Being a dog trainer, that continues to develop, hone and learn my craft has brought with some wonderful gifts. I have met and welcomed some of the most wonderful people, including my husband and many many good friends. So much so I even wrote an article on “How dogs are the link to good friendships”. But as the saying goes, “It can be a blessing and a curse”.
Now when I first heard this saying from a fellow dog trainer, my initial thought was how can this life I am so passionate about be a curse? But as the conversation continued and in direct reflection of some recent events, I can now see this saying may well have it’s place.
What brought me to writing this article was a recent In-home training consultation with a dog and comments from a grandparent from a separate training session.
I’m talking about the educational truth, where you know the facts, where you don’t allow emotions to cloud your judgement, where you can tell propaganda for the BS that it is opposed to information that may actually assist and help people and their dogs and the requirements to truly provide the best level of responsibility and guardianship for those in our care.
A few months back I did a consult with a young family with a newly acquired dog. I spoke about how the general communities concept of supervision when it comes to their children when around dogs is grossly flawed. Many, if not most members of the public do not know how to read a dog’s body language correctly which in itself poses many challenges. No doubt we’ve all heard the advice be it from breeders, vets, family members, dog trainers and every other source available.
So why do Children continue to get bitten? Every year there are 1000’s of dog bites, one statistic I read said over 800,000 people in America per year seek medical attention for dog bites. Wow, just Wow. How does this happen???
Whilst I don’t have stats to scientifically back this (records don’t allow for this), I feel comfortable enough to have an educated guess that it would be more than most people who’s child is bitten by their family pet would not have thought it was possible (bites from a dog known to the victim are most common). I mean really, who in their right mind would knowingly put their child in harms way??? Surely no one, yet bites and attacks are still occurring on a appallingly regular basis.
Now to bring it back to the young family and more to the point, the grandmother of the 18 month old child, when I explained the level of supervision to provide the best possible level of supervision to protect their child and their dog, the direct feedback I heard was “Oh, that’s bullshit! I’ve never had any of my children bitten by a dog I know”. To which I could only reply that I was sure every parent that has undergone the loss or traumatic experience of having their child severely bitten, disfigured, mauled or killed by a dog would have said something very similar the day before even 5 minutes before the tragic event that changed the path of their families life/s.
My personal approach to “supervision” when it comes to children and my dog.
I have said it continuously and will continue to do so, “
- I will do everything in my power to protect my dog! EVERYTHING!” No this does not mean I value my dog over a child, that’s a ridiculous argument.
- If I protect my dog, it means my eyes are on my dog and I am in the best possible position to observe his behaviour and when he is letting me know, he’d like a break from a child’s company.
My dear friend Dr Kim Hooper from Paws at Yours has 2 beautiful children under 6 years that I have known since birth. I have baby sat both her children on many occasions from a young age, not to mention all the other children that visit, as our home is a rather social place. As I say to Dr Kim and any other parent that visits my house “Be damned if a child’s getting hurt on my watch”.
During a BBQ with a few friend I had a girlfriend, a mum of a 6 month old baby say “Cat I trust your dogs, they’re so well trained and you know what you’re doing”. I love that people can see and appreciate the time, love and dedication I have put into the relationship, communication and training with Zooka, it truly is a humbling feeling, yet the most important thing to me is to protect my dog, therefore my motto is that No child will be harmed on my watch.
So what does this look like?
Many of the BBQ’s at my place will have approx 20 people including up to 7 regular children. Many of the kids love to see the dogs, watch some of their tricks or maybe even give them a pat. I only allow this to happen if
- If I feel it’s appropriate in the individual situation and environment.
- I never get distracted and socialise myself with guests, or enjoy a casual chat or the company of friends, after all, I’m on duty and in order to protect my dog and prevent any possible harm, I can’t forget this! This is my duty of care!
To be honest, many of these interactions only happen for a few minutes at a time as it take a lot of direct “supervision” and all my focus. So I am very comfortable saying to the kids that the dogs need their “rest” and I shall separate them in the appropriate manner. None of the children that come to my house have an issue with this, nor do their parents as they understand that safety is my highest priority and by protecting my dog the natural default from this is that their children are safe on my watch as is our friendship.
Friendship and family is another factor that is rarely considered when it comes to responsibility of children and dogs. I refuse to put my friendships in jeopardy due to an easily avoidable situation when it comes to the safety of children and dogs. I call this type of situation the “shit cauldron”, where it brews nothing positive, just shit, shit, shit! Why would you? It is not only a potential dog bite to consider, but also that fact that many dogs may simply knock a child over due to their size too causing injury or a freight traumatic experience.
I am immensely proud to have the friends and family that I do. Even more so to have their trust in caring for their children, being listed as a guardian should the parents not be contactable in an emergency and to have not only the kids themselves, but the knowledgeable parents and my dogs feel safe on my watch.
You may call me over the top,
You may say it won’t happen to you,
You can kid yourself that you don’t “own a breed of dog that would do that”
That your dog would never bite!
When it comes to the safety of our children and dogs, none of the above arguments would ever be enough for me to gamble and put it all on black, it simply isn’t worth it!!
xx Cat Saunders