I just read a recent news story titled "Las Vegas Family Dog Kills Baby"and it makes me sad.Yes, the story is tragic and I feel bad for the baby, and the family for their loss, but I am even more sad about the untold story here: the story of the dog.
As we all know, thousands of years ago dogs were domesticated. Humans took them into our lives and our homes, we bred them for what we wanted and needed, and as such they are completely reliant on us in our human society of suburban homes and swimming pools and parks and traffic and laws that they cannot even comprehend. There is a truth about dogs that I feel people overlook: we must take all responsibility for them, their actions, their behavior, the consequences of everything they do. If you take a dog into your home, from that moment on that animal is YOUR responsibility.
So, they say the family dog had never done this before, so they say that that dog and that baby were friends of sorts, but they take this at face value from the family. It is easier to say, "It just happened" than to take the blame for it. Perhaps the family was ignorant of dog behavior and dog training. It is possible to not know Fido as well as you'd like to think. Having a dog means having a relationship with that dog, and relationships take work. You don't just take your brand new puppy home and expect him to be that perfectly behaved pooch you've always wanted. But being ignorant is no excuse, it is still your responsibility as an owner to educate yourself of everything about your dog. People too often get pets without realizing what it really takes. These are no toys that we are taking home, they are living breathing animals with complex behavior!
The family's description of the dog is no sufficient history for this dog. Where did they get the dog? How desensitized was the dog to the baby? What kind of training methods did they use? No one asked these questions for the dog, whose humans abandoned him for a mistake he made... and now he will die.
Perhaps we should look deeper into our "best friends" rather than taking them for granted.When I showed this story to my good friend (and if you read her blog you can see that she is deeply interested in dog behavior and is also VERY well-read on the subject), Dogert, she shared her opinion on the subject:
"There are ALWAYS signs. Always. Even if there is an underlying medical
condition there are signs that are either being forgotten by those who
don't care enough to record and inquire, or ignored.
The scenario most common to dog attacks is this: dog and child are
"playing" and dog gets tired so gives a tiny warning growl. This is what
dogs do, they communicate. Parents take this as a sign of aggression
and scold the dog. Now, dog thinks of the child as causing bad things to
happen, and unsafe because his people won't protect him from the
stressful baby. So dog suppresses his communication and leaves when
things get stressful. However, baby starts becoming mobile and no longer
can dog escape so easily. What is the dog supposed to do? Sit there and
take the abuse from a pulling pinching hitting child all day long? Dog
thinks he has to protect himself. Ironically, this dog is a bully breed
relative. Such breeds have temperaments specific to be tolerant towards
humans. Again, there were signs. There were probably lots of signs. They
were either ignored, forgotten in the tragedy or through neglect, or
the owners didn't bother to do anything to learn what their dog was
Second issue appears that this dog had no bite inhibition. Bite
inhibition is obtained when a puppy plays with other puppies and learns
to control puppy's mouth. Teeth are sharp so when puppy bites siblings
or parents they squeal and stop playing. This is no fun, so puppy learns
not to bite so hard. Bite inhibition is often destroyed by well meaning
but ignorant owners who scold their puppy for biting. This teaches a
dog to suppress opening it's mouth in the first place, but does nothing
to teach the pup that its teeth hurt, which is the reason. In more
mouthy puppies, such constant scolding can cause the puppy to become
defensive or simply confused as to the humans behavior, and encourage a
lack of trust. Puppies taken away from their parents too soon also
develop limited bite inhibition, which can be encouraged by the
intelligent owner but there is no substitute for a mom and siblings
communicating in your own language.
It all comes back to the parents. They fostered a house of ignorance and
mistrust. They did not look for or see the signs. Their child's death
is tragic, but their own fault. Perhaps next time (if) they get a dog
they will not be so negligent. Personally this kind of thing happens so
often, I do not find the human-dog relationship to be so often loving
and happy as propaganda implies."