Why Some Pet Photos Make Me Nervous

Call me an uptight veterinarian or an overanxious mom if you like, but I get a deep-in-the-gut unsettled feeling every time I view a particular type of pet photo that has become all the rage these days, particularly on Facebook. I’ll bet you’ve seen these photos- the ones in which pets and young children are posed together. Have you seen the one of the newborn baby practically buried under the massive head of the family dog? How about the image of a young child carrying (dangling) a kitty by one leg? And then there is the photo that frightens me the most- the one in which a youngster is face-to-face with the muzzle of a dog, and the expression on that dog’s face is usually one of confusion or subjugation. When I view these images I cringe, wondering if and when that animal is going to lash out at that young child. I have the desire to shake the photographer while screaming, “Danger, danger!” These “kids and pets” photos are as anxiety producing for me as a high budget suspense movie.

Big Ben

I’d like to tell you about Ben, a patient of mine many years ago who helped set the stage for my “nervous condition”. One or two adults along with two young children typically accompanied this lovely Saint Bernard to his appointments with me. The children were always busy interacting with their dog. At any given moment one might be dragging Ben around the room by his collar. Whenever Ben did manage to lie down, he was treated him like a beanbag chair, the two children leaping and falling onto his soft belly. Ben always remained the gentle giant, ridiculously tolerant of the children’s disrespectful behavior. My attempts to tactfully educate the parents about setting limits for their kids failed miserably. They reassured me that their children were simply demonstrating love for Ben who, in return, would never dole out anything but affection.

I was saddened but not surprised to receive a phone call from the children’s mother asking if I knew of anyone who might be willing to adopt Ben right away, and it needed to be a home without children. It seems that Ben finally snapped, both literally and figuratively. He bit the youngest child in the face prompting an emergency room visit and extensive reconstructive surgery. The child would be permanently scarred (likely emotionally as well as physically) and the family needed to rehome Ben or have him put to sleep. Given the bite history, a suitable home for Ben could not be found. I remember crying as I set about the task of euthanizing my beautiful and dignified patient.

Respect and safety

When it comes to teaching young children about interacting with animals, I am all about two things: respect and safety. The respect part of the equation translates into a child behaving gently and kindly towards animals- no tugging on ears or tails, placing fingers inside mouths, pulling on collars, using the animal as a body pillow, lifting the animal without help from a grownup, or interrupting sleep or meals. Such respect is not intuitive for most youngsters. It is something that must be taught and carefully supervised- no different than when teaching other important life lessons such as the danger of running into the street.

The safety piece is simple. Neither the child nor the animal should sustain injury as a result of their interactions. I would need dozens more fingers and toes to count the number of animals I have treated who have been unintentionally injured, often seriously, by the actions of a young child. Flip the coin and ask seasoned emergency room physicians how many young children they have treated who were injured by the family pet. They too would need more fingers and toes. Be it the child or the animal who is injured, in most cases they are victims of adults not paying attention.

What you can do

Here are some things you can do to enhance safe and respectful interactions between young children and animals. Feel free to add to the list:

  • Actively teach young children how to interact with animals in a gentle, respectful fashion. Role model this behavior every chance you get.
  • Be reminded that every animal is capable of unpredictable behavior. Never leave a young child unsupervised with an animal, even if that animal happens to be the beloved family pet.
  • An eating or sleeping animal is wearing a “do not disturb” sign which should be respected.
  • If your pet enjoys spending time in a crate or other small, enclosed shelter, consider this to be their sacred space and bar young children from entering.
  • Avoid subjecting your pet to unnatural, uncomfortable poses for the sake of a photo!

Do you have young children and pets? How closely do you supervise their interactions?

Best wishes,

Nancy Kay, DVM

Diplomate, American College of Veterinary Internal Medicine
Author of Speaking for Spot: Be the Advocate Your Dog Needs to Live a Happy, Healthy, Longer Life
Author of Your Dog’s Best Health: A Dozen Reasonable Things to Expect From Your Vet
Recipient, Leo K. Bustad Companion Animal Veterinarian of the Year Award
Recipient, American Animal Hospital Association Animal Welfare and Humane Ethics Award
Recipient, Dog Writers Association of America Award for Best Blog
Recipient, Eukanuba Canine Health Award
Recipient, AKC Club Publication Excellence Award
Become a Fan of Speaking for Spot on Facebook

Please visit http://www.speakingforspot.com to read excerpts from Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health.   There you will also find “Advocacy Aids”- helpful health forms you can download and use for your own dog, and a collection of published articles on advocating for your pet’s health. Speaking for Spot and Your Dog’s Best Health are available at www.speakingforspot.com, Amazon.com, local bookstores, and your favorite online book seller.


