Kids And Dogs – Phoenix Scottsdale AZ Dog Training – Dog Trainer – Behaviorist
PHOENIX , AZ AREA: (602) 708-4531
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[PLEASE read this article: When Should It Be OK For A Dog To Bite?]
Why Dogs Attack Children
When animals are stressed (teased, physically hurt, put in impossible situations, put in unfamiliar situations, sick, in a hectic home, etc.) they will bite. When some animals are stressed too much and for too long, they will tend to kill and even eat their young. I would bet if you were to do some research on many dog attacks on children in the family, that you’d find that the dog was under some kind of stress (though you’d be hard pressed to find a case of a domestic dog attacking and eating a human). In addition, I think you’d also find that many of these cases are also attributable to a lack of supervision by the parents.
Stress causes some species to kill their young. It happens with wolves. Persistent stress, such as during times of drought, famine, over population, disease, and confinement, causes a natural reaction in some species to cut down on the number in their packs. I think stress is under diagnosed in many dog biting incidents. Prolonged exposure by an animal to stress is interpreted as feelings of fear or threat, and triggers subsequent related behaviors. In nature, such stress is the principle agent by which a pack reduces it’s numbers in order to survive. During times of stress, the animal becomes more aware of itself than of others, intraspecific aggression is increased, immunity and health decrease, restlessness is increased, cooperation decreases, thresholds and the ability to inhibit behavior decrease, social bonds are weakened, and tolerance of irritants is decreased. The higher the stress, and the longer the duration, the more likely the dog will attack. And, the more likely there will be dominance challenges and competition over resources. Put a vulnerable kid into the picture, or an adult that is adding to the stress, and the dog is much more likely to attack.
Lack of Socialization, Manners and Training Cause Dogs To Attack
Over and over again, all dog trainers will tell you of the importance of socializing dogs with kids. I’ve written an article, How To Socialize Your Puppy, just for that purpose. Unsocialized dogs are much more stressed by social situations than dogs that were well socialized. Thus, they bite more readily. Dogs without Manners are also much more likely to bite. Dogs need boundaries for acceptable and unacceptable behaviors with the animals and people around them. And those boundaries need to be enforced. Simple things like teaching dogs not to jump or mount people or other animals can prevent attacks later from adult dogs. Teaching dogs to leave certain things alone will prevent attacks in the adult. Teaching dogs to let go of things in their mouths prevents attacks later on. Teaching dogs to be polite prevents attacks later on. Teaching dogs to play nicely prevents attacks later on. Obedience Training also prevents attacks. Dogs without obedience training are not very manageable. Training not only teaches a dog certain things it must do, it also addresses a dog’s natural tendency to defy authority. Only trained dogs will respect the commands of kids in the home.
Kids and Parents
Follow me and see where I’m going… The first story is about a dog who attacked and killed a kid in Phoenix:
“A family is grieving after learning their pet dog is responsible for mauling their four-year-old loved one to death. Sheriff’s deputies say initially the dog nipped and grabbed at Tori’s arm when she and her sister were alone in the backyard. The two girls were in the presence of three other dogs, including a pair of terriers that were staying at the home temporarily. When Rachelle went to get help from the nanny inside the home, the dog started grabbing a Tori’s throat. A close family friend said she believes the dog got jealous of the two terriers that had been staying at the house.” (Source: AZCentral.com; 11/6/07)
“A family friend said that the dog seemed friendly and would jump on and lick visitors to the home. The family adopted the dog about a year ago. During contends the bulldog may have become jealous when he attacked because Tori was playing with other dogs the family was keeping temporarily.” (Source: ABC15.com; 11/6/07)
Then here is the second story:
“Police are still looking into what exactly happened in a Waukegan apartment early Sunday morning when a dachshund chewed off the genitals of a 4-month-old boy. The father of the boy told police he was visiting his girlfriend with his son when the infant fell asleep on a couch. The girlfriend had placed blankets around the child and the two went into another room to sleep. Police said the girlfriend’s dachshund may have smelled urine in the child’s diaper and began to chew away at the diaper. The dog continued to destroy the diaper until he mutilated and ingested the child’s genitals. The girlfriend awoke to the child screaming and immediately called 911.” (Source: KPHO.com; 11/6/07)
First thing I notice, as a dog trainer, is that in both situations THE KIDS WERE LEFT ALONE WITH THE DOGS! Kids and dogs SHOULD NOT BE LEFT UNSUPERVISED WITH A DOG, EVER! I don’t believe a child under 12 years old should be left alone with a dog. The whole social situation changes when the adults leave the area, and behaviors that would be inhibited by the presence of the adults are no longer restrained. The behavior of the kids changes when the adults aren’t present, and they will do things they shouldn’t do, oftentimes things that the dog will perceive as competitive or offensive. The behavior of the dogs changes when the adults aren’t present, too, and they will do things that they shouldn’t do.
