Monday, August 28, 2006

A Cautionary Tail

Last week my friend's toddler was bitten by a dog.

She was bit on the face, on the bridge of her nose, between her eyes. The worst possible place for a child, or anyone, to get bitten is in the face. But, unfortunately, 77% of children who experience dog bites get bitten in the face.

But the worst part... It was their own dog.

Apparently, from what I've heard (I was not the one who spoke to my friend on the phone. Mr. C relayed this information to me) the bite was not horrible or disfiguring. It wasn't even bad enough to warrant (in their mind) a trip to the doctor. Our friends claim there were two punctures wounds, but from what I've gleamed from the second hand knowledge I received I have doubts that the wounds were in fact really punctures and not just deep scratches. Yes, there is a difference. A dog knows what it's doing when it bites someone. A scratch, though still a bite, is more of a warning than a puncture. If a dog bites and the bite results in puncture wounds the dog means business. And business is bad.

Obviously, my friends were very upset that their aging cocker spaniel would bite their child because the girl tried to take a toy away from the dog. I don't blame them, it's horrible that their dog would bite their child. They called to not only tell us about what happened but to inquire as to whether or not I could help them find a home for this dog. A dog that has now bitten a child. I told them to call the local breed specific rescue (in this case, a rescue that specializes in cockers) or cut out the middle man and go directly to the breeder from which the animal came. Any breeder worth their salt will at least aid a family in placing a dog with the correct person. But because the animal has bitten it can't go with a family with young children, a couple who is planning on having children in the future, or a single person or couple who has relatives or friends who come to their home with children. That significantly decreases the odds on this dog finding a suitable home in the near future, or ever for that matter. It does not look good for the dog.

I have very strong opinions on dog bites - if a dog has bitten a child the dog is history. Period. End of story. Not in a medical, bought the farm kind of way (though, some might argue with me on that point) but in a the dog needs to find a new home immediately kind of way. Because if Rover bites once there is a much greater likelihood that he will bite again. He knows he can use his teeth instead of wasting time with a warning growl and he'll get the desired result quicker, whatever that result may be. Now, from what I've already stated, the chances of this dog finding a suitable home are slim, in the meantime I have no idea what they will be doing with their dog.

This situation upsets me on so many different levels and I'm horribly conflicted about how I should handle this with my friends.

On one hand, my friends are your typical, naive dog owners. Not everyone, I have to remind myself, has the desire to research dog behavior as I do. Besides, the dog bit a child, blame should not lie with the girl, even if she was the one to try to take a chew toy away from a dog. She's the innocent victim due to her young age and limited knowledge. But on the other hand, though the blame should fall partly on the dog, it should fall mainly on my friends' shoulders. By being naive (not stupid, just unwilling to educate themselves properly) they essentially set their dog up to bite someone. This situation could have been avoided if they would have taken a few correct steps along the way instead of completely disregarding any common sense. They did everything you shouldn't do when you have a dog - or in their case, two dogs - and small children together in the same house.

Case in point, the dog (the second one they acquired from the same "reputable breeder" as the puppy they brought home a few months before. I have my doubts about the reputable part.) was an adult, intact male that the breeder had little need for anymore. He wasn't actually purchased, but adopted, on a whim. The background they had on the dog's history was sketchy, at best. When my friends brought him home, recently neutered, they didn't take either dog to any sort of training class. Neither dog was properly socialized with children or other dogs. And when it came time for a new baby to enter the family the dogs weren't, to my knowledge, eased into a new life that was soon to include a very active toddler. The dogs went from pampered pets to second-class citizens very quickly. Some dogs could take that new role in stride, but this particular dog already had problems and no measures were taken to make the transition less stressful on him.

There's more to the story, of course. I knew the dog had begun to growl at the girl and I told my girlfriend that something had to be done about it. Hello, you have a friend who is a dog trainer. Take advantage, please. But the conversation was quickly changed and never brought up again. I found out later that my girlfriend and her husband had taken to gating both dogs in a room due to fear of what the male dog would do when the girl was around. Gating (or crating) is not a bad idea, sometimes. But excessive restraining will often times make the dog more frustrated and, therefore, more aggressive. Especially when the dog is not used to any sort of restraint. Unfortunate, but true.

