First things first. I didn’t write this with you, dear reader, in mind. Let’s not make this about your dog or your parental decisions.
But there’s a problem with sharing that “cute” dog and baby picture. Maybe it’s somebody else’s photo. Maybe not. The important thing is that the problem is bigger than your individual situation, your family.
The problem is that posting a picture such as the one above sets an example and feeds a dangerous myth. A myth so dangerous that people die because of it. Children, especially, get hurt, and sometimes die because of it.
The myth is that good dogs, family dogs, your dogs—don’t bite. That dogs who bite are in some different classification. The myth says that dogs who live with us, dogs who like our kids, dogs who have always been “tolerant”—will stay that way, no matter what we or the kids do to them. The myth also says that dogs are supposed to take whatever kids dish out.
There’s even a whole genre of YouTube videos of dogs rocking cradles—usually either faked (a human or motor is doing the rocking) or a trained behavior. But what we see are those dogs with their heads right up close to babies again. And some of those dogs are stressed.
In about 80% of dog bites, the dog belongs to the victim’s family or someone they know, like a relative, caregiver, friend, or neighbor (Centers for Disease Control, 2001). We need to let go of our fantasy, our myth that family dogs won’t ever bite. They do.
When you post a picture of anybody’s dog with a very young child draped over him—hugging him; riding him; pulling his tongue, tail, or whiskers; or just plain sitting too close to him—and you Like it or share it or include an approving comment, you feed the myth. The myth that gets some people’s kids terribly hurt or killed, and dogs euthanized.
Dogs are animals. They can move at lightning speed. If you are six feet away, taking the picture, and the dog has his face right up next to your baby, you can’t get there near fast enough. Even if you are sitting right next to your child, the dog can still move faster than you.
A dog doesn’t have to be “vicious” or “mean” to bite. Sometimes all it takes is for him to be startled. Very young children, with their erratic movements, lack of fine motor skills, and exploratory natures, can stress out the most tolerant of dogs. It’s not fair to subject dogs to that. It’s not wise, either. Having a dog’s face, with that mouthful of teeth, up close to an infant’s head is an enormous risk. It’s not something to show off on social media.
Many people out there believed the myth until they learned otherwise. The hard way. The tragic way. Here are some actual quotes from real people—mostly parents—from news stories about dogs seriously biting children. The quotes took about 15 minutes of web searching to find. I promise—they are real.
“Fido” was super cuddly, the nicest dog you would ever imagine, and never once snapped … never growled, nothing. He never, never, never went after a person. I’m just in disbelief. —2015
In an apparently unprovoked attack, a 3-year-old child was bitten by a pet dog on Saturday…. The girl was playing with the 2-year-old dog just before noon when she was bitten on the top and back of the head. —2015
She said the bite was out of the blue. “Mary” has known and played with the dog for years. —2014
I stood in the kitchen with my friend and her dog and my little girl. It was completely out of the blue, he jumped at my girl and tried to headbutt her to put her to the floor. —2015
I don’t really know what happened. It was right behind me. My dog just went for her. They are like best buddies. I don’t know what happened. —2014
He said the dog had no previous biting incidents, which is why he didn’t think anything of turning his back while his daughter went to play with the dog. —2014
The dogs had given no prior indication of behaving in this way, it was an attack out of the blue. —2015
The dogs had been observed many times in their home environment prior to and following the baby’s birth, and that “during these times they were very friendly.” —2022
He’d been absolutely fine for almost a year. Until that point he had been perfect with the kids. He was well trained and we’d never had any issues with him.—2022
What I didn’t include in the above quotes are the clues that were often just a few sentences away in the news story. The bites rarely come without warning, if one only knows how to read the signs. Perhaps the dog just got back from the vet after getting some shots. Maybe there’s a brand new dog in the household. Perhaps it is mentioned in passing that the dog doesn’t really like his tail pulled (but the child did it anyway). Maybe the dog has growled in the past, and the owners punished him for it. (That’s a bad idea, by the way.)
Shooting Down the Myth
Maybe I can’t persuade you that your dog has the potential to do animal things. Perhaps you really do have the single most tolerant dog in the world. Can I persuade you not to share those pictures, anyway? Your own or anybody else’s? Sharing them feeds the myth. If you share, you are implicitly condoning dangerous practices. You are encouraging others to let their kids get too close to their dogs and let them do uncomfortable things to the dogs for the sake of the myth, the romantic noble dog meme, that 15 minutes of Facebook fame.
There’s nothing new about what I’ve written here. (For instance, check out the second and third articles listed below.) Trainers and behaviorists cringe whenever they see photos like the two above because probably this very week they have seen several very nice family dogs who bit a child “out of the blue.” The parents were loving and well intentioned, but they grew up with the myth, and they still see social media saturated with it.
Let’s stop it now. Please don’t post or repost that picture. Please don’t take that picture. Please don’t let your child and dog interact that way.
Do learn about dog body language. Do keep your children and dog safe. Do check out the resources below on how to do that. Most of them have multiple, excellent articles on the subject.
Help educate people about safe practices with dogs and children. You can share the materials below instead of sharing that photo. Thank you!
- Learn to Speak Dog and Teach Your Kids —Doggone Safe
- Should You Share That Cute Dog and Baby Photo? —Dogs and Babies Learning
- Beyond the “Awww” of Viral Media —Family Paws
- Children and Dogs —Your Dog’s Friend
- Why Supervising Dogs and Kids Doesn’t Work —Robin Bennett
Addendum: Some people have been concerned about sharing **this** post because of the photo. Great point! I debated whether to include any, but finally did because I felt I needed examples of what I’m talking about. I hope my narrative sheds a different light on these kinds of photos. Please do share the blog post if you are moved to do so.
© Copyright Eileen Anderson 2015