My heart is heavy as I write this.  It seems that everywhere I turn lately there is a new story about a dog mauling or killing a child; most of which lately have been infants and toddlers.

  • The latest was a Jack Russell Terrier who jumped up and mauled the new infant as he slept in his bassinet.
  • A one year old toddler was killed after he crawled onto his family dog Rhodesian mix (which apparently he had done previously).
  • And a Lab/Golden mix that dismembered and disemboweled a baby left in a baby swing.
  • And if that is not horrifying enough, in 2008 a 6 week old Lab puppy killed a baby left unattended in a baby swing.  6 week old puppy!

No one wins in these instances.  Dogs are euthanized.  Children have died or have been scarred for life and the parents are left to mourn in the aftermath.

Most of these instances have been family dog related attacks.

I hate writing these types of articles, but I feel obligated to help new parents, grandparents and dog owners alike know how to keep everyone as safe as possible when it comes to dogs.

These are my 5 most important tips when it comes to kids and dogs.

#5 Don’t Place Blame

It is easy for us dog owners or parents to sit back and place blame when we read a story like this, but blame keeps us from putting ourselves in the shoes of the parents or dog owners; and that is exactly what we need to do to keep this from happening again.

Dog owners and animal advocates will blame the parents or the children; this is easier for them than blaming the dog.  It had to be the parents fault or the child’s fault!  But who hasn’t lost track of their baby for a moment?

Parents will blame the animal.  It must have been aggressive or shown aggressive signs previously.

And everyone will be quite certain they would have been able to see the warning signs before the tragedy occurred.

Blame really does no one any good.

#4  Understand Dogs & Learn to “Read” Dogs

Dogs don’t always like children.  Some do, but some inherently don’t!

Children run like prey, they scream like prey and sometimes they are mistaken for prey.

Dogs are carnivores and they have instincts that would allow and encourage them to chase and kill their meals if need be.  Just because they are domesticated and they are our pets, does not mean that they do not still have these instincts.  Make no mistake instincts are genetic and not a problem of behavior, so even the most docile dog can be overrun by instinct.

Unfortunately when the dog bites the child and the child gutturally screams, it excites and incites the dog to more aggression.

Keep your dogs on leash when children are around!

If your dog stares at children or anything when it runs or rolls (bike, skateboard) past, you have reason to be concerned.   If it chases and nips, you also have reason to be concerned.  Even if you haven’t seen these behaviors you have cause to watch your dog.

I am assuming that a child in a baby swing activated the dog’s prey drive and the child became impossible for the dog to ignore.  Even a 6 week old puppy has prey drive.

Parents don’t want to think that their baby in a baby swing resembles a bunny to their 6 year old or 6 week old beloved family dog, but unfortunately he can.

Even dogs that can control their prey drives, still don’t understand that young children and toddlers are small humans.  Frequently dogs treat these small children like they are other dogs.  This places them (the children) lower on the totem pole or hierarchy.  So when a toddler climbs up on the dog’s back and the dog gives subtle warning signs (like stiffening and staring; that other dogs would recognize but as people we find more difficult to see).  The dog feels like it is left to “correct” or bite the child; often in the head or face (where dogs bite other dogs).

Countless dogs have difficulty sharing.  They may go from being the only “child” in the house to now sharing their owners’ time and affection, or feel like they rarely seeing their owner at all anymore.

And new parents rarely take time to ensure that the family dog doesn’t get jealous.  So the jealousy can build and build and when given the opportunity the dog can take this pent out aggression out on the child.

#3 Teach Your Children

Although babies cannot be educated about dog behavior (they must be watched and monitored), toddlers, young children and children can.

It is crucial that children are taught never to lie on top of a dog.

Never to hug a dog (dogs don’t hug each other in the wild; this is a very dominant behavior).

Never to run up to or away from a dog; frequently children are bitten when (after they have petted the dog) they turn to run away.  Running makes children look like prey and you never want you child to be misconstrued as a prey animal by a dog.

If a dog runs at your child, teach him/her to “be a tree” being completely silent and putting their hands and arms flush against their body and wait for the dog to lose interest.

Never allow children to stick their hands, or face in a dog’s face and never to put their hand over the top of a dog’s head.  Getting in a dog’s face is very dominant behavior.  If another dog did this to your dog he would be met with a growl and a snap.  And quick moving hands can be threatening to a dog.

Instead teach your children to put out their hand to be sniffed and then to pet dogs on their chest.

Teach your children never to pet a dog without you there.  Children cannot read intricate dog body language and so they frequently incur bites by dogs who think they have given many warnings.

Never scream around a dog.  Screaming can scare a dog and incite aggression in a fraction of a second!

Children should be taught to be quiet and well-mannered around dogs, even their own.

Never take your child to a dog park.  Dogs that run in packs are even more terrifying than those alone and dogs at dog parks can perceive running, screaming children as prey.

Never enter the property of someone else even if the child has met the dog.  Countless children are bitten when they wander into the backyard of a neighbor dog looking for their ball or something else.

Children should never go onto a neighbor’s property without adult supervision.

ALWAYS keep an eye on your child.  If you see a dog staring at your child, calmly and quietly leave the area.

Staring and stiffening are often the first signs of stalking and attack!
The “Wrong Dog” Could Maul a Child! Children Should be Taught Never Hug or Lay on Top of Dogs!

#2 Monitor Dog and Child Interaction

Always, always, always monitor the interaction of your children and dogs, even your own pet dog.

You may think your dog would never bite your child, but in the right circumstances all dogs will bite.

Children often think that we adults don’t know what we are talking about, so when they are alone they might be rougher with your dog or they might not be paying attention.  If a child trips and falls on a dog even a nonaggressive and child friendly dog; the dog is likely to bite.

Be very careful when other children come to play.  When children wrestle and fight playfully with one another a dog can misconstrue that as the friend attacking his pack member and a serious bite could ensue.

I teach my dogs to stay with me.  If I can’t see them I go and get them.  I don’t want there to even be a second that a child might do something painful or that the dog thinks is rude or bad manners and get bitten.

If I can’t watch my dogs, they go in crates.

And, if I can’t trust the children (that they might let my dogs out of their crates), they (the children) come with me.

#1 Never leave a Child Alone

Many of the aforementioned stories resulted because the children were left alone and yet the dog still had access to the child.

Keeping an eye on your children and monitoring them with dogs is important, but some parents don’t realize that a dog should never even have access to the child.

In the case of the bassinet attack, I am guessing that the parents would never have expected the dog to jump up and into the bassinet to attack the baby.

There was also a similar case where the dog took the baby out of the crib when the parents stepped outside.

Never leave your baby alone where the dog could access him or her.

Attacks and incidents can happen in the fraction of a second.

Shut the baby’s room door and make sure it is secure and, if needs be, put your dog in a crate.

Leaving your baby alone in a baby swing is just asking for trouble.  In both cases one parent was home and asleep in another part of the house.

Make sure your biggest asset (your child) is safe!

These stories are terrifying and I hate talking about it too, but as parents and dog owners we need to take responsibility for those in our care.

Don’t automatically place blame.

As horrifying as it is put yourselves in the shoes of those involved and come up with a plan so that we can learn from these tragedies and ensure that they never happen again!

Education, understanding and control are what keep our children and our dogs safe!  Please share this article with those you love.