Children, dogs, and safety

Yesterday afternoon I heard my neighbor calling out to her little foster daughters, who obviously weren’t responding, because she kept calling over and over. It occurred to me that sometimes she lets the girls come over and pet our dog, so I thought perhaps I should go outside to check on things. I have never known our dog, Suzie, to even snap at people, much less nip or bite, unless she was hurt. She’s as gentle and patient as the day is long. Normally if any stranger comes into the yard, she lopes up to them, tongue out and tail wagging, wanting to be petted. But, still, you never know. Especially with children, a poke or pull or something sudden or unexpected, inadvertently hurting or surprising a dog, and who knows what could happen.

I went outside, and the little girl was chasing a tiny Chihuahua dog in our back yard right in front of Suzie.

I have known Suzie to snap at other dogs before, so this made me very tense. Even though Suzie was only looking at it like, “What is this thing?” — if she should snap at it and get the little girl instead — I just didn’t want to even imagine it. I went out and held her line until the mom got dog and child in tow. The mom said she knew Suzie was good with kids but jokingly said the little dog would be a “snack” for her. I told her that the only time I had seen Suzie upset and snap was at another dog  so that hopefully she would understand that letting a dog and child run around near her unguarded was not safe.

Some years back a little girl in our area was severely injured when she wandered into the yard of a neighbor who had a Rottweiler. She had let the child play alone on the back yard, and the child ended up going to see the dog. I tended to be way overprotective when my children were young, so I don’t think I would ever have left them alone even in my own back yard when they were pre-school age. Who knows what they might put in their mouths or who might happen along to lure them or take them from safety or what they could get into. But I was astounded to read in the newspaper the mother’s quote, “I had told her not to go over there.” You can’t give a child at that age instructions like that and then walk off and leave them. They’re learning to obey, but they don’t have it down yet: a distraction, forgetfulness, desire, any number of things can make them forget or disregard those instructions. They need parents with them to guide them, warn them, watch out for them.

There was a big fuss in the paper about the dog being chained up, and chained dogs were supposedly more territorial and prone to attack. I don’t believe that is true. When you take a walk in any residential neighborhood, all the dogs, even the ones behind fences, get territorial and start barking. The chained ones don’t bark more than the fenced ones.

Suzie is on a chain, but she is on a line so that she can run the length of the whole yard (at night or in bad weather she is put into a smaller fended area where her dog house is, but it is too small to keep her there all the time). We do want to build a fence, but it just hasn’t been in the budget. But, as I said, she’s not a snarling, snappish dog who barks and bites anyone who comes onto the property even though she is on a line.

But whether a dog is on a line or behind a fence is really beside the point. Little fingers poked into a fence can be snapped at.  The point is children should never, ever be alone in close proximity to a dog, even a neighbor’s dog, without adult supervision. Children don’t know what could provoke a dog, they don’t know the warning signs, they don’t have enough experience or common sense yet to know what to do or not do or when to back off. Even a gentle, patient dog can snap if hurt, and some dogs will snap with very little provocation.

I’m not writing this to “rant” about my neighbor; not at all. This incident just reminded me about the awful situation with this little girl and other children who have been hurt by dogs. “Better safe than sorry” should be the principle applied here.

15 thoughts on “Children, dogs, and safety

  1. Excellent post and you bring up a very valid point on this. You read it all too often of a dog biting or doing something to a child, for that matter even an adult, that you would never expect. You are so right that it is better to be safe than sorry. Excellent and thanks for sharing this 🙂 Aloha

  2. Yes, it is just a simple matter of making sure your children are accounted for and supervised, as Quilly said. Our family dog, now deceased, only bit one person and that was my friend’s son, who was a bit unruly and he had pulled on Bear’s hair and ears and I just couldn’t believe that the mother just stood there and let him do it. I felt like it was her place to tell her son to stop it but she didn’t, so her son got a bit of a nip from Bear though it didn’t break the skin.

  3. I was always a verrrrrrrrry relaxed parent in my own yard! Of course, we live in the country, we have 3.5 acres for them to run on, and each of our neighbors has 3.5 acres also! That puts quite a bit of space between our houses. And when we were all raising SMALL kids, none of us had pets. So I felt safe. The kids were relatively safe. I was out with them most of the time, but I would dash in to get snacks or things… BUT… when we were away from home, I was more cautious. And I did teach my children to always ASK if they could pet a dog on a leash and to NEVER go near any animal that was not leashed! (going into someone else’s yard wasn’t even an option!) Nonetheless… my oldest son got BIT! We were at a 4th of July event and ran into a friend of my hubby… he was a fireman and had the firehouse dog with him. (yes, a dalmation!) Mathew asked if he could pet him, and the friend said yes that he loves children. So Mathew started petting him and for a minute everything was fine… and then a bee stung the dog! The dog blamed Mathew and bit him! Of course, the man was horrified! He offered to pay if Mathew needed to see a doctor or anything. He did break the skin, but we cleaned it well, and watched it. We never did have to take him to the doctors — but we did want proof that the dog was up to date on his rabies shots – and he was. But the point is — you DON’T ever know! He WAS a friendly dog — but bees happen!!!

  4. Not to be too curmudgeonly, but it wouldn’t hurt the little cherub to learn to stay in her own yard, either.

    Suzie sounds like a trooper.

  5. Very very good post, Barbara. I also always taught my kids when at a park or out for a walk, that when they saw a cute dog on a leash being walked to never just run up and pet them. Always ask the owner if you can pet their dog.

  6. I certainly agree that the child should not be left unsupervised if there are no fences between properties. You do not say how young but assuming she is less than 5, she bears close watching.
    I was glad you said your dog was on a line. You’re right about them being territorial whether chained, fenced or what.
    I live in the county, not the city but so far all of the dogs that bark at me when I walk are fenced. Dogs that are not fenced usually do not respect boundaries and come running out to bark at you even though your are on the sidewalk or in the road.
    I could write an entire post on my feelings about dogs running loose but I’ll stop here. Just happy that you went out and took care to make sure everything was alright. Maybe she will learn not to let the dog out without a lease but if not, you’ll have messes to clean up in your yard.

    • I agree also. As a mother of three, and a dog owner I say that children must learn not to approach dogs that they are unfamiliar with. They should at least learn to ask permission from the owner, and of course only if they know the owner, or if they are supervised by a parent.
      Also, my children know that a dog is likely to protect themselves or their territory.

  7. I’m glad that there was no horrible ending to this story. How I wish that all parents were wise enough and loving enough to keep their children safe.

  8. I most certainly agree with you! I’ve always told people that I don’t put anything past any animal because different stimuli provoke different responses.

  9. a few years ago a child was killed in her own backyard by her own family dog. she was very small, perhaps 2 or 3 and she became entangled in the chain the dog was tied with. as the child became more hurt and upset the dog became more frantic and ran around the yard more, which of course only made the situation worse. At least this is what they theorize happened.. they’ll never know for sure as the father was inside the house sleeping through the entire thing. by the time anyone noticed she was missing, she had passed.

    i am with you.. i cannot imagine allowing such a small child outside unsupervised.

  10. I’m late & just getting caught up on my reading, but wanted to say this is a spot on post. I am amazed at the lack supervision around my neighborhood.

    When I worked at a horse barn I was amazed at what grown-ups would do, not to mention what they would allow their children to do. Animal safety is not just a dog issue, but dogs are the most common pet people interact with.

    Great words!

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