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90 Comments on “Why Some Pet Photos Make Me Nervous

  1. ets and trainers – we are the ones who see when the dog-child thing goes wrong. But for most families with dogs and children nothing bad happens, and this has been the case for time immemorial. Of course, there are tragic exceptions. Animals, including PEOPLE can be unpredicatable. A child is in much more danger, statistically, from their own parents than the family dog, sadly.

    With those qustionable picutres, and many of them are, there is an adult there–taking the picture. And back in the day, before industrialization, it was quite common for the whole family to work in the field. While a dog–a SOUND DOG mind you, actually, god forbid, watching an infant under a tree while the family worked nearby.

    We have become quite detached from the natural world and even believe we can “rehabilitate” dogs that show reactive, unprovoked aggression toward children. Dogs as indivuduals and types have different thresholds in terms of body sensitivity and startle reaction (a staffordshire bull terrier and a sheep dog will not react the same when a child jumps on them). A SOUND bull dog is far more predicable than your babysitter. Check this out if you want to see some real disturbing child-dog interaction (child, same size as dog,is on dog that is on its back and grabbing every part of dog and rolling around with it!)


    But I will say, allowing a child to handle a sound dog living in your home in questionable ways, is setting the child up to get bit by, if not the dog in the home, an unsound less tolerant dog that the child is unfamiliar with. I have seen too many kids with dogs they handle questionably in the home go up to a strange dog, even with parents in tow, and do the same and get bit.

  2. I have to agree with the Nancy Kay on this one. Teaching respect for animals is a HUGE part of being a responsible pet parent. I have a dog who I have found myself on a zillion occasions saying, “He wouldn’t hurt a fly”, yet when a child approaches me at the park and asks to pet him I immediately get down on the ground and ensure the dog is prepared for company. I coach the child on how to approach my dog (“Put your hand out, palm up, so he can smell you” and “Gently touch his fur, it’s really soft here on his side”), as I’m aware of all his sweet spots. I ensure I keep his head and face in MY hands, and I watch very closely to ensure his hair doesn’t get pulled and nobody pats him too hard. He is very receptive to being played with by strangers, however he is still an unpredictable animal deep down.

    I am constantly being approached by children who are playing outside without their parents, and I am always nervous in those situations. I strongly prefer that a parent is supervising the child if they come near my dog. Parents should insist that their children only approach strange animals in their presence. However I still take responsibility for teaching appropriate interactions, as HE is my responsibility.

    As a child we had pets (a dog and a cat) and we were always taught how to appropriately interact with them. My parents were very quick to teach us when it was okay to play with the pets and when it wasn’t, and if either of us ever played too rough it was stopped immediately. We’ve never had an aggressive pet (4 dogs and 1 cat later) and I definitely have my parents to thank. They set a great example and they raised our animals to be kind and even-tempered, and they never felt the need to use raised voices or physical force.

    RIP, Big Ben.

  3. This is nonsense.

    Parents needing to be responsible for their children’s actions? You’re living in a dream world. Far easier to find someone to sue.

    (and without my sarcastic hat on – an excellent article. Poor Ben.)

  4. I wholeheartedly agree….it makes the hairs on the back of my neck stand up….and i reiterate “IT IS NEVER A DOGS FAULT!!!!

  5. Kids don’t understand how dogs minds work. To them, the dog is a toy or another person and the dog is neither. I had to separate one of my toddlers and our old dog. We have a new puppy and even my 10 and 13 year olds have trouble with the respect concept sometimes. So supervision and training is important. Crate the dog or gate her on a separate floor if you have the space, and keep the noise and energy level down when the dog is near. Teach the kids appropriate games and acitivities and repremand them for pulling ears or hurting the dog. No one wants a tragedy, be it human or canine. Thank you for the reminder.

  6. I disagree to some extent. I had a cat (passed away 5 years ago now :( ) I obtained said cat when i was 11 years old, and mauled that thing, dressed it up, carted it around, typical things a 11 year old does with a kitten, I never injured it or caused any pain. Fast forward 3 years or so and my parents were throwing a bbq, and a neighbouring family’s kids had gotten a hold of my cat, and were being awful to it, and threw him in the air, and he did not hurt any of them, and accidentally scratched me, but he would never and never did retaliate or attack a child. He knew it was a nono.

