When I’m out in the world I too often hear, “Wow, what a good dog!!” or "my child is really good with dogs". My stomach flips as I immediately see a child pushing a dog to what may be her limit. I think, “oh my gosh, somebody help this poor dog!” Doesn’t anyone notice the stress the dog is showing? Is today the day this dog can’t take anymore? The yet to be educated public is lulled into a false sense of security and continues on with lackluster supervision of how their children interact with dogs in a way that may be unsafe.
What many forget is that all dogs, even good dogs, have limits to their tolerance. I do not know a single person who has immeasurable tolerance. Too many of my clients have stated, “The bite came out of nowhere,” followed by, “If I only knew then, what I know now.” I go on to say, that most dog bites are coming from “good dogs” -- dogs that have been pushed too far. Dogs frequently tell us, “Please stop!” or “I’m freaking out over here, somebody help!”, but these pleas are often overlooked by humans. These are the phone calls I receive. A growl, snap, or bite which was scary enough to warrant a phone call that the guardian is now wanting immediate training, behavior modification, re-homing, or euthanasia.
Within the first initial consult I develop a plan for each particular family and provide ongoing guidance to help maintain that plan in their personal situation. Guardians that were once "supervisors" are turned into "guides" transforming doable, daily situations into a path for success. The family dog begins receiving great things especially when the children are around making noises, running, dropping toys. These great things (treats, toys, praise, etc.) are like adding money into her bank account if she had one. This bank account is improving her mental health and increasing her tolerance. Then, when the inevitable sippy cup falls next to her (surprise), toy flies across the room (frightens), or physical contact happens (hurt/pain) between toddler and dog, the dog now has a full bank account and doesn’t mind when withdrawals are made. Even the unwanted hugs that dogs receive from children can be pacified by keeping the balance high, this hefty bank account helps make everyone feel happy and safe.
Indeed the curse of a good dog is one that many people would think to wish upon themselves. After all, we should all be so lucky as to have a well mannered companion enriching our lives. However, dog guardians with children can be lulled into a false sense of security and even those without children can find the dog they thought “The Best on Earth” may become a loose cannon within one trip to the park, depending on the situation of the dog that day. With mindfulness, empathy, and an educated/ observant eye we can prevent the gift of a good dog from becoming a curse.