This is the latest from guest columnist, Melissa, who is a Pet-ology Expert and In-home Dog Trainer at Le Chic Pet in Issaquah. To get more training tips visit the LeChic website.
Recently I came across several instances where people think, no expect, dogs act like humans. I had a client once who told me that they were going to train their two Min Pins, but they decided not to because the trainer they with told them that dogs don’t think like humans. “Oh no” they said “our dogs are part of our family.” Well this can be true, but the bottom line is, they are critters…critters with teeth. You do them and yourself a huge disservice by either refusing to accept this, or not believing it.
I know of a family in my neighborhood who have two large Labs. They are sweet dogs and very well-trained. They were, however, not raised with small children. On the 4th of July the neighborhood had a block party. Somehow a three-year old decided that the dog’s dinner looked good to him and went for it. The dog snapped and a scratch appeared on the surprised child’s face.
Pandemonium ensued. The police were called and the neighborhood was evenly split. Some for dog, some for child. Now while I would never say it’s good that the dog got his teeth anywhere near a child’s face, I also have to question the wisdom of a parent allowing a small child to get near an eating dog. My theory on children and dogs is, unless you have a dog raised from a puppy with children, treat all dogs as if they might bite. Before the child develops reason and logic, keep that child away from any unknown dog. When the child can understand and reason, teach him never to approach an unknown dog. NEVER.
The other instance was from a message board. A family moved to a new neighborhood and their Wheaten Terrier somehow got loose. In the cul-de-sac there was a three-year old wandering alone. The dog barked at this seemingly unknown critter (my dog does the same to small people sometimes, seeming not to understand short people). A teenage boy went to intervene and was nipped. No blood was drawn but again, not good. Another neighborhood uproar and threats from the father to go after the dog with a baseball bat.
What I know for sure is that dogs aren’t like people. They don’t have logic and reason. They have reaction and instinct. You can never assume because the dog knows this little person, that the dog will be okay with that little person. Dogs generalization skills suck.
Both of these situations seem to me to be an immediate reaction from the dogs. It may have gone like this…
Lab: Yummm food…not sure if this will ever happen again…eat fast…hey, small thing trying to take food…protect food.
Wheaten: I’m loose, yipee…ohhh, new strange place…scary…small unfamiliar human type thing screaming…bark to scare screaming thing….larger human thing lunging at me…cornered…bite to protect.
I would never defend a vicious dog. I may suggest a behaviorist if the owner was motivated enough, but mean is mean. Neither one of these situations involved mean, awful, untrained dogs. Circumstances came together with not tragic, but not good, results.
What I would suggest is for parents of small children keep a close eye on their kids. I don’t have kids and I don’t think I intend to have them. I do, though, have an eighteen month old buddy who plays with my Schnoodle. My Schnoodle is well-trained and sweet. I am still right there when they interact – and I do mean right there with my hands on the dog. The child is bigger than the dog and could inadvertently hurt the dog. If that happened I am not 100% sure she wouldn’t bite out of fear or pain. I will not take the chance, ever.
Repeat after me…
A dog is a critter
A critter with teeth
Remember dogs aren’t human. They have no reason or logic. That isn’t a bad thing – contrary to what my Min Pin client thinks. Dogs don’t hold grudges, talk back, talk behind your back, tell you you’re gaining weight…I could go on and on.