scene.
Outside in the park, the dog retrieved the ball thrown by the baby perfectly and each time delivered it in the hands of the boy, without even touching his skin. The baby tried to walk the dog on leash and the dog heeled to perfection, without ever rubbing against the baby.
Such behavior clearly indicates that being highly territorial a dog’s territory must be respected and no intrusion in the form of another dog or baby should be permitted.
From infants to babies till they are around five years old, dogs are always chary of them. The cries of infants and the rapid motion of their arms and feet are not a welcome sight for the dogs. Once the kid starts to walk, his ‘drunken gait’ always makes a dog suspicious of his intentions. The moving tail of the dog on the other hand always attracts the kids. They want to catch it and hold it in their fingers. Poor dog despite his training, he is confused and flustered. He restrains his anger to a certain limit, beyond which it becomes impossible for the dog to control.
Such situations can have serious consequences. Apart from injuries to the child it can lead to a permanent stigma on the dog. ‘He attacks kids!’ Think people.
No dog would like to attack a human being unless his territory is threatened. The territory also includes his body too. Despite all the training a dog has a child can always attempt to intrude in to a dog’s pen/kennel/place or try to pull the dog or grab him suddenly. All these are acts of intrusion for a dog. Despite his training he can not and should not be expected to shed his animal instincts.
It is the guarding instinct which tells a dog, ‘this fast moving kid is risky, keep him away.’ Poor dog has no spoken language at least with humans. The only way he can warn an approaching kid is via his body language or a growl and under worst circumstances by baring his teeth, leading to a vicious bite.
To avoid such situations always remember howsoever trained your dog may be a kid can not be obedience trained. You can not expect a two year old to remain at one place with a four legged creature around. Therefore the best way to avoid injuries and trauma for your kid is to keep the kid off the dog. In case a kid comes as a guest in the house it is safer to isolate the dog from the kid. Kids older than five years are comparatively safe, but kids up to five years age should never be left alone with the dog. I repeat Never.
Certain breeds like Labrador retriever are usually considered safe with kids. Because of their genetic make up, they seldom bark or bite. Yet it is always safer to let the kid and the dog interact under supervision only. If at all they have to be left alone then they should be kept at safe distances, with no chances of either of them breaking in. Toy breeds are generally unsafe with kids. Being small in size they are all the time scared of being trampled upon. Plus their small size makes them extra swift. Therefore they can injure the child faster.
It is better to be safe rather than sorry. Howsoever trained your dog may be, always play safe and do not leave them alone unattended.