Another child killed by dogs this time in South Wales, with numerous reports some the front page sensation in the tabloids, the questions of dog safety will be brought up again. What are the factors involved in a dog attacking a child?
With my dog having to do a window cleaning round when we first got together one things I felt I needed to do was ‘childproof’ him so he could deal with the hundreds of children he could meet in a day. I just followed my intuition with regards socialisation and training all done within our relationship. Some years later I was at a house and the lady was showing me bruises and cuts to her hands and legs. Her boyfriend had bought an English Bull, though she loved the dog it was inflicting injuries to her.
She said the dog wasn’t vicious or aggressive, she just got bit during the normal course of play and exuberance. Now I was cautious I had felt I never had any affinity with ‘big jawed dogs’, those dogs that have been bred to have a bite over and above what would be the average for a given body weight. I started playing with the dog, and yes he did bite in play and did hurt. I tried a technique my dog and myself had developed in play. It really did seem to work and the dog picked up the rules really quickly.
After a few minutes of excitement with the dog leaping around the room jumping off the furniture, I picked him up and threw him on the sofa with the same height and trajectory he had been jumping. While he was turning round I lay on the floor. He came running into me and enthusiastically licked my face in the game. The lady was amazed that he was so gentle and I was so trusting of him.
The problem was nobody had told him or shown him how hard to bite in play. Puppies now get taken from their mother at 6,8 or 10 weeks and are brought up in a human environment. Their siblings, parents and extended family, the pack have now been replaced by people. The lessons from the pack of what is acceptable have been lost.
When I read instructions on training puppies or handling dogs sometimes I see advice saying never engage your dog in aggressive play. Why I ask? It is precisely this play that the dog learns the boundaries of what is acceptable. If the play with others in the pack is not replicated by human substitutes how does the dog learn what is acceptable? If a dog without that learning bites too hard, is it then punished. A powerful jawed dog can injure a child simply because it has not been shown what is and what isn’t acceptable.
Is a key sometimes playing with the dog, to get the dog as mad as it can get, to take right to the edge, but in those situations gently teach it control of those jaws. The dog learns in fun play, never needs to be disciplined-or worse.
The socialisation and training of dogs is covered in The Song of Ruskin. In Catergories on the left.