Sunday, May 12, 2013

Thoughts on Dogs and Small Children

My attention was just drawn to a news article in the on-line "paper", The Alaskan Dispatch.  According to the story, a dog in Jake Berkowitz kennel attacked and injured a two-year-old child.  Please read the details of the article to get a good understanding of what happened.

I frequently see photographs and video-tape of very small children interacting with dogs, often in situations in which they are unsupervised.  I can't stress enough how dangerous this can be.  Nearly every day I see a news article on the CNN or Fox News website describing how a small child was severely injured, and sometimes killed, by a dog.

We very rarely allow small children into the Stardancer Historical Sled Dogs dog yard, and our yard is well fenced  to prevent stray children or wild animals from inadvertently entering the dog's space.  Although the Stardancer dogs are well socialized to adult humans, they've very rarely seen children and they tend to be exuberant, "jumpity lickety" dogs.  Last year I gave a kennel tour to a co-worker and his young daughter, and that was conducted very carefully.

It started with a safety briefing, in which I explained to my co-worker the nature of these animals and the importance of not allowing his daughter to go within the "circles" of tethered dogs, or inside the pens of animals housed in that manner.  She got lots of opportunities to pet dogs, but only after I had physical control of each, with my hands on the dog's chain or collar.  I made certain that I was never more than an arm's length away from the little girl.

She had a wonderful time visiting the dogs, but most importantly, it was as safe as her father and I could make the experience.

In most cases, when children are injured by dogs it is by their own family's pets.  Adults become complacent when a dog behaves perfectly day after day, year after year.  We adults sometimes forget that young children don't know how to 'read' canine body language (most adult dog owners don't have all that great a grasp), and that kids sometimes do things that annoy or even hurt dogs.  The only way the dog has to tell the kid to stop is with his or her teeth, and dogs do indeed tend to go overboard once they've reached their breaking point.

In a kennel setting, with multiple dogs that rarely see kids, diligence is especially important.  We don't know for sure what goes on in a dog's head, but we do know that once the dog is aroused beyond a certain level it is impossible to get through to the dog through verbal cues or "commands" alone.  The same is true of human beings, because of the way that adrenalin (epinephrine) acts on the central nervous system.

In any event, my heart goes out to little Elin Shuck, his parents and to Jake and his family as well.  It is a heart breaking situation and one that I hope other dog mushers, and all other dog owners, will make every effort to prevent.

1 comment:

  1. Your comments are sooo correct, Swanny. And as well as the child and adults involved, I'm sorry for the dog. It's a sad situation all around.