Blogs on dogs

Yet another fatal dog attack

IMG_9144 fox claire (794x800)It is with horrible irony that whilst the press were reporting another fatal dog attack on a baby, I was in Court all day, explaining why a five year old collie that had never before shown any aggression to anyone, had bitten the face of a two-year-old girl.

I only have press reports to go on, so details are sketchy, but the latest sad death appears to be of a baby from attack by a Malamute that had recently been acquired from unknown provenance. Once again I find myself offering heartfelt condolences to a bereaved family. Once again, this tragedy was avoidable.

Firstly, we must acknowledge that, whilst it is of no help in individual circumstances, such deaths are very rare. One in four UK families has one or more pet dogs. A baby is far more likely to be killed by her parents than by a pet dog. The vast majority of pets are safe and treasured family members. So why do some kill?

There are two main reasons why dogs bite children or babies and both revolve around a lack of understanding of communication. Whilst dogs are remarkable in their ability to discern human emotions and act upon them accordingly, we take that skill far too much for granted.

Almost all dogs are socialised to a greater or lesser extent to human adults. It would be almost impossible for them not to be. So they have some understanding of our behaviour. However, dogs do not instinctively understand babies and toddlers. With babies they do not always recognise them as being human and with toddlers they do not understand their non-standard (compared to an adult) human body language.  The danger is that this lack of understanding can lead to conflict in the dog if we aren’t able to manage it.

Nobody is surprised that dogs chase cats and rabbits or that they tear up squeaky toys. Babies are about the same size as a cat, and make similar mewling noises at times; their little voices are certainly squeaky. Dogs that haven’t been socialised with babies, that is introduced to them in a benign way so that they understand that they are little members of the human race, can misinterpret their cries and squirms as prey-like behaviour. The result can be that they treat the squeaky little baby like a squeaky little toy, to be grabbed and ragged.

There is the additional factor that babies often smell of poo and sick – both of which are attractive to dogs because they are considered to be good to eat. I know we think it disgusting, but dogs are like that.

The conjecture that I have heard from some quarters, that dogs view crying babies as injured pack members and instinctively “finish them off” is just plain wrong. If that were the case, dogs all over the country would be attacking crying babies, and cancer-detection and other assistance dogs, rather than helping humans, would be killing them off wholesale. A much more parsimonious explanation is that some poorly socialised dogs react inappropriately in some circumstances.

Dogs need adequate socialisation with toddlers too, because toddlers do not provide the same body language as adult humans. They are uncoordinated, they grab, hug and kiss – all things that can be very threatening for a dog that has not learned to expect and tolerate that kind of behaviour.  And how do dogs react to threats that are imminent and can’t be avoided? They bite to make the problem go away; literally to get it out of their face.

So how do we address this mismatch? The answer is to make sure that pet dogs identify babies as human, and understand  that toddlers mean them no harm through their odd-human behaviour.

To do this we need three avenues of approach. The first is to benignly socialise your pet dog with all manner of humans, including toddlers and babies, whilst it is young enough (from 5 weeks of age at the latest, although better before that too) and to continue to do that throughout its life.  This people-proofing is one of the best favours you can do for your pet.

What if it is a rescue dog and you do not know how socialised it is with children? What if it is not your dog, for example when you visit friends with your baby or toddler? Easy, assume it is not socialised at all and do not allow contact of any kind.

Some of the better rescues will perform a battery of tests with dogs before rehoming them. Whilst these can be a good indication of the dog’s future behaviour, do not rely on them as an absolute guarantee.  Look at the tests done, ask the advisor what they mean and then treat the results with caution. If the dogs are not tested at all, or if you are given no proof that they have been seen to be reliable, DO NOT TRUST THEM NEAR YOUR CHILDREN.

The second approach is to prepare your pet dog for the arrival of your baby. Don’t worry that your pet and baby won’t get on, because if you prepare them, they will. Start well before baby is born by providing your dog with a safe haven and teaching it to go (and stay) there when asked. You will be stressed and harassed at times when baby comes home, and being able to send your pet off to sit quietly on their own (maybe with a long-lasting food treat) whilst you tend to baby, will be a boon for you.

Then introduce dog to baby in a prepared, controlled and structured fashion; baby on your knee and dog rewarded for being close, but not showing too much interest. You can expand on this theme, and there are some ideas on how to do that in Dogs that Bite and Fight.