    Same with the dogs we’ve owned, they all had early sensory training and know that if they don’t like something/someone barking and growling is ok, but never biting. In the contracts of all the dogs my mom sells, new owners go through like 2 week trial periods and sign things stating that they are aware that if a person is at fault for causing a dog to attack that she will remove the dog from their home. If a kid tries to pick up a males by his bits, and a parent complains, my mother just asks how they;d feel if that happened to them….

  7. ANY dog, no matter how well trained, has limits. It’s important to supervise children with dogs to make sure those limits are not breached. There may be early warning signs, like the dog trying to get away from the child or growling. But if the dog is then cornered (or startled), it can easily nip or bite. What other vocabulary does it have if it has tried everything else to no avail?
    Picture yourself: if someone corners you & won’t let you get by, how would you feel? if they then started poking you or touching you or crowding you? Your instinct will be to yell at them & strike their arms away (or worse) to get free. It’s not fair to allow your pet to be put in that position.

  8. I just want to add a note as a grandparent. When my two little grandsons come to visit a couple of times a year, we have a zero tolerance, 100% safety rule. The dogs and the kids don’t interact at all. Our dogs are not used to young children, and the children don’t have a dog. We believe that protection is the safest route for the children and the dogs too. Thank you Dr. Kay for cautioning all dog guardians. As a shelter volunteer I see too many tragic cases.

  9. As a small breeder of Cane Corso’s i cringe when i see those photos. There is an old adage in the “horse world” that says: if he has feet he can kick & if he has teeth he can bite!
    I love my dogs so much so that I’d probably die for them. But i never forget that they are: ANIMALS FIRST- then pets. Most people don’t understand that. There is a whole different” rule of conduct” in their world. I have seen them snap at each other causing wounds & later on snuggle up together in their beds.
    People are the main cause of most Bad dogs behavior!!!! Their lack of knowledge combined with the fact that they humanize them, causes most of the problems.
    Teach your kids respect for animals & NEVER LEAVE AN INFANT OR CHILD ALONE WITH A DOG.
    Many a dog would be alive today if the parents were educated in basic animal handling —the DO’S & DON’TS FOR PET OWNERS.

  10. Thank you for echoing my fears. As a trainer, I cringe when I see those photos

  11. Educate your children as well as your pets. I cannot tell you how many times my wonderful but massive lab has stepped on my toe (for example) Completely by mistake but it hurts and once in a blue moon depending on my mood I get very angry and I yell at her now imagine if an animal is hurt my mistake that bad in that kind of mood they have no other way to communicate their pain but to lash out they don’t understand that it’s a child they just know “Ouch that hurts STOP” The biggest mistake MOST people make is forgetting that a dog is not a person they need to be taught and treated with respect to understand and they are not invincible and without flaw.

    The way a child behaves is a reflection on their parents(Or caregiver).
    The way an animal behaves is a reflection on their owners.

    Spend 1 hour with my chihuahua today and an hour with him 5 years ago when I rescued him, you will understand.

  12. We have a boxer mix who came from a very obviously bad situation. He has only three legs and mild food aggression (which has gotten better with patience and reassurance). I have worked with rescued dogs for years, but my husband and his two kids have never been around them. Before we got the dog, we went to my dad’s house to see his two dogs and show the kids what being around dogs would be like. The little girl (6 at the time) was fine. The little boy (then 4) was not. Worse yet, he didn’t want to listen to us. He pulled my dad’s collie mix’s tail. The little boy was nearly bit and spent a good portion of time blaming the dog. We told him what he had done wrong, but it didn’t seem to do a lot of good. When we first had the puppy, he tried doing the same thing, despite us sitting right there telling him not to. He continued this behaviour for a while. Finally what I had to do was pull the little hairs on the back of his head. He turned around indignant and crying asking why I had done that. I asked him if he liked it. Of course, he answered no. I told him there was no way that our dog liked it either. He never pulled tails again.

    Unfortunately with them, I wasn’t able to really teach them from the beginning. With our 4 month old, he is being raised with dogs. The dog and baby are inseparable already. The dog can’t be told to be away from him. Both will be taught mutual respect. That said, I have a ton of adorable pictures of the two of them. One was taken spontaneously. It is of my boxer mix laying his head on the baby’s tummy looking up at him. He did it totally on his own and I just so happened to have the camera ready. I shooed his head away shortly after. Now he just insists on laying next to the baby in whatever way he can. He was trained to be gentle with the baby from the day we brought him home and as soon as our son can understand, he will be taught as well.

  13. I know that we had a little dog… raised him from a puppy and treated him like a family member… and a little girl that had been at our home almost as much as our own (my best friends little daughter) was leaning over patting his head… (something she had done dozens of times) and he lunged and bit.. Sinking a tooth in her pretty little face and just missing her eye. Their animals people….. ANIMALS. Never say your dog won’t bite.. and NEVER set up a situation where it can.