Second, I am especially concerned about the set up of the first story. In this situation, there were new dogs introduced into the home. That can, and probably did, set up a competitive situation. That is one reason why I don’t recommend that strangers enter into someone else’s kennel or doggie daycare area without direct staff supervision. Even friendly dogs can do bad things when ignorant people do dumb things with them.
There is a way to enter a pack of dogs. Do it wrong, and you could be attacked or you could provoke a dog fight. This little girl was apparently playing with the two terriers. Most people don’t know how to read dog behavior in a situation like this, and don’t realize that a fight is about to break out. Kids have a tendency to nurture dogs that are being picked on by bigger dogs, or to gravitate towards the vulnerable looking dog. Kids MUST be supervised, because you have to know how to approach and interact with dogs that have not formed a pack, just like you need to know how to approach and interact with dogs that have formed a pack. This is also why you should never let your kid go unsupervised into a friend’s backyard when dogs are present or into a leash free dog park. It is also why you need to supervise your guests when you have them over for a dinner party while your dogs are running around unsupervised… not everyone knows how to prevent dog fights and attacks. Some people, whether kids or adults, can trigger fights just by their very presence in the group.
I notice that in the first story, the dog was known for being rude to guests: “the dog seemed friendly and would jump on and lick visitors to the home.” Dogs that are rude to guests are more likely to engage in a dog fight when a competitive situation arises. Many people interpret jumping up and licking guests to be a friendly behavior set. It isn’t. It is rude and often says something about the dog’s status in the home. I recently entered the home of a potential customer, the dogs started jumping up on me, the owner was telling me how friendly they were, I was starting to say how rude they were (and was about to tell him to separate the dogs), when a dog fight broke out. The jumping up on me wasn’t friendly at all. I think it very possible that this kind of competitive situation happened with this little girl who was mauled to death. Spoiled dogs often are the rudest of dogs. I have written about them before. Spoiled dogs don’t have proper leadership through good training and supervision, and that can lead to a situation such as this. Spoiled kids, and fearful kids, can also trigger such an attack. I’ve offended a number of customers when I told them to modify how their kids interact with the dog. I lost a potentially good customer the other day for that very reason. Let’s just hope that something tragic like this never happens in their family.
Third, if you read the stories, you’ll find that the kid that was mauled to death was playing on a swing set. I have evaluated a handful of dogs that were overly stimulated by kids on swing sets, and would bite at them as they were swinging or when they got off the swing. I think swing sets stimulate a dog much the same way as swinging a rag around can stimulate some dogs. It activates their prey instincts, and when that drive isn’t satisfied, it frustrates the dog, and frustration can lead to aggression. If you watch a protection dog trainer run around a dog, back and forth, to try and stimulate the dog to bite, then you’ll see what I mean. I think that swing sets can do the same around some dogs.
Who knows? There could be alternate reasons why these horrible things happened to these kids. News reporting can oftentimes leave out important story details since reporters aren’t dog behaviorists or trainers. They just tell the story that was told to them. But, I think my take on the story is probably the best explanation of what happened given what we know at this juncture. And now that the dogs are dead, and we aren’t there to set up an evaluation, we will never know.
I will say this: If you get a dog, and you don’t train it, don’t exercise the dog, don’t enrich the dog’s environment, keep the dog confined for days on end, get more and more dogs to live in the same household, don’t enforce proper manners, don’t exercise leadership around the dog, don’t supervise the dog when it is loose, and and don’t properly house the dog when it can’t be supervised, then you are asking for trouble. This is more than just getting some treats and going through a couple of classes at your local pet store.
And if you have a kid: never leave the kid unsupervised with a dog, and teach the kids how to act around a dog. Don’t let your kid be unmannerly around a dog, or you could be very sorry one day.
Finally, the adults need to learn more about the dogs they own and how to manage them. It starts from the very first day you get a dog. It starts with socialization, and then training the puppy in obedience and manners. It also starts with the owners learning the difference between loving a dog and spoiling a dog, and learning to identify things in the dog’s environment that can stress a dog out to the point that it may someday attack. Further, the home environment needs to be examined. What is going on in the home? Violence? Substance abuse? Kids out of control? Bad health? A bad marriage? Job loss? Strife, depression, hatreds? Dogs can pick up on, and internalize, our emotional states. Any of these can contribute to a deadly outcome.
Sam Basso is a professional dog trainer and behaviorist, in the Phoenix/ Scottsdale metropolitan area. He’s known for being fun, kind, intelligent, and humane. Sam Basso has a unique personal touch. He has appeared on his own TV show, been a guest radio expert, gives seminars, publishes a dog related blog, does rescue volunteering, and is active in promoting animal welfare and fair dog laws.
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