Third approach is to teach your dog how to interact with toddlers and your toddler how to interact with dogs. Dogs don’t automatically like to be hugged and kissed, but they can learn to tolerate and even enjoy it. They are more likely to tolerate it if you handle them regularly and have taught them to accept intrusive behaviour from people. It is a training exercise that all pets should go through – teaching them that human contact is not threatening. Likewise teach your toddler not to be rude to dogs. No kissing, hugging or close face to face contact. Dogs think it is impolite.

Finally, and I think I may have said this before, NEVER LEAVE A BABY, TODDLER OR CHILD ALONE WITH ANY DOG, no matter how reliable you think any of them are. There is no need for these tragedies, but we need to think it through.

53 replies on “Yet another fatal dog attack”

I’m so glad that there is someone finally sticking up for the dogs in this argument. I’m sick of hearing that “all dogs are vicious and will bite regardless”. I’ve trained my dog (collie/husky cross) so that when children around he can recognise that and will lay tummy down on the floor. He’ll stay like that until I tell him he can get up but most of the time he gets so excited by the thought of cuddles with children he wants to stay there until the children leave. He’s never been vicious or angry- when he needs his space he walks off to his bed where he always has a treat and children who come to my house are not allowed to follow him as I know he needs space. That said, I’d never allow a child to be alone with him. He has a fluffy tail kids love and I wouldn’t put out past them to grab at it.

Parents need to know that the dog isn’t bad, he just need contrast training from very young and that parents who cannot be bothered to train their dogs are the ones whom accidents well happen to.

It’s sickening that people keep blaming the animals when it’s entirely down to the humans in how they train and teach the dog, how they treat him, how they teach their children to treat him (children shouldn’t be fighting dogs) and that they don’t leave children alone with dogs.

I hope more people read this and get the message!

Thank God someone has the same view as us.
These attacks are so avoidable. People need to be educated more about dogs.
Humans are the dangerous breed!

Bad dog owners make bad dogs
Dogs and children both need a high duty of care
Parents with young children often don’t have the time to train their dog pe…befobefohaps more thought should be given about when is the right time to get a dog..before you have a family or when the family is older

Hi David, Great article and good advice. I was contacted recently for a similar case here. No-one saw it, but yes I believe it was avoidable with proper management. As a dog trainer with many rears behind me, I feel that often the child training is the greatest part of the solution to avoid bites. Thanks for your sage wisdom. Jonathan

Thank you for your measured response. Its so good to hear from someone who can put across the vital and life saving facts in an unemotional but educated common sense manner while also calmly stating that mamy many more children and babies are tragically killed by family members.
Please keep spreading the word that dogs and babies should never be left alone together.
Thank you. I hate to see dogs villified for just being dogs.
Thank you again from me and my two constant companions.

As an owner of dogs most of my life I have been very lucky with my animals, but that does not mean I have been ignorant to a dogs ability to change towards a new baby in the home or even a baby visiting. All dogs has the ability to attack just as much as they can protect a new baby or child, most people has to think outside the box and know not to leave children whatever the age alone with any dog. The sad fact is this has been a terrible thing to happen and no doubt will happen again, but I do hope it doesn’t stop people getting dogs as pets but really consider what breed and size would be suitable for your family and please think twice about leaving a child alone with the dog.

When we brought our newborn babies home we didn’t shoo the dog away we let her sniff them as she was curious. She was so gentle and when baby was a bit older I let my dog groom those babies. She licked them all over…obviously I washed the baby afterwards but the dog has never ever snarled at my two girls aged 4 & 8. When DD1 was about six months old and in her rocker chair I went to get sometging from the next room and heard my dog yelping and crying and when I ran in DD had grabbed dog really tight and pulled fur out! The dog didn’t even growl. She was the same when second daughter came along. She thinks they are her babies! Its important ppl still make sure their dogs are getting lots of walks as they get bored and frustrated and most dogs I know that aren’t excercised enough tend to be problem dogs xx.