If they were worried about the dog and the girl being in the same room together, supervised by the mother (kids should always be supervised around dogs, even if it's your own dog), they should have found the dog a new home. But, like most people, I'm sure they thought they could manage the situation. They didn't want to deal with the guilt or trouble of adopting out their dog. I don't blame them for that, but I do blame them for recognizing a bad situation and not doing anything about it.

The young girl is physically and emotionally fine, thank goddess for small miracles, but the dog, who is now entering his twilight years, will need to be re-homed or he will end up being put down like millions of other dogs in this country are every year. He has a history of biting so he's not the perfect candidate for adoption as so many other dogs in shelters and rescues are. His outlook is grim. A girl was bitten and a dog might die and if my friends would have done something as simple as pick up a book both may have been avoided. I'm sad for them all and, frankly, disappointed.

They're now an unfortunate statistic.


The website I linked to above, from the University of Minnesota College of Veterinary Medicine, is a fantastic and concise bit of information about dog bites and how you can avoid them. If you'd like to know more:

The Humane Society of the United States has a great site

So does the CDC

And, I've never heard of the Dog Scouts before, but in my searching I came across their site. Good information there too.

There's lots of information out there, for free on the internet or at your local bookstore. Or contact a trainer (need to find one? Go here. Yes, I'm affiliated with them, at least until I let my membership run out a few months ago. Gotta update that!). Don't be afraid to ask for help if you have a problem with your dog. You could be saving a life.


Cristina said...

Thank you for posting this. As you know, we've had struggles with our dog every since our son was born last year. For the most part, I keep her outside in the backyard during the day b/c I don't want to worry about watching the dog around the baby every minute. She lays out on our patio and can see through our french doors into the family room where the baby and I are usually hanging out. (So, it's kinda like we're all together....well, OK, not quite.)

When I do bring her inside, she's usually OK after an initial fit of high energy, and will just lay in the corner and nap. But I still worry about the baby walking up to her and catching her off guard so I leave her outside more often than not.

I guess I see a lot of similiarities between your friend and myself. I know I need to do more to work with our dog, but I often take the easy way out I guess and leave her outside.

This post reminded me that I need to work on integrating her into the household more. Thanks.

Tori said...

This is an excellent post o'Massa of the Canines....
It is such a tricky subject isn't it. We have two labs... big old, ride on my back, pull my ears, tred on me, take away my dog dish with food in it types. They have never so much as growled or grimaced. In fact, in their loveable way, they often seek out the abuse as a form of petting! I am still very much of a 'never say never' type of a dog owner, and I am vigilant when smaller kids than mine come here and pour the dogs' water on their heads or pull their tails... Granny on the other hand (my granny) had what she thought were two very loveable Dobermans... Funny but loveable and Doberman never went together in my opinion. We always hung with them and played with them without fear... One day the older one growled at my uncle when he got out of his seat too fast and from then on Granny kept them away from us. You just never know do you. Your friends, like you said, did not take the right steps with the kid and the dog and I am sure they will never forgive themselves for it!

Anonymous said...

What a sad story. I think that it could have happened to us because we have dogs and a child. Even a perfect dog will bite in the right circumstances. It was great to read the opinion of a dog expert.

metro mama said...

Thanks for the info.

I agree, one bite and Rover should be history.

Radioactive Tori said...

It is sad that your friend didn't take advantage of all the information you could have helped her with! We had a horrible dog that was pretty much untrainable (we tried like crazy because I loved her!)and had to give her away after our daughter was born. Luckily we were able to find an older woman who didn't mind a wild dog and did not have any grandkids or children around.

j.sterling said...

great post, oh wise master of dog land! lol scary too.. thank you for all the info though!

Anonymous said...

Thanks Mrs. C. Excellent info, even though it was contained in a sad example.

I would also encourage parents who do not have a dog to teach their children the proper way to approach a new dog. If you wouldn't mind doing a post on that topic at some point, I would love it (and link it).

Chicky Chicky Baby said...

MOTR - I guess that was the point of this post: to make people aware (through a worst-case scenarion example) of what can happen and hope they do something about it. If you have concerns, they are usually for a reason. Good luck!

Tori - My dogs are labs, too, but I still watch my kid like a hawk while she's around them. They're animals, you just never know. But I think I love your Granny for taking charge after what could have been a bad situation.

