Why are children being killed by dogs? We have had some absolutely tragic events of late involving dogs biting children and a couple of cases of children fatally wounded in dog attacks, but why are we seeing this?
I wish it was as simple as changing just one but in many cases it is just the sum of many things that were slightly out in the dogs life and the dog acted out.
The human body has several very weak points in which if they are hit, the person or child can bleed out in a very short couple of minutes. Therefore, it does not take much and we are mourning a child that has been killed by a dog.
Speaking to many people who have been around dogs for many decades, they often say they never remember as many bites or incidences, so what is happening?
Well here is a short list
- Complacency and selfishness
- Attachment style
and of course I want to explain each.
Dogs in 2018 are not the same as the dogs that were our pets in 1980. When it comes to describing evolution in humans, we use names and time frames to label generations, for example I would be a “Generation X” whereas my son would be a Generation Z.
Millennial’s now range from 24 to 38 years old and they can be described by their behaviour. Their behaviour is shaped by current trends in their world, we all know this, yet we don’t really consider that dogs have different generations too.
Dogs when I was a kid mostly lived outside, no not all but the majority of them did. This gave them less access to people including children. They had more freedom as there were not so many leash laws and places that you could not take a dog.
Their owners were much tougher on them too, most dog owners would not hesitate to punish their dogs for a mistake, whereas today that is not so common.
Dogs have changed but most people who have children still think they are living with the dog they had around when they were kids.
The sheer amount of dogs has increased to the point of 38% of all households in Australia own at least one dog.
The human population of course has increased too, so you have ore dogs and more people, it stands to reason that the amount of dog bites would increase even if the percentage remained the same.
This might mean a few things, for a start, we have an incredible amount of access to what is happening all over the world through all of our many media and social media channels. A dog bites someone at 9 am and at 9.45am three quarters of the country know about it.
When I was a kid I would know if a dog bit someone in my street, other than that, unlikely I would have hear about it.
Another type of access is that more dogs are allowed in our homes, many cohabitate with us as family members, sleep in beds, have total freedom to roam the whole house and be involved in all that the feel like being involved in.
When we have such a tragic incident such as a child hurt or killed, it never goes unsaid that dogs should not be left unsupervised with children, and I agree. But that is much harder when the dogs and the children live in the same home without any rules and boundaries or dogs that are crate trained and place trained.
I am not for one second suggesting dogs should not be allowed inside the home, but perhaps more training should be completed than just toilet training.
Dogs can really benefit from having a place of their own that they can retire to if they are uncomfortable, such as a crate or quiet place.
Dogs have more access to us, our children and homes, we have more access to what is happening in our world to.
Often a breed will feature in a cool movie or your friend gets one and this increases the chance that you will get one, but should it?
What are the breed traits, what was the dogs original purpose, do you have the skills to train the breed and many more thoughts should be had before we get a breed that is trending now.
It is not about what the dog does on its best day, it is what it does on its worst.
People dive straight into asking what breed was guilty of the event, but really as you can read in this article, removing certain breeds or blaming them will not in any way address all of the issues.
When I wanted to find out how to train a dog when I was a teenager, it was easier to find the end of the rainbow, now, there is so much getting shoved at us, the challenge is not to find information, it is how to filter it.
So much bad information is out there, so many agendas, so many keyboard warriors, so many politically driven trainers and let’s be honest, so much bullshit.
There is an extreme lack of discipline in the way that many people raise and train their dogs, now I am not talking about punishing or being mean to your dog, discipline means “training to obey rules.”
I meet many people who do not wish to have children and have dogs instead, that is perfectly fine and their choice, but the mistake that at times comes with this mindset is a spoiled, over indulged, self serving dog that has such high expectations with no consequences they can be downright horrible to live with.
I know people don’t set out to produce a dog like this but the ratio of love to rules can often be out with these dogs.
You may have heard the old saying “a good parent can’t always be the child’s best friend”.
I meet so many people who have dogs that are behaving in ways that can only be described as abusive to their owners and their owners have been told that “you can’t even say no to him!”
No matter how badly the dog behaves, bites them, resource guards them, resource guards furniture food and other belongings and even spaces, the dog is labelled “anxious” and this seems to be a free ticket to do anything he or she likes and the owner is told to comfort him or her and excuse all the bad behaviour as “he is anxious“.
This leaves them totally lost and powerless victims. I wrote an article about this too (Living in an abusive relationship with your dog)
Complacency and selfishness
Our population is dotted with very selfish people who only care about themselves and what they want, many of us have experienced Mr and Mrs “it’s okay he is friendly” even if we didn’t want to right?
