It makes me nervous when I hear someone say "I completely trust my dog." What they are really saying is "my guard is down, and my dog is a risk."
I've had my run-ins with irresponsible dog owners, and one such incident had life-changing consequences for me, so when I hear about harm coming to someone–especially a child–from an irresponsible dog owner, it gets me all fired-up. Today was one of those days. My friend, Tory, posted on Facebook that she got the bill from the ER for her daughter, Leighton's, dog bite. Comments ranged from outrage to sympathy with one common thread...the dog owner should pay the bill.
I missed the story when Tory posted it this past September, so I asked what the situation was. How did this bite happen?
Tory told me that a neighbor walking his dog stopped in front of their house where a group of ten kids was playing. The dog owner invited the children to pet the dog, and allowed them to surround the dog. The dog became stressed and bit Tory's daughter, Leighton, in the face.
It's a simple story, and not unique, unfortunately.
What seemed okay about the situation?
• The dog and owner and dog were friendly and approachable.
• The owner knew his dog to be kid-friendly.
• The dog was on a leash.
• The kids liked the dog and wanted to pet it. No harm or mistreatment was intended or done on the part of the kids.
So what went wrong?
One thing: The owner made a huge mistake. He trusted his dog.
He knew his dog, but he didn't know the kids. He didn't know what the kids would do, and although they did no harm to the dog, the sheer number of them must have been incredibly overwhelming. The owner should never have allowed a child he didn't know–not to mention ten of them–approach his dog. It's not fair to the dog, and it's not fair to the children.
Unless a dog is trained to handle children en masse, an owner should never allow a group of children to approach. It is probably one of the most stressful situations a dog could encounter. Not only does the dog have to worry about one unpredictable child, but unpredictable children in all directions.
Dogs don't have words. They have actions and warning signs, and I'm guessing that none of the children recognized the dog giving off warning signs. Why would they? None of them are experts in animal behavior. I don't know the dog owner, but I'm thinking he may not have realized the warning signs, either, which is all too common a problem. He probably never thought in a million years that his dog would bite a child. Given just the right circumstances, any dog will bite.
That owner put his dog in a situation where the chance of failure was high. And the dog failed. He bit Leighton. And it's not the dog's fault. It's not Leighton's fault, either. The fault lies solely with the dog owner.
Leighton's physical scar has faded, but the emotional one is still there. She has a dog whom she loves dearly, but she doesn't like that dog across the street. Who could blame her? Sure, she'll be cautious around dogs she doesn't know from now on, which is not such a bad thing, but did she really have to learn the hard way?
Even if a dog has never bitten doesn't mean it won't bite if stressed or in pain. We should have confidence in our dogs and know them. They should be loved and respected, but not trusted.