The Perfect Storm

Dog bite prevention only happens when we know how to read dogs.

An 18 month old toddler gets the side of his face ripped off by a Labrador and I see it coming, able to do nothing. With my heart in my hands and the world seeming to stop, I’m a world away and only 100 ft from witnessing an accident that did NOT need to happen. It happened in less than 10 seconds (seemed like an eternity) the boy hugs the dog who is tied to a railing of the toddler play area next to a line of strollers, with moms and children all around laughing and playing.

I’m training a puppy outside the area and the only reason I was watching was because the family with this little boy was striking. Mom is over 6’ tall, 3 children, 2 girls ages approximately 8 and 10 yrs old and the little toddler in diapers, all toe heads (very blonde hair) walk into the park holding hands. The girls run off into the building, most likely to take some dance class while mom and baby wait for them in the toddler area. The little boy sees the dog at the far end of the park and beams in on him walking toward him ignoring the other children, sandbox and swings. He wants to pet the sweet dog. Mom isn’t paying attention as she’s talking with friends she obviously meets with on a regular basis and thinks everything is fine.

Me, I see the potential danger lurking in these next minutes and move it to watch the dogs body language; flitting back and forth between mom, dog and child hoping someone is going to pay attention. No one is. It’s a normal day at the park as far as they’re concerned. I start walking faster to get the moms attention as he nears the dog and don’t see any other people watching the dog. The dog is beginning to get nervous with the approaching toddler, lip licking, rounded body, looking for a way out, tail tucked and in an instant the boy is hugging the dog and in that same instant the dog attacks, taking most of the side of his face off. No growling, no sounds preempting the attack, just the sounds of a toddler in shock.

I’m so sorry to say that this incident is not out of nowhere nor is it uncommon. 77% of dog bites happen from family and friends dogs with children being bitten the most.

As I see the horror unfold, I run to the toddler, I’m the closest one, sounding off questions to the owner of the dog. Get the owners contact info, someone go into the building to find the two girls in class and someone else call an ambulance. We are descended upon with toddler now swaddled in his moms arms who is panicking, the dog is shivering huddled in the corner unable to free himself and someone is yelling at the dog. The puppy I had in training was w/ me the entire time and licking the boys legs as I lift him to his mother.

Here’s the back story and why this was a set up for failure on every level.

The Dog:

The dog tied to the railing on the inside of the toddler area was a family dog who just turned 2. Yup. 2, the age of maturity and when the bite most often happens. Why? Because puppies will put up with a lot; prodding, ears pulled, tail pulled, sat upon and more and since they are tolerating it the parents think all is well. They aren’t reading the body language this puppy has been giving all along. Body signs of leaving the room when the kids come in, hiding next to a parent or under a coffee table, lip licking, look away, yawning, panting and more. So, when the dog hits her age of maturity having no one to understand her lack of tolerance the bite is imminent. Now we have a dog tied with nowhere to go and no adults to save her. A strange toddler comes up and hugs her and without any help she feels threatened and in defense bites the boy. This is not an aggressive dog. This is a dog who gave all the warning signs and no one listened.

The Toddler:

The toddler lives with 2 Golden Retrievers who loves all the attention the toddler gives them. This is not all that common. Most dogs don’t like to be hugged, sat on and have their body parts pulled and prodded but these two dogs really did enjoy the attention. The boy thinks all dogs must like this if his dogs did so without proper parental guidance in how to meet and greet new or strange dogs, the boy fearfully and excitedly approaches the tied up dog.

The Parents:

The mom knows this park, has friends here and knows this dog. What the mom doesn’t know is how to read body language nor did the guardians of the Labrador. If both of them knew how to read the warning signs, the dog would NOT have been tied up, the parents would have educated their children on how to meet and greet dogs and this education beginning at home would have had everyone learn to be more respectful of each others space and NO ONE WOULD HAVE BEEN BITTEN.

The dog was euthanized, the child suffered emotional and physical trauma and all because they didn’t know how to speak dog.

Please share this far and wide. Don’t let your children or your friends children become a statistic. Dog bite prevention only happens when we know how to read dog body language. We are their voice and owe it to them to learn their language.

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