I totally agree with everything you say.Can I ask you something? I had a Staffordshire Bull terrier for 5/6 years before my son was born. My father told me to take my son’s first nappy home for Harvey to sniff 🙂 so he had the scent. Doing this, Harvey wouldn’t feel threatened by this strange smell entering his home. I did this and I swear they were inseparable up until the day my beautiful Harvey passed. Would you agree that this is a good thing to do if the baby arrives after your dog? Obviously if the dog arrives later then introduce them on neutral ground?

Absolutely. Anything that you can do that makes the new stimuli impact less can only be a good thing. If you can bring in cots, carry-cots, push-chairs and prams, nappies – all the new things that often suddenly arrive with the birth of a baby – before the baby arrives, the dog has time to habituate to them. At the risk of repeating myself, it’s all in the book (page 92) 🙂

Dogs are not viscous animals. They’re not bad at all. I love dogs. However one thing dog lovers tend to do is push all blame from the dog. You’re right about humans killing more babies than dogs, but each of those humans is blamed. Imagine the uproar if a human killing a child was written like this. Taking the blame off the human and put on to their parents. Similarly, dogs as a species should definitely not be blamed, but the individual should always be held responsible for their actions.

I understand where you are coming from, but to be “blamed” surely a dog needs to have understood exactly what it did? I don’t know of a dog that has killed a person and remains alive – they are all pts. However I don’t think that we can hold dogs responsible for their actions – for that we would need to show that they understood that they were doing wrong, and there is no evidence for that. They just react in a species-specific way to stimuli they don’t understand. I understand that society won’t allow a dog that has killed a human to live, but I think that understanding why it happens, so we can learn from it and prevent it happening again, is more productive than apportioning blame.

I had to have a dog put down about 10yrs ago cross staffie 🙁 she was so sweet ma baby i was owner n trained her . Ihad another dog full staff that lived with her, they were great most of time, did have there faults but loved them dearly, when my son was about four they had a big tiff about biscuits (ALREADY HAd the cross staff at vets ) they couldnt help. then she started showing teeth at me i couldnt risk her with anyone else , so i took the hardest decion in my life 🙁 ,,,,,,,,, some gd owners cant help there pets either. but mostly its people at moment not trraining dogs right , but u cant help the jelous streek in them 🙁 7

It us always very sad when you have to make these kind of decisions Sharon, but dogs can be helped in these situations. Food can be a trigger for conflict, but teaching the dog what she is and isn’t allowed can help. Again, “jealous streaks” can also be managed through teaching the dog an appropriate alternative behaviour. I don’t want to keep banging on about the book, but it is all in there 🙂

Thanks for bringing some sense to the argument…. As I understand it there is no definite proof the dog attacked the baby all I keep hearing is the dog has been removed. Has not been put to sleep. The police are still investigating the circumstances which sounds a bit iffy to me.

But I agree wholeheartedly with what you have written

Thank goodness for a reasoned response to an horrific tragedy. When my older daughter was born, I had two GSDs, one aged 9 months, the other 7 years. I never left my baby alone and unsupervised with either of the dogs, although it quickly became apparent that the younger dog adored my daughter and actually loved to play with children. Having said this, I taught my children to leave the dog alone if he walked off and away from them.
I never 100% trusted the older dog with children, but then he could be a little unpredictable with adults especially if he felt I was threatened.
These tragedies are – thankfully – incredibly rare and the danger posed by a dog to a child compared to that posed by some children’s relatives should be highlighted.

A very interesting and thoughtful article. I have three dogs: Lurcher, staff x and a JRT. I have worked with dogs all my life. I also have children. When I had my first children we brought him home and immediately introduced him in a positive environment to my previous 2 lurchers. I could have not asked for a better response. With the dogs I have now I would have done the introductions very differently. It’s my staff x who is my ‘safest’, a loving, kind and gentle dog who will tolerate extreme behaviour – she is a PAT dog in a dementia home for this reason. This does not mean I would ever leave her alone with children. When I meet children in the street they all want to talk to ‘the little white one’ but I direct their interest away from her and onto the staff.
It’s all about knowing your dogs and understanding them. We must educate ourselves as owners to understand any subtle changes in their behaviour that indicates stress or discomfort. I completely agree that the majority of these tragic deaths could be avoided if owners would stop ‘trusting’ their dogs and start ‘watching’ them instead.

Such a very well written article, with facts I and many will not be aware of. I will share this on our Facebook page as it makes a very good read for those with or without a dog. It is true we all need to learn the risks around dogs and take precautions to protect those that maybe in danger. We love dogs and have always taken on rescue some with no issues, and a few that need work, but we can teach old dogs new tricks.

