Friday, September 23, 2011

Dogs and babies

I'm going a bit stir crazy here, I won't lie. Maybe NOT working isn't so stellar either! I have nothing to post about as far as veterinary stories. It's just a waiting game now. The baby could come at any time. While I sit here on the couch, I've been thinking about dogs and babies. Dogs of any breed can pose a risk to children, but it's certainly the case when you own a big dog.

At our shower a couple of weekends ago, after everyone had mostly left - a few of us were sitting around watching UT football. Everyone was halfway paying attention to our 8 month old cousin and halfway paying attention to the game. Suddenly, there was a yelp from my BF's dog, and the baby started to cry. I saw the whole thing happen - but it was so fast that I was unable to intervene. The baby is learning to walk and is very grabby. He grabbed onto the dog, and the dog, startled, snapped at his face. He did not break the skin (called an "inhibited bite") - but he did leave a perfect red ring of teeth marks and some bruising. The baby was more scared than anything, but we were all very, very upset.

It was an excellent reminder of how important it is to train dogs to be around babies, as well as to always, always, always monitor dogs and babies together. All of these tragic children/baby accidents that you read about are usually the result of unsupervised children and unsupervised dogs. Any dog will bite, given the right provocation. It doesn't mean the dog is inherently mean or aggressive. It is rare that a dog will bite without some sort of warning sign.

In reference to the bite to my cousin, we were all being too lax. Watching football, assuming someone else was watching the baby. While it was awful, we were all lucky it wasn't worse. And it was an important wake-up call/reminder of our responsibilities as caretakers (of both dogs and children). We have to create a safe environment for our pets and children.

We're currently discussing in our family what to do as far as training with Heidi goes. She is a very timid, docile and easily trained dog, but she is also very, very anxious. She also weighs 70+ pounds and could hurt a baby without even trying. We are going to work very hard to make sure that she feels safe/protected and that our child is safe and well-monitored. This may include crating her at some times. I'll keep you posted on how it goes.


Shady said...

This is an interesting post and one that all pet parents should read before becoming parents. It's simple, to the point and so, so true. Dogs and babies/young children, regardless of size, breed, temperment, training should never be left unsupervised together. It is possible to have a home where the two can live in perfect harmony and often happiness, but it doesn't come without it's inherent risks and the extra work created because of those.

Fi from Four Paws and Whiskers said...

Our lovely 10year old Goldie did the same to our 2 yo grand daughter... same scenario - in the room - all watching tv. A flurry of activity, seen out of the corner of an eye, and Saff laid the child's cheek bare. We took her to A and E immediately, and as soon as she was being seen, I returned home, and had Saff euthanased at a friends house. I was shocked and devastated, but I knew from the moment it happened that it had to be done - no matter what provocation, she could no longer be trusted. I agree that no dog is trustworthy - but I believe you had a warning that you will live to regret not acting on when your child gets hurt, or anyone else's child.

All the best for the birth

The Homeless Parrot said...

Fi - are you saying that you think this dog should be euthanized?

I have spoken to several behaviorists, as well as other veterinarians with similar experiences. First, the dog exhibited an "inhibited bite" - he did not do the damage he could have done to the child by any stretch of the imagination.

Secondly, it was not an unprovoked or random aggressive moment. The child startled the dog. As I said (and have been told), all dogs will bite with provocation.

This was far more our fault being lax in the same room with the dog and the child than it was the dog's fault. He had probably been giving off warning signals that we had failed to see in all the activity.

This is my BF's dog - btw - not mine. At any rate, there were multiple important lessons here:

1) There was too much going on in the room and too many people to have dogs unsupervised in the room.

2) Dog on baby interactions should always, always be monitored extremely closely.

3) If the interaction cannot be appropriately monitored, the dog should be crated or put elsewhere.

I don't think jumping to euthanasia in this case is at all appropriate. Your case was obviously different - as the dog apparently intended to harm the child.

AJT said...


I don't think Fi's case was much different from yours, except for the extent of the damage. We'll never know, because in that case, no one was watching the dog or the child.

As you said, all dogs will bite, given provocation, and no dog can be trusted completely. If it's not possible to supervise both dog and child at all times, or keep the two entirely separated, I do think the dog should be euthanized, as Fi decided to do. OTOH, that would not have been my decision, and I think your BF made a reasonable compromise.

We had a similar situation in my own family recently. My mother-in-law's dog, an approximately 30-lb poodle cross, snapped at my niece when she turned a cartwheel and landed too close to the end table under which the dog was crouching. He didn't break the skin, but we found out later he's also snapped at friends visiting their home. The solution? The dog is crated when guests are present in their home, and is no longer welcome to visit our home for family gatherings.

Dogs and children should NEVER be left unsupervised. Never.

Holly said...

Excellent observations and points HP. One bite to a child does not *always* mean a dog will bite again. Supervised interaction(s) between the child and the dog are a must and each party needs to learn their roles. A safe, no-child-allowed place for the dog to be able to get to will help a great deal and teaching the dog how to interact with the child will also go a long way.

foffmom said...

I think crates are a gift, and being able to crate your dog is one reason dogs are so much easier than children! But to be fair to the dogs, kids can be unintentionally hurtful,and until kids are old enough to treat dogs responsibly they should not be left unsupervised with dogs.
While big dogs can do big damage, there was an infant killed in our community not by the family pitbull, but by the family Jack Russell terrier. All dogs can harm.

Mary said...

A bit off-topic, but I've been so busy lately and have hardly been able to read any blogs. I just wanted to wish you luck on the upcoming birth!

I hope you enjoy your last few days of quiet at home before the baby arrives :)

Jennifer said...

It is a good reminder. The lesson goes beyond dogs and kids. I have found that anytime a group of people are together there is a tendency to think there are lots of eyes on the small kids, when in fact there aren't any. Whether around water or pets or other situations... I have friends who own a lake house. They would invite lots of people on holiday weekends. Sometimes I would look around and realize that there were only a couple of adults at the dock with 10+ kids age 6-12 in the water. Clearly, without even mentioning it to the adults on the dock, the parents had assumed their kids were being watched. It was nerve wracking. I acually stopped hanging out at the dock to avoid the situation of having to be responsible for everyone else's kids (without being asked to be).

(Even one of our own family reunions a group of us suddenly realized we didn't know where one kid was. We all instinctively checked the bottom of the pool.)

MS Ramona said...

I have never commented before, but I wanted to chime in. I have two daughters, 5 years and almost 3 years, and we have a house full of critters including at this time 5 dogs of various sizes. Yes, I watch my girls with all the dogs, especially since two are fosters, but my girls learned early on how to handle and approach animals. It isn't a 'fail safe' that they always handle the dogs correctly, but they do know better.

One tid-bit. Before you come home from the hospital, send home something with the baby's scent for your dog to smell and get used to. Also, if possible, have everyone, including baby, enter the house in one entrance and either greet your dog by yourself in the back yard or another entrance. This dog has been your 'child' and needs to know momma is okay without you trying to keep the dog out of the baby carrier; then tend to yourself and baby. Oh, and crates are wonderful tools. That's my tid-bit, I hope you don't mind.

Ruth said...

Do you have friends or family with small chidren You can carefully expose your dog to? To get her used to the idea? I like the idea of bringing home something with the babies scent too.