Now for the list, you know, that list of dog breeds that are notoriously in the news for biting or killing a small child. Before you start defending your breed without reading another word, you can ease your mind and know that my intentions are not to pinpoint specific breeds in this article. I don’t have a quick and easy to read breed list of ‘dangerous” dogs. Instead I have a list of traits and scenarios with dogs that are huge red flags for expecting parents and households with toddlers. Any breed of dog whether mixed or purebred, a rescue or raised from a pup, abused or spoiled, trained or untrained, raised in a loving home or never been socialized can fit into any of these categories. So ease your mind, sit back and learn for the sake of your child, grandchild and your dog.
Dogs with predatory aggression.
Every dog has some level of prey drive but dogs with predatory aggression are very dangerous to have around toddlers and children, especially an infant. Some characteristics of these dogs are:
· They often stare at a target creature, move quietly towards it then quickly attack it by grabbing the “prey.”
· They are stimulated by high-pitched noises, squealing, baby cries, injured animals, or dog fights. Often dogs that have this type of aggression do not display aggression in other areas. It is extremely dangerous because it cannot be trained, medicated, or counter conditioned away. Owners are always shocked because it can be directed towards things that might not be categorized as “prey” but the dog is acting on instinctual triggers that may be unexpected. Through much research for my video, Dogs to Diapers, I found that there are numerous accounts documented of dogs grabbing and killing babies in bassinets, sleeping on beds, or even just laying on a blankets next to their mom. Any dog with a history of preying on animals should never be around infants or toddlers.
A dog that has just been adopted from a shelter, rehomed or rescued without a known background from a reliable source.
According to Karen Delise in Fatal Dog Attacks, “it roughly takes 2 weeks for a dog to adjust to a new living environment.” When adopting a dog from a shelter or rescue, sometimes we can never get the full story on the dog and previous situation. Whoever is surrendering the dog, by law, doesn’t even have to disclose if the dog has a bite history. Let’s face it; when dogs are surrendered it is rarely because they were perfect pets. That doesn’t mean they can’t be an amazing part of your family with proper training and socialization but it takes time to learn the dogs mannerisms and for certain behaviors to surface. I hear all the time that people met the dog before they adopted it and it was great with the other dogs and people at the shelter. That means nothing for when the dog gets home and settled into their new situation.
The same goes for rescue organizations, unless this dog was fostered for a significant amount of time (over 4 months in my opinion.) I would never trust a rescue dog with an unknown background to be around toddlers or infants. You need to KNOW that the dog was previously living with a family that had small children, with whom the dog was raised, and no issues arose in that environment. The term “kid friendly” is often used in shelters, but what type of evaluation was done to determine “kid friendly”? Was the dog merely patted by a child a few times or was he exposed to children loudly running and playing. Was he exposed to crying infant noises? When and how often was this evaluation done? How old were the children involved with the evaluation compare with the ages of your children? There is a big difference between a dog being petted by a random child and a dog being raised with kids. Full disclosure of the term “kid friendly” is crucial before “testing the dog with your infant/toddler.”
Please DO NOT interpret my advice for caution and research as an attempt to discourage you in adopting a dog. That is NOT my intent. I am a HUGE supporter of rescuing dogs but when you have small children who are at risk it needs to be done properly. Remember, this dog is going through a huge life change and he will need the proper time to adjust and fit into the family dynamic. There are numerous accounts of dog bites that occur when a family rescues a “kid friendly” dog. Expecting them to just fit right in is not just naïve, but is also irresponsible and not fair to the dog.
A senior dog or a dog that has health issues
When I introduced my first daughter to my dog, Ajax, he was 10 years old. I couldn’t wait for my daughter to be raised around dogs just as I was when I was a child. Ajax was a huge part of my life; I did everything with him from competitions to vacations. He was even in my wedding and joined us for the honeymoon! I was so excited for them to meet that I even documented their first meeting. But it was not to be the relationship I had hoped for. Over the first few weeks Ajax was very aloof around her. He would definitely show curiosity, but other than that he wanted his routine and space. If I forced a relationship with the two of them it wouldn’t have been organic. He had no interest in being friends with the baby, and the great relationship that I had with him did not automatically transfer to my daughter.
Most old dogs like their routine and their space. When the baby started crawling and grabbing he started displaying a lot of avoidance behaviors and I knew I had to intervene to prevent a situation that could leave Ajax to warn the baby of his boundaries. I knew he was older now and his tolerance had lowered for stress. Every dog has a bite threshold (just like people who can tolerate a certain amount of stress) and it’s important to know your dog and understand that their limits can change as they age, just like us. You cannot expect a senior dog to tolerate being poked at, stepped on, and crawled over, even if they might have experienced that at a younger age and never had any issues. You can also not expect for a toddler to respect the dog without constant supervision guiding the interaction.
I am not advocating that you rehome your senior dog! What ended up working for my family was the use of baby gates when the baby was active. Ajax still felt included, but he was able to spend most of his time napping in peace rather than constantly trying to avoid the baby invading his space. Then when the baby napped or went down at night, Ajax could have freedom of the house. Of course I was disappointed, but then I realized how he was much more relaxed and had fewer things to be stressed about when I did not force it. I got so much more quality time with Ajax by doing activities that he enjoyed with the baby, for example; stroller walks. Ajax loved going for walks with me and the baby. By doing the things he enjoyed, Ajax started to associate her with positive experiences. Once he saw me getting his leash ready, Ajax would wait by the door while I prepared the baby for our walk.
The same methods apply for a dog that has health issues. They are already uncomfortable and the pain could cause their tolerance level and/or bite threshold to change. Something as simple as an ear infection could have the dog respond with a nip. Be cautious and give the dog the appropriate space he/she needs to avoid any situations until the health issue is resolved. If it is a more permanent health issue like bad hips or chronic allergies, you will have to create a management plan until the baby is old enough to understand and respect the dog.
I truly believe that all kids should be raised with dogs because my adventures with dogs are some of the best memories I have. It is our job for those memories to be positive, not for our kids to grow up fearing dogs because the family pet bit them! It’s also not fair for a dog to be terrorized by your kids as they age. Having a healthy relationship between dogs and babies is the most amazing gift you can give both your dog and kids.
Delise, K. (2002). Fatal dog attacks: the stories behind the statistics. Manorville, NY: Anubis Press.