Thank you for this article. While events like this are tragic and heartbreaking, they are, as you say, almost always avoidable. I am pleased that someone has taken a stance from the other side and is acknowledging that the dog is not a demon or a beast, but an animal with instincts and behaviour traits that are part of him.

I have 3 dogs who I love with my life and who have grown up with my toddler and even they have growled occasionally but she is still learning to be gentle with them and give them their space.

Growling is communication. It means “please stop what you are doing”. There are two ways to prevent it escalating. The first is to teach your dog tolerance of the stimulus that initiates the growling and the second is to teach your toddler not to produce the stimulus. If neither of these things happen, the potential for the growling to escalate to biting remains. Doing both of them, teaching your toddler to be considerate and your dog to be tolerant, reduces the potential for conflict and increases family harmony. Simples 🙂

Wonderful advice! I had a dog that was returned to the mother’s family as a 7 month old pup. The first adopters had small children and watched others’ small children during the day. Yet, it was clear that the pup was not socialized or trained and he began nipping at the kids, so he was returned (thankfully, rather than destroyed). I adopted him and recognized that I could have issues when I had my own child. When that day came, I made sure to include my dog in the happiness of having my son there – giving attention to my pup when the baby was in the room, petting and praising him for good behaviour and for being gentle. When my son was not in the room, I ignored my pup other than his basic needs. He quickly associated attention and gentle play with my son’s presence and they grew to have an amazing bond. That dog has since passed on, but lived to a ripe old age of seventeen. People simply need to realize that each dog is different, just like people, and if you want to bring one into your home, you have to be willing to invest the effort to learn your pup’s individual personality and teach him what he needs to have a happy and fulfilling life as a member of your family.

Why would anyone leave a baby or child alone, with or without an animal present, in the first place? Dogs and children should not be left unsupervised. Dogs can jump up, nip, bite and children can nip, pull, push. It’s simple common sense!

As a pet sitter who actually pets sits for free, just because I love animals and can. I’m constantly amazed at parents/grandparents/guardians ignorance and irresponsibility when it comes to interaction between children and animals.

Not privy to the facts surrounding the very sad case now in the news I would not begin to comment on the tragedy. However I thank you for this article, at last someone speaking absolute sense.

If an owners cannot be bothered, do not take the time or make an effort to socialise their dog then at least have the God given sense never to leave a baby/child alone with ANY animal …. key word here is ANIMAL.

There are no bad dogs only bad owners.

My wee lab / spaniel cross is fantastic with kids and has been well socialised. She thrives on human contact…. But I would never leave her alone with a child. Even one she is used to being around. When all is said and done she is an animal. Animals have instincts that can sometimes come to the surface without warning, even in well socialised animals.

Likewise, do not trust children near your dog. They can be just as dangerous to dogs as the other way around. I trust my dog 100%, but I do not trust people’s hyperactive little kids and do not allow them to approach my dog.

I had my dog for 12 years and he slept in my bedroom every night , but when i found out i was having a baby i had to change this without tyler thinking he had been bad or pushed out for the baby so i spent months slowly changing the sleeping habits of tyler and giving him rewards so when baby Ethan came he was used to sleeping downstairs . I was scared how he would be due to never being around children let alone babies and at first i used a doll and treated it like a baby in front of him ( felt silly) bu this paid off. When me and baby Ethan came home he was happy to see us gave ethan a sniff and that was that. As ethan started to cry tyler would nudge me and pull me to the baby he acted like ananny and would not leave his side. If i put ethan to bed and we were down stairs he would jump up and run to bottom of stairs when he heard him cry .

Unfirtunatly tyler died at 17 and because of the bond between tyler and Ethan i had one very upset little boy , tyler was his guard dog and belonged to him the moment he came home .

Please note i never left them alone together just in case ,i would not have been able to live with myself if anyrhing had happened .

“One in four UK families has one or more pet dogs. A baby is far more likely to be killed by her parents than by a pet dog.” – so let’s ban parents!