  14. I admit I’m new to the dog world, but in that short time I have educated myself and made sure to share with members of my family. I never knew about calming signals. Neither did my husband who has had dogs all his life. Now that we know what to watch for in our dog, we can remove him from situations before they occur. I watch his body language when we are out with him, and remove him from situations I am not sure what his body language is saying. Owners should be more aware of what their dogs are telling them. I see it all the time at pet stores.

  15. What worries me the most about some of these reponses is that people believe a trained dog = 100% trust.
    That would be the same as saying “I taught my child to share and not to hit, so I can leave him alone in the playground.”
    Even when they know the rules, there are exceptionnal situations in which they must break them. Your 3 year old throwing a tantrum and hitting another may be embarassing, but your dog biting a child can be life-threatening.
    Trusting a well-mannered and well-trained pet does not exclude common sense and safety. All those stories of “We trusted him adn one day he snapped” are not from bad owners, don’t assume it can’t happen to you. Do you really want to be the one to look back and wish you had done something differently?

  16. ive had my dog since he was 3months old and he is now 5, although i love him dearly and have seen how attached he is to my 4yr old and 2yr old sons i still watch him for cues. i reinforce the idea of being gentle with puppy to my sons and if they pull his tail or get too rough i stop them. i personally dont want my sons OR my dog getting hurt. however, my dog isnt food aggressive and has been taught this from the beginning, my 4year old loves to feed him and yes i do supervise while my son puts the food in his bowl and then puppy is left alone to eat. i think its a parent – both pet parent and human parent – responsibility to monitor both “babies” and teach them the right way of interaction.

  17. Wow all I”m gonna say I agree with Daniel 1000% on all accounts. the dog should be taught to tolerate children, and there should NEVER be food aggression every member of my family including my 6 year old can feed my dogs and take the food away. at the same time the dogs are taught to eat together they should never show aggression towards each other either. both the dog and the children need to be taught manner and respect for each other. If you can’t trust your dog then you should not have the dog period. Also there are many rescues that would have taken him in even with his bite history. not sure how long you looked but it really surprises me he had to be put down.

  18. We also had an unprovoked attack. This was a dog we rescued at a year old. He must have been crate abused but how were we to know. We had Cooper for 3 years and he was a very loving, big baby. We didn’t think he could hurt a flea. But he was a big dog and we were always aware of how strong he was. One Sunday morning, Cooper crated himself up as he realized we were getting ready for church. The door to the crate was open so he was just sitting in it. My husband, not thinking, reached his hand in to scratch his head but must of startled him. He turned around and snapped. He bit off a half an inch off of one of my husband’s fingers. It was sad that it happened and you could tell on Cooper’s face that he was just as surprised as my husband was. The look on the dog’s face was that he couldn’t believe he bit dad! We loved him dearly but with our daughter & all her friends in and out of the house, we couldn’t have him do that to one of them. Had it been our daughter’s hand, it would have been half gone. We were saddened to have to put him down but it was the right thing to do in the situation.

  19. I applaud this article. I plan to print it out and take it into the veterinary office in which I work. Too many times I have heard an owner say, “Oh, Fluffy won’t bite! He wouldn’t hurt a fly!” two seconds before the animal latches on to the owner, me, or one of my coworkers. Judging by some of the comments, there are some people who are failing to understand this article. It’s not an attack on good dogs (or any dogs for that matter). It serves as a reminder that all it takes for an animal to lash out (even the good dogs…believe me, I’ve seen it) is for it to be startled, scared, or in pain. I have been in the industry for 12 years…and I have seen my fair share of animals that “would never bite”. I’m not saying I don’t trust animals (although, it is healthy to have a rational fear…one brought on by experience). I don’t fear animals. I respect them. Kids don’t always show animals that respect…because kids are kids. It takes a bit of knowledge on the parent’s part to pass that down to them. And it’s up to the parents to train the dog, too.

    I have had several experiences in which the owners have euthanized their dog because it bit one of their children. One that still haunts me is a sweet mixed breed dog. I knew him very well because he boarded with us all of the time. I watched him grow up from a puppy to a happy 3 year old dog. We NEVER had a problem with him at the office. He never so much as even growled at anyone there. He bit one of their kids on the leg, and we urged them to monitor the dog’s time with their kids. They didn’t listen. Several months later he bit one of the kid’s friends. When they couldn’t find him a home (I wanted to take him, but I unfortunately don’t have the room) they opted for euthanasia. I cried a river. Sometimes I still cry when I think about him. I’ll never forget one of my coworkers saying, “I have no problem seeing aggressive dogs euthanized. He bit two people.” I still haven’t forgiven her for that comment. Because the truth is…he was not a bad dog. The owners didn’t pay attention to what the kids where doing to him. Turns out…one of the kids had kicked him in the jaw before the dog bit him. Pissed me off.

