Saturday, March 11, 2017

On Dog Bites and Children

The Japan dog community is reeling from the March 9th NHK-reported news of a four-year old Golden Retriever who bit the 11 month old granddaughter of his owners in the neck as she crawled across the floor, killing her in front of her relatives' eyes. No prior history of aggression. This is the cuddly-feely idol of the dog world...a myth sorely broken, and more bad publicity for all dogs, when in my opinion the blame lies squarely on the shoulders of the owners. 
I've posted cute pictures here at the blog over the years. Pictures of my setters sleeping with my babes: but what you don't see is me sitting for hours by their side watching, not leaving their side and going to chat with other family members, waiting for the wain to wake and we all go to family space together, dogs, child and Mummy. I always make sure there is an adult present in the room watching. I know for a fact Sherlock is uncomfortable with children and want to watch carefully how he will react each time we meet the kids and be ready to protect him and get him used to their presence in a safe way.

 I know Claire just gets out of the way, feeling safe up on the armchair, as is her wont with other dogs too, but she'll accept peace offerings from the kids from time to time, as she is quite used to me offering her dolls and hats for photographs. 
Nobu just rolls on his back offering up his belly to show he means no harm and would love the kids to approach and interact. 
 So I don't crate them -I confess I would crate Sherlock but he is claustrophobic, so I keep a mindful eye on him particularly- but I am totally there, watching and observing, ready to jump in at any moment: no playing with mobile phone, cameras or other. I also told my son not to enter the house alone with the grandchildren when I'm not home, just to be on the safe side.

There's actually a fantastic 5 types of supervision visual about this from Family Paws Parent Education, and I think it's clear what I'm doing is a version of active full awake adult supervision together with planning and preparation for safe separation if need be (the dogs have crates in the living room and kitchen). I also think dogs need basic canine citizenship training (so important for the owners to become aware too!) and lots of safe exposure to all people young and old.
I am grateful to Reisner Veterinary FB page which keeps me updated on all things pet, and who have a blogpost about this very issue called Infant bitten in "unprovoked attack" by family dog: What can we learn?.
Like the blogpost says, we can work to understand the situation and develop protocols to avoid them- no bite is ever completely random and unprovoked:
Almost all bites are provoked. Dogs are social animals and respond to very subtle cues. We can work to figure out the reasons for a bite, including the likelihood that it was aggravated by anxiety around the baby. There is a danger in concluding that bites are random. If there isn’t a “real” stimulus triggering the aggression, how can it be prevented or managed?  The basic premise that bites occur in response to something is exactly what helps us understand dog and child behavior. Dog and child behavior work together to increase bite risk.
In her story which is similar to the bite death in Japan, Ilana Reisner offers three basic possible reasons for the US dog biting a nine-month old crawling child: First, being unused to the sudden development of mobility in what was previously a cuddled baby, and finding it threatening. Second, resource-guarding of toys or chewies on the floor, or even the owners themselves. 

And third, some kind of irritability due to pain, particularly in the case of an older dog. Personally, I'm thinking to add four: perceiving the child as a toy or playmate: I have given my setters big cuddly toys which they love to grip in their jaws, shake, and fling around the room. These toys get totally destroyed in a couple of weeks or so as the stuffing comes out. In my experience if the dog wanted to play and thought the baby was a toy, there would indeed be great danger. I can imagine if the grandparents were busy picking up the feverish baby early from daycare, they didn't take the dog for a decent afternoon walkies, which means the four-year old had extra energy to burn. These tragedies are avoidable! Golden retrievers are beautiful intelligent dogs that need just as much exercise, active play and mental stimulus as other breeds. Be responsible owners, and go for it! 
I pray for the child, an angel now, and for the parents and grandparents in their time of loss. I also pray for the golden retriever, whose future now probably hangs in the balance (no news as yet). May God bless you and keep you all.
A Japanese overview with comments from Kuriyama dog trainer for those who prefer Japanese.  

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