I bought my long-awaited dog with my maternity pay so there is all of two weeks difference in age between my golden retriever and the older of my two sons.
We had a ‘no faces’ rule from the very beginning – and that includes no adults swooping on my dog and rubbing their faces on her mouth. She is no allowed to lick faces and the children are not allowed to touch her face, though they are aware that my husband and I will wipe her eyes and often do the mouth inspection at random times.
Our other rule is ‘flat hand strokes’ and I am very strict about no grabbing and tugging of the fur, her tail, etc. as well as not laying on the dog or leaning on her, for example when she is standing.
I also put her into a sit or down position when children approach her or even when adults want to pet her.
… all that and I STILL don’t like to leave the children and go together unsupervised! It happens from time to time iin our enclosed garden, where there is plenty of space for both the animal and the children to be playing in different areas but this is still a situation I check on regularly – just in case the children have decided to throw toys for the dog or play with sticks.
One problem with the assumed ‘safe’ breeds like golden retrievers is that the general public expect a lot more tolerant behaviour from them and have much less respect for the feelings of the animal. They may look, and often behave, like a living soft toy but they are still animals with thoughts, feelings and fears of their own.

As a two dog and two child family, one of which is 22mths. I whole heartedly agree. When I found out I was expecting I trained my boxer I had then with the future babies things, toys, bed, cream and even used a doll. When baby arrived my boxer would lie on the floor next to the baby all day long….. Now I have two rescue jack Russell crosses and as I know they can be a nippy breed they are crate trained and my youngest is learning ” be nice” which means stroke. We so far have had no problems and I still won’t leave them all together unattended. Train the humans more than the dog.

When I went in to hospital to have my baby I had plans for gates everywhere to keep the dog away. I came home and there were raised hackles at the carrycot. Smell?
After that she was besotted with the baby/puppy. I would breast feed and she would be hanging over my other shoulder. If I didn’t hear the baby cry she was bothering me until I sorted it
Ziggy was a real wimp, but if any person or dog came near the buggy she would see them off
James learned to walk hauling himself up her coat, he dressed her up, tied her up in his fort and goodness know what else.
I can endorse your expert opinion, give the dog time, it is very like bringing a new sibling in

I also feel it is important that I am the leader of the pack, if your dog is in charge it will be an uphill battle!

Great and balanced article. Having a 6 year old child and a 2/3 year old Staff/greyhound/lab cross rescue dog I feel strongly about this. Whereas our dog needed socialising, our child has received at least as much training. For example: Dog eats, you stay away. Dog looks unhappy that you have his blankie, you give it back. You touch the dog with kind hands and not with toys. If the dog growls you probably did something he didn’t like and I will make you give him a break, you do not touch the dog THERE. You do not grab his collar/ears/tail/paws.

The dog…has had his bits railroaded with a metal toy tractor and only given a little yelp. Among others.

We do allow him to growl as this is normal communication for a dog, and it enables us to hear that intervention is required right now.A dog who is not allowed to growl only has biting left…

This is a really good point. Don’t tell a dog off for growling – he is communicating unease and warning that if not changed, the emotional state and consequences could increase. Understand that he has a problem and that he needs some guidance on how to resolve it.

I totally agree with everything you have written. If only we had pet classes in our communities for people to learn how to live with their pets.

I have found this very interesting and informative reading. Two weeks ago i was given a year old Husky x Shepherd bitch, Darcy. She flinches a lot which leads me to the assumption that she has been mistreated. I have an 11 year old daughter who is in love with Darcy already and I am in the process of ‘training’ my daughter that she must give Darcy space as well as time time to settle in to her new family life. The occasional growling at my daughter has unnerved me a little but after reading this it has made me see things more clearly. Thank you so much David Ryan 🙂

Please take extra care at this time of transition. “Flinching” may simply be displaying a worry about close social contact, which can be unnerving for dogs if they are not used to it. Take tiny steps towards what could become a very fulfilling relationship for both your dog and daughter, with lots of guidance from you. The response to growling should always be to back off and then try to approach whatever the original aim was in more acceptable way. Good associations may now will stand you in good stead in the future.

My lakie was terrible when our grandaughter arrived. She would lunge wildly and would have bitten without doubt. 3 years on she would still bite given a chance, but now only when our grandaughter is picked up. As I write this they are both asleep on the sofa together.