    The point that this lovely veterinarian (and I) am trying to make is that you should not blame the dog for bad behavior. Most of the time it falls back on the person. I love my dog with all of my heart. Do I trust him implicitly 100%? No…because he is a dog. He doesn’t have a conscious mind to tell him that biting someone is wrong. All he has is his instincts. It’s up to me to NOT trigger them.

  20. Maybe they are taking picture’s of their babies with their pets because they KNOW their pet very well? If the dog is good but has a history of rough nips while playing or jumping up I’m sure the owner still wouldn’t even put it near a newborn baby. I understand that some dogs seem to have “mean mug” faces…but it does not mean they are violent, which you would think you’d know, being a veterinarian and all. Don’t forget, back in the late 1800’s/early 1900’s pit bulls and boxers were not used as fighters but instead as nanny’s to leave the babies with while the parents would go out. Another thing, I raised my dog, a male black lab, rotweiler, pit bull mix, from the time he was old enough to leave his mother and he is not unpredictable at all. He does not snap or turn on me and never will, he is great with children and people with special needs. I know him to the core, and I have dedicated my life to training him properly. Some people are actually close enough with their animal friends to know what the reaction is going to be. As for the story of “Ben”, he was probably a generic household dog that wasn’t properly given the attention he really needed. Partially neglected as the parents worked all day, left in a kennel when alone in the house, and when is there time for any true day long walks when there are two young children in the household? Dogs are not meant to be left in a kennel all day, or be owned by busy parents or people who work constantly, they should all have access to country to run in and constant attention just as a human child would. It is true that some dog’s are violent, for sure, but that is completely the owners fault for not controlling or training the dog properly, or from abusing/neglecting it.

  21. I think it’s really important for me to make a note of something you didn’t address.
    Animals do not need to be mistreated, nor children unsupervised for accidents to happen.
    I had a wonderful dog, who had been a family member for years, pre-children, who sadly fell ill while I was at work. My child and I came home and I was hanging up her backpack, she reached out to pet him and he reacted and bit her. It involved ER visit and this was in a home with lots of boundaries and supervision. It happened in seconds, I was within arms reach at the time. I found out from his vet that he had lost his vision at some time that day and was in horrible pain. :( When he hear her scream I could actually see him recoil in what seemed like horror… and the whole thing broke my heart. He wasn’t able to recover and I still miss him. It was an accident.
    Animals, even beloved ones, come with sharp teeth that can hurt. Please, use caution and know that it can happen even with supervision.

  22. Dr. Kay,

    While I agree with most of you list of things to do/not do, I believe you have left off a large and crucial piece of the puzzle..train the dog! I have, as the “number one alpha” made sure my dogs are accustomed to some of the things my child or some other child might do to my dogs. You say in the article, “no tugging on ears or tails, placing fingers inside mouths, pulling on collars, using the animal as a body pillow, lifting the animal without help from a grownup, or interrupting sleep or meals.” I have tugged every part of my dogs that a child could possibly wrap its little hands around (tail, ears, hair, male parts, etc.), I make sure my dogs have no food aggression by taking their food away (myself, my wife, my son, and anyone else I can do this to ensure they are relegated to lower status than all humans), I put my fingers in their mouths at least once a week so they know IF it happens they are not to bite down, I wake up my dogs while they are sleeping by touching them different places, I use them as pillows daily, and a collar is control tool that is used for pulling the dogs. As pointed out in the article, you must train the child, and supervised interaction should be done. I trust my dogs because I have put in the time to train them. Still, my son knows with our dogs he has rules he must obey, and there are more stringent rules for other peoples dogs, because I do not know how they are trained. If a child is trained properly..accidents will still happen. Accidents happen, but it is a childs parents and/or pet parents responsibility to set rules, train, and correct both the child and the dog. I have scars from being bitten by one of my dogs, but it was my fault. I learned a lesson, the dog got corrected for the action of biting so if that scenario happened again he would not bite again, and life went on. It really all comes down to something that is lacking in a lot of people..RESPONSIBILITY!

