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.