Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Children And Strange Dogs

How many articles do we read each year about children being bitten by strange dogs? It happens regularly, in every country throughout the globe. Why do we see so many dog bites, but not hear about raccoons, birds, wolves, squirrels, and so forth? I think part of the reason is because wild animals try to stay away from those that they don't know, especially humans. Wild animals are free, not on leashes, not in back yards, not hanging around to be petted or teased. The same can't be said about dogs. Dogs are forced to be in situations where they might encounter people they don't know, and that includes children. 

Now, think about how you feel when someone you don't know comes over and touches you? I know how I feel about it: uncomfortable. If you live long enough, you experience a lot of weird stuff dealing with strangers... such as the time I was shopping for a magazine, and a man walked up to me and rubbed himself on me as he walked on by. I was furious. I felt like punching him out. Instead, I got away from the situation. Or, the times I have been in public, and a small child has come up to me, wrapped their arms around my leg, and given me a hug. I'm not talking about kids I knew, which would have been fine. I love kids. But, kids I didn't know. It is not at all a comfortable thing, not knowing what a parent is going to say or do as their kid is grappling with your leg. It makes me very uncomfortable. My point is,  that humans don't like being touched by people they haven't greeted and given permission to touch them. Animals are the same way, including dogs. Worse, dogs often have no way of getting away from these situations. They get cornered by someone they don't know, they are offended and often fearful of what is happening, so they bite the kid. 

Kids are also not as wary of strangers as adults. So, kids will go up and greet weirdos on the street if you let them, especially small children will do this. Parents have to keep an eagle eye out for small children in public places. Similarly, kids have little aversion to going up and grabbing, touching, hugging, kissing, chasing and sometimes hitting strange dogs. This isn't the kind of behavior adults would do, but kids will do it. So, obviously, we need to teach kids to "mind their manners" and not approach strangers and strange dogs. But also, we need to supervise them because they are going to do things that no amount of training is going to fix... they are just too young to "get it", or to have the same aversion to touching other people or animals. 

All this boils down to parental responsibility. Kids are kids. We don't let them drink, drive, enter the military, or get married... for obvious reasons. They are not self controlled and they lack the wisdom that comes from experience and maturity. So, we have to do the job for them.

I know there are articles out there on teaching kids how to be safe with dogs. But, kids can't read dog behavior very well. They aren't programmed to do it. Even adults get bitten by dogs because they don't know how to read dog behavior. I think a certain amount of training works with kids, but the bulk of the problem resides in whether the kid was properly supervised BY AN ADULT. In addition, pet owners need to be wiser regarding their dogs. They need to recognize that dogs often don't want to be touched by someone they don't know. There is a greeting process that all animals engage in, including humans. Dogs do it their way. We need to be there to monitor interactions, to know our dog's propensities, and to prevent or end the interactions if they aren't going well. I also think that you shouldn't ever let some strange kid pet your dog without their parent being present to give consent and to supervise the kid in the process. Yes, dogs need socialization with kids, especially when they are puppies, but even that won't prevent all of these dog biting incidents.

Parents: you need to take part of the blame when your kid is bitten. Where were you and why did you let it happen? And if you can't be there, then you shouldn't let your kid be in places where they can go over and interact with a dog they don't know.

Dog owners: the same applies to you... you are part of the blame. Why did you let a stranger pet your dog, do you know your dog, were you supervising at the time, and why didn't you get your dog out of that situation? And if you can't be there, then your dog shouldn't be able to make contact with a child.

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