  23. I am appalled at the amount of breeders who will sell pups to families with young children. My son grew up with Rottweilers, they all shared biscuits and love but the rotties knew their place and never encroached on it. They were never left alone for a second and my son learned respect for the dogs at very early age.
    It was a normal occurrence for my son to fall asleep on the sofa with one of the rotties and the dog would never move until he woke up.

    And as for the above commenst, maybe you should lean that Vets unfortunately have to adhere to owners wishes whether they agree with it or not . And if I had a snappy dog it would not get anywhere near children it would be put in a safe environment until the children had left.

  24. When I was around 3 or 4 my father had a police trained German Shepard and I was always warned not to go anywhere near him, but as an ignorant child I decided to try to make friends with this dog one afternoon. Luckily that’s all I remember until coming to in the car to the emergency room. He had mauled the back of my head and I still have those scar’s today. My sister brought home Chow who had been abused by his first owner and had issue’s with people getting in his face or even hugging him. My sister thought this dog would hate me due to an issue I won’t go into but the dog became my best friend and protector or my niece and nephew and would actually hop on my back anytime I had to correct the children because the would scream bloody murder just over a couple of lite spanks, I was not abusing the children but as their primary caretaker I had to correct them from time to time. Well one afternoon my niece is getting close to Cody’s face and I had to warn her several times not to do that. She then decided to hug him and it brought back bad memories of being chocked as a pup. Needless to say Cody nipped he on the cheek and stop leaving her with a life time dimple. I refuse to give up the animal because it was her fault and she had been warned constantly not to do more than pet him. About a month later my stupid sister comes home drunk and get down on the floor and get’s right in his face, let me say my sister looks very male and this didn’t sit with the dog and he nipped her in the nose ripping one of her nostril’s. Needless to say she called the original owners and made them take Cody back. It wasn’t but a few months later she tells me that Cody turned on his male owner and he had to have over 29 stiches to his face needles to say he went and got his gun and put him down. I still feel bad for this animal because of the way he was treated through out it’s life and I was the only person this dog actually loved and I him. Since my experience as a child I had learned how to communicate both verbally and nonverbally with animals and can teach any animal my intent and bond with them and it’s all about know that animal’s nature and what it was domesticated to do.

  25. As a pet owner, but not a parent, this kind of thing concerns me too. There are kids in our family, and our dog is welcome at many family functions. Teaching the kids to respect her has proved to be a challenge, but not necessarily because of the kids. It’s because of the ADULTS. There are some people in the family who didn’t quite understand dog-child interactions, and tend to “enable” certain behaviors (both from the dog and the children) that can cause problems down the road. It’s also hard to get adults to fully understand that even if the dog is the sweetest thing ever, if she’s scared, hurt, or frustrated, she MIGHT lash out, and I’m not willing to take that risk (she’s not CGC certified, which I’ve heard can help prove that a dog was severely provoked).

    I’ve seen our 25lb dog jump up on one of the kids to get food, and have been the only adult to do anything about it (ask the kid to eat at the table), while other adults said she could just hold the food out of the dog’s way (thus teasing her) and “be careful”. I heard from someone who was baby-sitting and dog-sitting at the same time how funny it was when our dog barked back at the 2 year old boy screaming in her ear, as they laughed about how startled the little boy was. I even got to see a 3 year old kick at my dog and laugh, which earned her a SWIFT time out and a stern (but understandable at that age) “you cannot kick the dog” talking to, while her mother got a “you have to teach the kid better dog manners and pay attention to your kid around dogs” talking to, because she stood by and watched it happen. :sigh:

    I lost it one time at the dinner table in front of the entire family, not-so-nicely explaining that if something were to happen, *I* would ultimately be responsible, and I hope they didn’t find the fact that if my dog hurt a child, my dog would have to be put down, funny. I made it clear that this particular person was no longer allowed to watch the dog, and that they needed to not allow that kind of behavior–from both the dog and kids–to continue, especially if they wanted a dog and kids of their own down the road. Fortunately, I’ve been able to maintain that, and have not had the dog in a situation where she’s in danger of being hurt, or hurting someone else, since.

    I still have to police things when we’re all together though, because now the kids are at the “chase” stage, where they want to play with the dog and love on her, and don’t understand that when she runs from them, that means she wants to be alone. Working on explaining that… but it’s hard when the chasers are 1 and 4 and their parents don’t bother doing anything. Ugh! When a parent doesn’t parent their kids, it’s hard to make dog rules stick, you know?