Wendy - Exactly! Any dog can bite. And, I'm flattered, but I am far from an expert.

RG - glad to hear you found a home for your dog. That was probably the best thing for her.

Jennster - "Master of Dogland". It has a nice ring, but I prefer "Mistress".

MGM - Your on!

Irreverent Antisocial Intellectual said...

We don't need no friggin' Dog Whisperer, we have Mrs. Chicky!
GREAT post with OUTSTANDING advice. KAATN got bit by a bulldog when he was a kid b/c he pet the dog on the head and everyone knew not to pet that dog on the head ... strange story. Regardless, we've always been ones to place the blame on the bitten rather than the biter and have instituted rules in the house: dogs will do their rough play on the deck when no one is there or in the yard when they are alone, no one will bother the dogs when they are eating, no one will give a dog his or her bowl unless the dog is in the sit-and-stay position a few feet away, if the dog leaves the room it's because he doesn't want to play with you and you should leave him alone now, let sleeping dogs lie, yada yada yada. So far, so good.

Question: what about when good dogs fight with each other - is that a harbinger of things to come?

Mom101 said...

Oh my God, this is my worst fear. Obviously there's no choice between your child and your dog but it doesn't make it easier to make that decision, should it come to it. I'm glad to know you're here should we (when we) need some doggie advice.

Crunchy Carpets said...

Which is why the greyhound adoption people are sooo hesitant about putting their dogs with families with young children (us) and so we wait and wait....which is fine...

Dogs and kids can sadly be a very complicated dynamic.

Mamacita Tina said...

Good info! We've been thinking about getting a dog, but perhaps our timing is not ideal right now with two little ones running around in diapers. I think we'll wait until we have the time to spend training the dog (and the kids for that matter) to avoid such incidents. Thanks for making me think instead of just do.

Anonymous said...

This is an excellent post with excellent information. I was bitten by my parent's dog when I was very, very small. It *terrified* my mother (she was holding me at the time, running my bath, and I was wearing nuthin' but my birthday suit) and had a lasting effect on her, which has carried over to me -- I'm always very, very cautious around dogs and when my children are around dogs. Because you just never know.

Miguelita said...

Great post. We dont have dogs because we wanted kids first. I have no problems with people who have dogs and babies (as both of my sisters did,with great success)but I do know for us it would not have worked. We both work full time and could not devote adequate time to both kids and pets.

Our next door neighbors are expecting ther first baby. They have a pit bull and a german shepard that the wife brought into the marriage from her single - living alone days. These dogs listen well to orders from the owners, but are aggressive barkers and growlers when my husband is working in the yard on our side of the fence. I am just so nervous about them bringing a baby into that family. I know, it's none of my business. But I still cringe.

The Domesticator said...

We had a dog before our kids, and thankfully he was never agressive towards them. When I was a kid, I attempted to take my neighbor's dogs' toy away from her so I could play with her. The dog bit right through my hand. They got rid of the dog the next day. I often felt bad about it because I somehow felt it was my fault. Your advice made me feel a tad better about that, all these years later.Who woulda thought ? Thanks :)

MrsFortune said...

I just wrote this super long comment and blogger is a bitch! Haha.

Anyway, I guess people will never understand that small dogs (I just typed "small dongs" by accident) and small kids do not mix. If you've got kids, forego the toy breeds, get yourself a lab, golden or a mutt and be done with it! Years of doing rescue work and receiving 3-4 calls PER WEEK from people with similair stories to the one you posted have taught me this.

Nichole said...

I'm so glad the little girl is fine.

To be honest, when I read the dog who bit her was a cocker spaniel, I wasn't surprised. I don't know much about breeds, but we had 2 cocker spaniels when I was a child and I remember hearing my mom say frequently that cockers are not always great with children. Luckily, our 2 dogs were wonderful, and very protective over me. Would I consider a cocker spaniel for myself now that I have a 1-year-old? Nope.

The information you posted is great. And good for you for at least informing your friend prior to the incident.

Sandra said...

Thanks for posting this

We have been debating getting a dog and almost bought one on a whim last week but we talked ourselves out of it knowing we needed to do our homework first. In fact I don't know we'll be ready for a long time.

My cousin made some of the same mistakes your friend did and her daughter ended up with bites on her face that were so serious after a full fledged attack that she required 7 plastic surgeries!

