Almost every “Dog Mauls Toddler” headline is followed by an article that includes, among other things, these two phrases:
1.“The dog was always good with children,” and,
2.“The bite was unprovoked.”
Both statements make me cringe. Most people who think their dogs are “good with children” don’t realize that many dogs only tolerate children – the dogs are actually stressed in the presence of children, at least to some degree. These dogs usually show low level signs of stress that would warn an observant owner that they really don’t think little humans are all that great after all. Dogs who are truly “good with children” adore them; they don’t just tolerate them. They are delighted to see children, and, with wriggling body, wagging tail and squinty eyes, can’t wait to go see them. Anything less than this joyful response is mere tolerance.
With the very rare exception of idiopathic aggression – aggression for which there is no discernible cause – every bite is provoked from the dog’s perspective. We, as humans, may feel the bite wasn’t justified or appropriate, but rest assured the dog felt justified in biting. In many cases the provocation is pretty apparent from the news article: the dog was kept on a chain; the dog had a litter of puppies; the toddler was left outside in the back yard with a dog who had just been fed. In each case, the dog was stressed beyond his or her ability to control his bite.
Raise your stress awareness. Examine news reports about dog attacks to see if you can identify the possible stressors and provocation in each incident. Then be sure to protect your own dog from those potential bite-causing circumstances.
For more on identifying stress signals in dogs and ways to handle this stress, read Pat Miller’s Positive Perspectives 2. Click here to purchase from Whole Dog Journal.