Tuesday, March 18, 2014

Bad owners make for bad outcomes, but so do bad caregivers

Today Jennifer posted about a tough case concerning euthanizing a pit bull.

The details of the issue are over there. I happen to agree with her that yes, that particularly pit bull should be put down because of the extreme aggression he showed towards that boy. A dog who mauls the face of a 4-year-old is probably not going to be rehabilitated and in the mean time is a threat to those who would even attempt.

Is it the dog's fault? No. Does it still need to happen? Yes.

That being said... let's go into exactly WHO is at fault here.

It's certainly not the boy, who is too young to fully understand why what he did was dangerous.

It's not the dog, who followed a mixture of instincts and training.

Everyone KNOWS by now to blame the owner for lack of training, bad socialization, being a horrible human being, etc. They're certainly to blame for the dog's behavior.

However, in this particular instance there is someone else who is at fault.

There's the parents, for not at least somewhat teaching the child how to deal with pets, though given how little he was who knows how much of it would stick yet. However, their fault pales in comparison to...


This is obviously a rather extreme example of negligence but I see a much more subtle form of her assumptions on a continuing basis.

There is no such thing as a completely child-safe dog.

Let me repeat that:

There is no such thing as a completely child-safe dog.

I don't care how wonderful Muffin is with children. Muffin has a bad day, is in pain, is exhausted, or someone finds her particular button to push and Muffin is just as capable of biting a child as any other dog.

Let me give you an example.

The Boy is now crawling around the house. We still have two dogs, Jayne and Zoe. Jayne is 130 lbs of Staffordshire/ Rottweiler mix and Zoe is 55 lbs of Rottweiler/ Coonhound mix. Both of them are generally good with kids, our kids, other people's kids, doesn't matter. They've repeatedly shown the ability to handle everything from toddler on up.

Zoe spoils the boy. She lets him crawl on her, hug her, pull her tail, treat her like an obstacle course... she takes all of it. Unless he pulls her ears. Then it's game over. She runs off.

Jayne, having figured out early that baby hands mean poking and prodding, generally avoids the boy. He's not mean about it, he'd just rather not be within reach of those hands. He either moves, or, if he's on his doggie bed, will give a nice loud single bark which never fails to make the baby stop his forward progress (and also ends in screaming on the baby's part, but that just means it's effective).

Sometimes though when either dog tries to escape the kiddo gets it in his head to follow and continue his pestering. This is where things get hairy.

Half the time the dogs will run to me for protection. The other half is when the growling starts.

It's my job as the caregiver to make sure the growling never happens. The dogs have already clearly defined their boundaries for the boy, it's my job to make sure he respects them. Why?

Because I'm the adult damnit.

I'm slowly teaching the kiddo what not to do around dogs, but he's little and doesn't have experience or impulse control. Every moment he spends around the dogs needs to be supervised. That will last until he's old enough to have gotten enough experience with THESE dogs to understand what is okay and what isn't okay.

Notice I make a differentiation between these dogs and other dogs. That's because I don't know anyone else's dogs well enough to leave my child anywhere near unsupervised while he's around them.

It's also my responsibility to teach my children enough about how to deal with strange animals so they don't do something stupid that gets them injured.

Over the summer I heard Jayne barking really intensely in the back yard. I went out to see what was happening.

I found a group of boys throwing rocks at him from the other side of the fence.

It's a testament to Jayne's extreme laziness and inability to jump even a 4 foot fence that these boys were unscathed. Well, that's before I lit into them about how dangerous and cruel what they were doing was, and how with any other dog it might get them killed.

Jayne was still wagging his tail, God bless 'em. If he'd been another dog with a lower pain tolerance and capable of jumping the fence he'd already have been put down.

(I never caught them doing it again, and I watched for it to happen.)

So what could have prevented this mauling in the first place?

1. Training and socializing the dog properly.
2. Training the child properly to deal with unfamiliar animals, i.e. don't approach dogs you don't know without the owner handling the introduction.
3. Properly supervising the child in case their impulse control and judgment skills are not adequate.

If any one of these had happened no one would be debating whether or not to euthanize the dog, and that poor boy wouldn't be scarred for life at 4 years old.

It's not the dog's fault or the boy's fault, but they're both suffering for the stupidity of those in charge of them.