This is important information you shared!

Mama of 2 said...

We got our Siberian Husky "Oz" when Little Man was 5 years old and he had been part of our family for 3 years when Girlie Girlie arrived. We have always crated him (even at night)just because the nature of the breed calls for it when they are left alone to their own devices.
But after Girlie Girlie was born we started leaving him sleep in the bed room with us and have run of the house at night. Perhaps he's maturing with age (he will be 4 years old in October). But I have found he has yet to pick up a single toy of my daughter's and chew it up. He will sniff at it and leave it where it lay. Where as with my son's things...well it's like a contest for the dog to see just how many Power Ranger's legs he can chew off.

I'm not sure why there is a difference between my children..but there most definitely is. Oz seems to be more protective of Girlie Girlie (ie..sleeping under her crib at nap times and coming to her rescue when she's crying and what not). If I could get inside his head the dog's that is...I honestly think he sees Little Man as a liter mate and treats him as such.

Oz knows that I am the boss and alpha in this house even more so than my hubby. I have never taken any crap and have from the very beginning shown him what's accepted behavior and what's not.

But I have to agree if god forbid he ever bit one of my children or any child for that matter he would go back to the breeder we got him from. I know that they would love him and take good care of him.

Anonymous said...

I hope all turns out well for your friends, what a terrible story!

ms blue said...

This information is so valuable for dog owners and parents with small children.

Your friend's situation is so sad. It is too bad that they didn't come to you for help earlier.

Chaotic Mom said...

We've ditched dogs for the very same reason given, biting my boys. I need to read more...

Blog Antagonist said...

Oh my. My sister had this same situation with a female dog. She was fine with her own children, but very aggressive with my boys, who were old enough to know how to treat a dog. They were never mean to her, but she snapped at them several times. I asked my sister to put the dog outside or in the basement when we were over, and she sometimes acted like I was being unreasonable. I have always worried that she would snap at one of her children, who are quite a bit younger than mine. So far she hasn't, but there is a new dog in the picture now, and the first dog is getting old. I worry about it a lot.

My sister is a very intelligent person, and it boggles my mind that she hasn't doen more research about how to handle the transition for her dogs when her children were born.

Her Bad Mother said...

Bravo. This needs to be shouted out waaaaay more often.

Responsibility DOES fall on the shoulders of dog owners to ensure that their dogs are trained/educated. Dogs are not goldfish. It's just such a tragedy for those dogs that don't get the nurture that they need to live well with their people.

Agh. Must have been so, so frustrating for you.

Creative-Type Dad said...

Yikes!!! I can't even imagine. I like my dog, but if he ever bit my daughter on the face or anywhere, he would be gone in a second.

Heather said...

I had a friend who had an intact male cocker spaniel who bit the dog twice and completely ignored any suggestions from me about "maybe he should be neutered" or anything of the sort. Been there, done that, hated every minute of it.

The little girl (almost 2!) down the street always comes up to our borzoi (who are huge if you don't know the breed- think greyhound but taller and fuzzier) and says "EYES!" and reach up to try to poke their eyes. Our guys just look at her curious about the whole situatoin and wag their tails and look up at us like "this is awesome! attention!" Neither have shown even the slighest aggressive behaviour around kids (or us for that matter) but you can never be too cautious.

Heather said...

Hah I said bit the dog. I meant bit their little girl, and the second time was fairly serious. (sorry I'm a bit of a maroon) And, I know how to spell slightest, though you can't tell. Stupid honeymoon brain.

Anonymous said...

I am glad the girl is OK, and sad for the dog. This just reminds me that J and I are not ready to take on the responsibility of being dog owners quite yet. I think we will wait until our girls are older and we have more time to give a dog the proper attention and socialization he/she would need as part of the family -- and make sure that the girls are old enough to obey instructions with respect to how the dog should be approached.

Heather said...

So if the dog bites, but scratches and not punctures, do you still think one should absolutely find the dog a new home? Our viszla mouthed my 18 mo old son's face last week and put a small scratch on his cheek. It was very scary, but we are planning on seeing a behavioral therapist next week. It was out fault - we got lazy with the training, and let some growling slide. We don't want to give her away, but keeping our son safe is our ultimate priority.