Why children need to be taught how to treat dogs with respect
Whenever 18-month-old Xavier comes over, the first thing he does is look for Toby, my yellow Lab — he can hardly wait to wrap his arms around his buddy’s furry neck. Like most Labs, Toby is wonderfully patient with children and graciously accepts Xavier’s exuberant hugs. We make sure we supervise, but Toby’s never shown a hint of aggression toward his toddler friend. However, Xavier’s love of dogs extends beyond Toby to the canines he meets on the street and in the park, and that’s a bigger concern. How do we teach toddlers to be safe around dogs they don’t know, and even those they do know, but who might be less tolerant than Toby?
Caution is necessary
Miki Shibata, an Ottawa veterinarian, points out that caution is always necessary — even with a dog as gentle as my Lab. “All dogs are capable of biting,” she says. “It just takes the right stimulus.” For some dogs, that could be having a toddler wander over when they’re eating, or being startled awake when they’re asleep, or just being poked in the wrong place.
Older dogs may actually be more likely to bite than those bouncy puppies we tend to worry about. “An older dog may have arthritis or be in pain for other reasons, and the toddler may accidentally hurt him, so that the dog bites out of self-protection,” Shibata explains. “The older dog may also have limited hearing or vision and be more likely to be startled.”
Smaller dogs are also a higher risk. “To a small dog, a toddler is scary. The child is big enough that if he fell on the dog, it would hurt, and he moves around in an erratic way that little dogs can’t figure out. That means the dog is more likely to snap or nip at the child,” Shibata says. She adds, though, that a larger dog’s bite is certainly more dangerous, and because the toddler is much smaller than the dog, a bite is more likely to be in a vulnerable area such as the face or neck.