With the upper said, without knowing the full story, i tend to side with the pooch first when details are not given. the information is usually hidden to conceal the fact that the pooch was being abused or mistreated, and acted in self defense.

i would also like to add, i had adopted 2 pitt bull puppies. the mother had been neglected and abused, left without proper food, water, and shelter when tied up. when she had her pups, she had them underneath the family home to protect them. the family allowed their children to pull at the pups, and when they cried for their mother, she bit them in order to save her pups. She only did her job as a mother and got put to sleep!

I had a newfoundland puppy 20 years ago or so, took him to the vet to get his last shots. A woman I won’t say she was much of a mom brought her toddler out of the office and her other kid with the pet dog, she sat the toddler down by my pup who hadn’t been introduce or such, I told her to get her kid and move it, I wasn’t her babysitter. She then took the baby to some elder folks one holding an older dog who growled and the a lady who had a cat in its own cage who started hissing and trying to scratch.

This was plain stupid, get a babysitter or make another appointment when you have help, don’t assume everyone else wants to babysit your child or children, or at least ask. My dog was trained to go in a down position when he was grown on the word baby, he would always behave and was a joy to have around. The neighbors boys grew up with him and he walked the fence as they older to meet the school bus and were as said as I was when he was put down.

Teach the kids and parents, don’t run up to people with dogs, teach them to ask.

I’ve had a doberman that raised ferrets, would put a butterfly in her mounth and let it go. But I also had old english sheepdogs, 1 who would show her teeth and the next thing was bite to a stranger.

Well said – another good reason why people should be licensed to keep dogs. We have idiots trolling around the towns with status deficit dogs – there are kennels full of dogs that have been seized and are on ‘death row’ awaiting court cases. No fault of the dog – just some idiot who thinks it is clever to make a dog vicious. If someone is that stupid, they are without question stupid enough to leave a baby unattended with a dog.

Have you ever seen a vicious puppy – the answer is no! Dogs are what you make them.

Great article a lot of accidents can easily be avoided through common sense.

I’ve just shared your post on my blog I hope you don’t mind, I’ve gave you recognition for the original article and linked back to here, If you don’t like people using your work please let me know and I will remove it.

Regards Ian.

I also am pleased to see someone who understands dog behavior writing an article like this. There is another point of course which is young children have a habit of using dogs like they do their toys and dolls, pulling them about, pulling their ears, getting them to chase them etc. I think many dogs have the patience of saints to be honest. We have 5 dogs, we’ve had ‘dangerous’ dogs, staffordshire bull terriers in the past who having been socialised well would sit and cuddle with our baby/toddler and cat without ever having a problem but I agree why would you leave them alone, there is no need to.

Yes, children under about the age of six don’t differentiate between animate and inanimate objects and do treat dogs like toys (mind you, so do some adults!) Just to clarify before someone else does, I don’t think that (even in inverted commas) it was your intention to call Staffordshire bull terriers “dangerous” – they are famously called “nanny-dogs” in the Black Country where they originated precisely because they are so good with children. However I completely agree that even this degree of tolerance should not be taken for granted when there is no need to leave any dog alone with children.

Excellent article. And I can honestly say that of the dog attacks we hear about, almost 100% could have been avoided by a bit of common sense on the part of the adults in the family. This particular tragedy – leaving a baby less than a week old, who had only been out of hospital 3 days, in a situation where it could be hurt by ANY dog, let alone a large, powerful, working breed with a strong prey drive, and which has only been in the family for a mater of weeks – was WHOLLY the responsibility of the parents.

Who knows – Perhaps they were worried that the baby would cry and they wouldn’t hear her, so they left the bedroom door open – fine – but shut the dog in the kitchen so that it can’t wander up the stairs.

A dog doesn’t need to be aggressive to hurt a small child – over-enthusiastic affection can lead to crushing, a bouncy dog can knock over a pram or cot, an anxious dog can scratch at an infant – parents have to be vigilant. The baby is precious and the dog is unaware.

And even if the dog hadn’t touched the child, this baby was recently released from intensive care – what if the dog’s dander had stimulated breathing problems, or something equally pedestrian?

Stupid parents + small child + unattended dog = tragedy

Thank you. But let’s not forget the heartache they must be going through. Nobody intends to be neglectful or forgetful, but we are all human.

Great article David. Looking forward to the seminar in Bookham in May re. the Dogs that Bite and Fight 🙂

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