You try and tell this person to put a leash on their (out of control) “friendly” dog and they just about attack you.
Maybe you have walked past their home and their front gate is always open and their dog always marches out to move you on from HIS street.
You ask the owner who is watering his garden to get their dog and you are given a dirty look or mouthful of swear words for your trouble whilst their dog is allowed to rule the street with an iron paw, support by his or her IDIOT owner.
In human psychology, Mary Ainsworth devised an assessment technique called the Strange Situation Classification. This system was divised to determine the “Attachment Style” that children had with their parents.
Much of this theory can easily be applied to pet dogs living with humans in a household with a little modification, I personally use this model in some of my work.
Many times the dog with the behaviour problem, is insecure and or avoidant, rather than secure, and this means that they may deal with this situation from instinct rather than guidance.
When a dog is fear aggressive and walking down the street on the leash with an owner, the dog see’s another dog and starts barking, lunging and displaying aggressive signals and behaviours.
The owner tries to get the dog to follow instruction but the dog ignores any attempt the owner makes to communicate, there is a problem in the dogs attachment style to the owner.
This can happen through inconsistent handling and or rules and boundaries, no rules and boundaries, no reward systems that reinforce desirable behaviours, no teaching the right behaviours are appreciated and no consequences for undesirable behaviours.
So imagine when you can’t even say “no”!
People who have secure attachments to their dogs often have very happy and settled dogs that are mindful of the rules and try to remain within them but not frightened of their owners.
Establishing a relationship with a dog or a person is a multi facetted procedure that is created by the culmination of everything you do, or don’t do.
If you take a look at this video, this dog came to stay with me because he was like this with everyone other than the owners. When he was displaying aggression he would not at all listen to the owners no matter what they did or didn’t do.
After 3 days I developed a secure attachment with Hunter, he no longer needed to keep me away and followed direction I gave him, happily, this second video shows him at completion of his program.
What can we do?
If dogs keep killing children we will have them removed from our life, I of all people know it is just a very, VERY small percentage of dogs that would do this but it is such a tragic life changing event for all involved, even a small percentage is too high.
As you can read in this article, it is not a breed trait of any dog to kill children, it is not a lack of supervision in many cases or some form of poor parenting, it is a combination of many elements and attributes, some I have explained above, that come together at a time to create “the perfect storm”.
If one small thing on that day was changed nothing would have happened, but enough happened and it did.
What can we do? we need to take a very good look at our dogs, the environment and methods in which we raise them and look at our behaviour too.
We need to manage our dogs better, train them better and understand that they are in fact animals and they can easily make mistakes that can change our lives.
A dog is a privilege to own and this will be gone if we cannot respect the privilege.
If you own a dog, you need to invest time in the dog and his or her training, the first goal of the training should be to teach the dog how to behave in our world without becoming overstimulated, over emotional, frightened or aggressive.
This should include what we call LIFE SKILLS level obedience in which the dog will follow your commands even when they are out, even when there is another dog around or even when they don’t want to.
They need to learn how to regulate their emotions and hold a sit and or a down, they need to come when called or not be let off leash, they need to walk on a loose leash and they need to have manners.
These things are not hard if the systems you are using are effective, they can be impossible if the systems you are using do not suit the dog you have.
The last time a child was killed by a dog and this time too, I have offered to assess the dog to find out why this may have happened.
Not to try and save the dog, that option was lost when the child died, but to find out why the dog felt the need to attack a child that I suspect he or she had been around many, many times before without incident.
Was the dog sick, in pain, anxious, unsound, unstable, dominant, frightened or was it more to do with where the child was or was doing?
Was it resource based, was there food around, toys, other dogs?
Has the dog had any training, what was the dogs attachment to the owner? Were there other existing behaviour problems prior to this?
The offer stands and the complete service, no matter where this is or was in Australia will be provided at no cost.
To be fair to councils, when a death is involved this becomes a Coronial Enquiry and council may not have the power to grant me this opportunity.
The Coroner will be focussed on providing cause of death, but I would be focussed on providing advice on prevention of this being repeated…
A thorough assessment of this dog, possibly including a veterinary assessment too (which I will pay for), could be an incredible opportunity to help prevent this same tragedy again.
There is no risk, no cost and nothing to lose, so why can’t we have this chance…
I offered this service in March THIS year when the child was killed in Inverell NSW, but the dog was put to sleep before the chance was given.
Perhaps they thought that was the way to put this to bed, but here we are just 5 months later in the same situation.
Dead child, dog killed before being assessed.
How many children will we lose before we change what we do?
My condolences to the families, emergency personnel that attended the scene and anyone that that has suffered through this terrible event.