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Child At Risk? When in Doubt the Dog Goes Out

Dear John,

Our daughter and her partner are expecting their first child soon. They are the proud and loving owners of a rather large dog, over 5 years old and probably a mix breed, that has at least one incident of biting another dog recently. Are we being overly concerned prospective grandparents when we worry about how the dog will take to the new, human, arrival? – R.A.

Hi R.A.

There are some dogs that are exclusively aggressive towards dogs. Others only some dogs. There are some dogs that are exclusively aggressive towards people. Others only some age groups or other defining characteristic. There are some that will bite anything that gets in their way.

Normally a dog that has never shown any aggression towards a human for the first three years of its life just isn’t wired that way and would generally pull its own teeth before harming a person. However, I can’t tell you how many times I’ve asked people if their dog had ever been aggressive and been told it hadn’t been. In the meantime, I’m right in their house watching the kids giving the dog a ten foot no bite zone every time they walk by. I ask a few more questions and you’d be surprised how often I uncover that they believe if they work around “certain” issues then their dog isn’t aggressive.

If your daughter’s dog has never so much as crossed its eyes when poked and prodded in a veterinarian examination, having its nails clipped, a treasured toy removed, someone approached their food bowl . . . anything at all, I doubt he’s a significant risk. HOWEVER, UNLESS, EXCEPT if he hasn’t in the past due to the prospective parent’s lifestyle not been regularly exposed to infants, crawling infants and toddling infants, and children in the eight years of age range, particularly boys you have to reassess his or her reliability.

A dog that wouldn’t think of biting an adult can very unexpectedly bite a child. Some can’t figure out what the screaming ball of fury wrapped in the blanket is, or the human-pseudo crab crawling on the floor is, or the miniature drunken sailor toddling towards them is, or the 8-year-old ninja, wrapped in a bed sheet careening off the walls apparently bent on defeating every 4 legged foe available is and frightened they lash out. It’s also important to know just because a dog has no problem with ninjas, he or she may not be comfortable with drunken sailors etc. Parents have to be on their guard at each developmental safe of their child.

There are things that a couple can do to increase the chances the transition will be easier on their dog however, I’d swear that most of the “prepare your dog for baby” programs are put together by people that have never had a child, or did and didn’t like it, or did and just liked dogs more. Here’s one piece of advice I’ve read. “Carry a baby doll around during the pregnancy allowing the dog to see the upcoming routines etc.” Guess what? Baby dolls are made of the same material as most dog toys. Dumb idea. How about, “Bring home the baby’s blanket.” And do what? If you haven’t started a real desensitization program long before there’s a blanket available the dog is either not going to care because he or she wasn’t going to care in the first place or it’s going to have the opposite intended effect and become another stress trigger.

There are many things that can and should be done to objectively assess and if it’s the right dog, prepare it for life with a child. See if you can track someone down in your area that understands child aggression and is a happy dad or mom themselves. If not send me an email and I’ll see what I can do.

Bottom line, like your dogs, love your children, take no chances.

– John Wade the Dog Trainer 

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