  26. We have a dog that I’m almost positive has been hurt by a toddler as a puppy. When I found him, he was in a pen out on a huge ranch. It was obvious this litter was not a priority – third one they had “by mistake”. Anyway they had a two year old boy that was allowed to “play” with the puppies unsupervised. I can only imagine the whacking, and dropping and who knows what else that went on, because now our dog (had from 8 weeks) is so afraid if a hand comes quickly towards him, or a stranger tries to pet him. There are quite a few things about him that are just not natural, normal good ol dog.
    It’s a shame. He was abused.

  27. I agree with Dr Kay also….Dogs are animals, they can’t tell us, verbaly, when they are angry or hurt. I never let my grandkids do what kids are likely to do to pets…even when they love said pets. Watch–always watch when kids and animals are together…and of course teach them how to treat an animal

  28. Hear Hear Dr. Kay!

    @Monica She DID warn the owners. Did you even read the article?

    You know, this part?

    “My attempts to tactfully educate the parents about setting limits for their kids failed miserably. They reassured me that their children were simply demonstrating love for Ben who, in return, would never dole out anything but affection.”

    The parents did nothing against the law, despite it being dangerous and completely irresponsible, and its pretty common for people to have the same attitude as Ben’s family. Not many vets would even broach the subject matter, many pet owners don’t like to be told how to raise their pet, they feel “No one knows my dog like I do, he would never hurt my babies”, kinda like your snappy poodle who you say your nieces KNOW the limits for? I would hope that means ALWAYS under supervision. I say kudos that she was brave enough to warn the owners. Finding a home for a large breed dog with a child bite history is a HUGE LIABILITY, and it needed to be done immediately. Working innrescue, I can tell you while it hurts to hear that a home couldn’t have been found, I am not surprised, as it is beyond challanging to say the least. Vets have a liablility, the onus is not on the vet to find a home, it is one the OWNERS! A vet cannot simply refuse to the euthanize a dog with a bite history if no one will take it immediately. Where will it go? Most humane societies would euthanize the dog immediately. Are there some rescues that would try to find a dog like this a home? Yes, but they are few and far inbetween. Why would you lay blame on the vet? She did everything right.

    There is nothing that irks me more than irresponsible pet owners. So many tragedies happen to beautiful, loving, trusting dogs because owners don’t use their brains. Dogs are animals, with pretty sharp instincts. Think about it, you are just asking for trouble letting a young child use any dog as a toy or get into the face of ANY dog, regardless of the size. I wish more people would speak out on this issue, so thank you for being one of the voices of reason and safety.

  29. Monica, she did warn them numerous times, they like millions of other pet owners didn’t listen. Because of the severity of the bite no one would help. Maybe there wasn’t a rescue at the time. No date was given to when this happened. We don’t have the right to judge as we don’t have all the details, just a bit of an educational story.
    I raised my daughters to leave the dog alone when sleeping or eating. BUT I stuck my hands in dishes and scruffled fur as I went by. Most of my dogs give “kisses”. I have one who is grouchy. She will let you know don’t touch me or even don’t look at me. I let her get away with this more than normal because she is sick and I will lose her one day. I train my pit pups by tugging on tails and ears and skin, but I also train children not to do this. I do it as I am the pack leader and want them to know it. I run my hands in their food and will touch them while eating and I don’t have to worry about sleeping because we are all in the same bed. I have my spot and they know it. But then again, I am pack leader.

  30. As a mother of a daughter who has been attacked by dogs — not once but twice, BOTH unprovoked, I love this article. Dogs are dogs. They aren’t human and they don’t think the way we do so we can’t expect their actions to make sense. Seeing your baby being wheeled off to surgery because of an animal attack is definitely not worth a photo op. Thanks for this article.

  31. Hey Monica, I understand where you are coming from and I know it is difficult to understand without the experience of working within the veterinary profession. In a case like Ben’s, when a dog owner is immediately looking to get rid of a dog because of behavioral purposes, things can be very difficult. The Doctor explained that the family could not find a home for Ben because he mauled a child, unfortunately due to the ignorance of her clients who refused to educate their children on properly respecting animals despite her repetitive recommendations to teach them. This is such a sad story, because Ben seems like he was a truly wonderful canine, but when you think about it his options were very limited. Find a new home, surrender (80% chance of being put in the gas chamber or mass-euthanization) or euthanization by a veterinarian that cares. If Ben’s vet had refused to euthanize, they would have just gone elsewhere. Since pets are (unfortunately) peoples property, it can often times put veterinarians into a very difficult place. Instead of being accusatory toward the Medical Doctor who truly does dedicate her life to animal welfare, try to understand the reality and spread awareness to friends, family and strangers on the proper ways to respect pets, so that sad things like this can hopefully reduce in frequency.

