Just before Easter a newspaper in a town in Idaho posted a picture sent to them by a reader. The photo hit their Facebook page Friday, and went out in Saturday’s paper.
If you’re part of a community of dog people on Facebook I’m sure you saw it. A 2yr old toddler, who I’ll refer to as B, and a large dog I’ll call T. The child’s bunny ears had been placed on the dog, and B was kissing the side of T’s nose. The uproar was because of T’s expression. Tight staring eyes, wrinkled face and nose, teeth bared, the dog himself clearly tense.
By Monday the paper had pulled the photo off their Facebook page, and printed a short article in response. In the article were repeated statements by the mother detailing why she felt that everyone else was wrong and there was no danger to her child. The paper even found a local veterinarian to lend credibility to the idea that the public was over reacting.
Don’t get me wrong. Some of the responses were over reaction. The calls for the mother to be reported to authorities were stupid and made it easy to lump all the responses into the “crazy” category.
But lets get some things straight.
Some dogs do appear to “smile”. Its often a “submissive grin” and often means the dog thinks there may be a problem and he’s trying to appease (though not always), but its characterized by the lifting of lips in an otherwise “soft” face, and may even include the showing of some of the whites of the eyes, though usually they’re squinty. Although a dog may bite after showing a submissive grin, they don’t usually.
However what T was displaying was an “agonistic grin”. Tight eyes, wrinkled face, baring of teeth. Although an agonistic grin doesn’t mean the dog is going to bite, it is far more likely than with a submissive grin.
Veterinarians ought be decent studies of dog behavior, just by virtue of the time they spend with them. However that does not mean that they are. And the one in the article who shrugged off the photo (assuming he was quoted correctly) appears to be particularly clueless. Stating the dog didn’t appear to be skittish or aggressive in the photo so therefor there was no problem.
However dogs do not have to be skittish or aggressive in order to object to the way he’s being handled, and even the best dog can snap if pushed too far on a bad day. Something that every vet ought to be aware of since they are in a situation to see a lot of very unhappy dogs.
The mother stated that T is a big loveable oaf who’d never harm her son.
But if you a search for “family dog bites child” you’ll find almost identical quotes from the parents in those cases too.
The mother stated that T is “regularly used” as a racetrack, a pillow, and a step-stool by her son, and although T is generally not happy he tolerates it.
Which tells me that this kiss on the face isn’t a once off thing, that the child is regularly allowed to treat the dog as if he’s an inanimate object whose feelings don’t matter.
The mother also states that T often makes that face “when his whiskers are touched, he doesn’t like it”. And that “.05 seconds after the photo was snapped T got up, licked B’s face, shook off the ears and walked away”.
Look, dogs lick people for all sorts of reasons, but in this case, in this setting, that was a blatant “back off kid……”. Never mind that she KNOWS that T doesn’t like having his whiskers touched, and yet has continued to touch his whiskers enough to shrug off T’s expression as normal, and to even allow her toddler to do so, to the point of allowing B to put his face in the line of fire.
Its enough to make me want to cry. This is apparently a well trained and socialized dog who’s doing his best to be polite to the baby. And his owner is essentially setting him up to bite her child. Hopefully he won’t. He’s a good dog who doesn’t deserve to be put down for his owner’s failure, never mind that no 2yr old deserves to be on the sharp end of it.
Please don’t do this to your dog, much less your child. Please take the time to read over the couple links I’m going put at the end that detail the canine body language you should be watching for. And please please please, teach your child proper dog manners, so that they won’t join the far to many children who are bitten by a “friendly” dog every year.
Why Supervising Isn’t Working
Learn to speak dog
The heartbreaking story of another mother who was sure her dog wouldn’t bite her child.