Dog, not God

Trish King

Consults tend to come in bunches, for some reason.  I'll get several on fear aggression, then bully behavior, then separation issues.   This past month, I seem to have been getting more cases on human aggression than normal.    Actually, to be more specific, aggression against children.   One was a  five year old Cavalier King Charles, another a Beagle and a third a Rottie mix.  All these cases had one thing in common - there was something physically wrong with the dog, and the child was overly rough and not being monitored carefully.  All three children were under three - at an age where reasoning is not effective or even particularly useful. 


I understand how very difficult it is to monitor a child.   I don't think anyone can do it 100%, and as we say, management always fails.   So if someone has a dog they know to be unreliable, then they should expect something to happen.  But, these people thought their dogs were reliable - they just didn't expect them to be dogs.   It is often completely unrealistic. 


The Cavalier had a brain disorder common to the breed, which is very painful.  For some reason, the dog had been taken off his medication, and probably had a huge headache when the child approached and hit him with a toy.   The Beagle has has a history of intolerance and what looked to me to be hip or knee problems.  He was sound asleep in his bed when the toddler ran over, grabbed him by the neck and hugged him enthusiastically.  And the herding mix also has serious health issues involving her back legs.  She too was resting after a vigorous walk when the toddler approached affectionately.  All these dogs, by the way, were very sorry right after they snapped.  They did what they could to appease:  licking their owner, wagging their tails almost under their bodies and squinting their eyes. 


Dogs can't talk to us.  Many don't even show that they're in pain.  Because they're so stoic, many people think dogs don't even feel pain!  It takes a wise and observant owner to notice that the dog just doesn't look comfortable.    And people also tend to forget that dogs can reach their threshold and go over it - perhaps snapping when they normally would just tolerate something or try to walk away. 


Even when we know they're uncomfortable or in pain, dogs are held to a standard far higher than human beings.  People forget that dogs don't have a lot of choices about what to do if they feel pressured.  It's not as if they can go out for a drink when they're up to here with our antics.  


They are stuck.   They're prisoners in our homes.   If they growl because they really just want to be left alone, we tell them they are bad.  When they decide that growling doesn't work, and are forced into snapping, and then we tell that they're very bad, or we feel betrayed, or we get rid of them.


All this is a reminder to us that we need to be observant about the physical and mental state of our dogs.  We need to deserve their trust and make sure that they are not put in situations that could lead to them doing something we regret.