  32. And I learned years ago when I was doing shelter work, that I had to define what I meant by supervision: to me it means that the adult is within arm’s reach of the child or the dog at all times and is paying attention – not talking on a cell, not driving, not chatting with a friend or glancing through a magazine.

    Thanks for the great piece!

  33. I agree 100% with Dr. Kay. Very young children reach out and grab suddenly, run suddenly, kick suddenly, do pretty much everything suddenly, and dogs react to sudden movements instinctively, no matter how good and gentle the dog usually is. A dog doesn’t like to have anyone’s face up against his and may bite, which I learned the hard way when I was a kid. I assume that after some of those child-and-dog photos were taken, the next scene was not so cute as the dog reacted badly to having a child in his space. Sometimes the expression on the dog’s face is so obviously a warning that the photographer must be blind not to see it. An adult who understands dog behavior would not lie on a dog, grab a dog, get in a dog’s face, etc., and children should be taught not to do these things as well.

  34. Very well pointed out! This is so important, we need to raise awareness on how to be around dogs (and other animals as well), how to treat them and how to read their body language. Thank you for such a great article about this issue!

  35. I just posted a link to this page as a comment on the Iams ad video on youtube noted by Mary Ann above (http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=ZXXXTD2iKUU). The video is configured such that the uploader (Iams) has to review comments in order for them to appear. Wonder if it will get through…

  36. I cringe every time my 80 pound daughter lies on my 65 pound terrier mix. I am constantly telling her that Skeeter is not a body pillow. I cringe when my husband picks him up to “snuggle” on the couch. He always comes running over to me when he finally “escapes”. Skeeter is a rescue whose history we do not know. The only pictures I take of my kids with our dog is where they are interacting appropriately. Playing catch, running around in the back yard or lying beside each other on the carpet, my daugher’s arm around her big black friend, his muzzle well away from her face. Skeeter is not a face licker, so it’s rare that he would have his face in a person’s face, but kids are kids and need to know that an animal is unpredictable. Shame on parents who think treating an animal like a toy is appropriate.

  37. THANK YOU!!

    As a St. Bernard owner myself, with a 16-month old son, stories like this both anger and sadden me.

    Dogs are animals. Period. No matter how well trained, how ‘sweet and gentle’ they are animals. And, when push comes to shove, will defend themselves (justifiably) in the only manner they are able.

    Our dog and son are NEVER alone together, nor do they play together even when we’re there. At 16 months, our son does not understand boundaries and dog body language. Our dog, who is still a puppy (a 150 pound and growing puppy) still doesn’t fully understand how big he is, and that our son is small.

    People are always rolling their eyes when we explain that when our son is playing, dogs are out of the room. Period. We would never let anything happen to EITHER of them.

  38. I knew a family that had a beautiful Chow. He had been their family dog for quite a few years without incident. Their kids were grown. One day, the husband came home to find his wife on the floor of the kitchen being attacked by the dog. It happened when she momentarily got between him and his food dish, which happened almost every time she walked through the kitchen. No one really knows what caused him to snap, and they likely never will. It could be he was suffering from some kind of illness and was in pain, but there’s no way to know. Truly a sad situation as the dog had to be put down (the wife survived but had extensive scarring). If that kind of thing can happen, then extreme caution should be used with small children around a dog of any size. My husband (he’s no longer with me) picked up two pit bull puppies one day without telling me and brought them home. It would have been fine if he had been working to train them, but he wasn’t. Any attempts I made at training them were undone by my husband’s lackadaisical attitude. I eventually had to turn them in to a shelter because he was gone and I couldn’t handle them at all. They started escaping their pen and I was afraid they were going to hurt someone. It was very unfair to the dogs, because if they had received proper training right from the start, they would have been really good dogs. I won’t get a dog now because I don’t have the time to train them or be with them at all during the day, and it’s not fair to coop up the dog all day. No one should get a dog unless they are willing to put in the time and effort to train them and those that interact with them.

  39. I often take one or two of my sweetest Papillions to Home Depot with me. One is shy but the tiniest one loves everyone in the store. Parents always ask if their child can pet them. I say yes about the little one and explain the larger one is too shy and grown up only. I then crouch down and explain how gentle and slow they need to be. It always amazes me how they listen and mimic me. But I watch my dog like a hawk to be sure her posture and attitude says happy and unthreatened. Girls seem to get the gentle thing better than boys.
    I hope the vet sent out an urgent email to all clients and offered a class to the idiots who refuse to learn. Dogs are domesticated but in reality at the bottom they are wild animals. Respect them as such and do not use ignorance as an excuse. It costs lives!