We Will Never Stop Headlines Like That, Until We Stop Photos Like This!

There have been a spate of tragic & nightmarish stories in the media recently involving small children & dogs. Here is just one of the latest stories. Incidences of aggression towards kids, by family dogs, seems to be on the increase. 

This latest series of 'cute' baby & dog pics from daily entertainment site Buzzfeed tell a totally different story, if canine communication is understood, even in its most basic form. Without going into much detail, I can break down what's wrong with almost all of the photos & explain why misunderstood dogs & naive parenting is causing so much damage to both a dog's reputation & the safety of the kids every parents in the sequence love dearly.Open the link & look at each photo, with the eyes of a canine communication interpreter, to see if it's all still cute, cuddly fun!

Example 1: Dog is being presented by an adult to the child, therefore, the dog has no option to get away (adults hand on the back of the dog). Dog's head is turned away, a classic communication signal of discomfort or stress.

Example 2: Two dogs in a high state of arousal (play fighting), in close proximity to a baby. Statistically, one dog on leash & another off, is the most likely scenario for a fight to break out. The leashed dog is restrained, therefore will be more defensive if things don't go to plan or he gets overwhelmed. Would you really, rationally, choose to add a baby to an already high arousal, potential dog fight scenario?

Example 3: Dog/child's face in close proximity.Young children get bitten on the face more often (adults tend to get bitten on the limbs) because of geography. However, face to face or direct eye contact can make many dogs uncomfortable & it could be perceived as a threat. 

Example 4: Yes, allowing a dog to use a baby's foot as a chew toy is always a great lesson for the dog in how to appropriately interact with kids, or any human for that matter. Leave things as they are for a year, & come back to me on how this one pans out!

Example 5: This dog looks positively terrified. How can I tell? He has been placed in an un-natural position sitting upright next to the baby. His eyes are averted to one side-a canine communication signal of discomfort and/or stress. His tongue is out-lip licking is another canine communication sign of stress & from the blurred nature of the photo, he's clearly trying to move out of the way. 

Example 6: Remember the old adage 'let sleeping dogs lie'? Here we have a small baby, crawling face first towards a settled dog, trying to get some peace, whose facial expression (see the whites of his eyes?) says, 'I'm not happy or comfortable about this approach!'

Example 7: Look at the tension in this dog's muzzle. His eyes are wide & rounded! The dog is strapped in (let's hope for everyone's safety sake), right next to a toddler who has clearly not been taught the appropriates ways to interact with a dog. Ear pulling is not nice-imagine one of your sensitive appendages being pulled by a child! Tolerant dogs will put up with it, but why should they? The first time this parent will realise something is wrong is when they are driving (no direct supervision of the child) & a full face bite results-close proximity issue again! Remember a dog can't say 'I have an ear infection, that hurts'. They try really hard not to bite us, but if we don't listen to them, can we really expect them not to be a dog about it?

Example 8:  Another worrying, close proximity shot of dog/child's face. It's hard to tell, but I think this dog is sitting down. Perhaps he's been told to sit for the photo. Now an obedient dog is in a lose/lose situation here. He doesn't want to disobey. His ears are back so he's not entirely happy about what's happening as a small child's hand may, at any point, grab his teddy bear fur and/or ears & then if he says 'I'm unhappy about that', he is labelled aggressive. 

Example 9: A tiny baby at the same elevation as a very large dog. He's checking the baby out with an extremely tense facial expression. Look at the dog's scrunched up facial muscles, with the whites of the eyes showing. Both are canine communication signals of stress & discomfort. 

Example 10: Oh Dear! A dog is being lifted in the owner's arms & presented face first to small grabbing 'creature', with no ability to get away. I say creature because a lot of dogs do not recognise small kids in the same bracket as the humans they are familiar with. And he's really not happy about the experience.  See those teeth on show, lips pushed forward, whites of the eyes showing, ears back. Poor dog is screaming 'get me out of here'. Would you be surprised if he bit this child?

Example 11: Once the dog starts barking, he is already aroused (through frustration, excitement, stress-only he can tell us). Then we have the aforementioned dog/child's face proximity issue again. Having an aroused dog this close to a small grabbing child is never a good idea. The adult could move the dog away & reward calm, relaxed behaviour in the presence of the child. Instead, the adult in charge of the dog asks the him to sit & hold a position which he's clearly said he's not sure about.

Example 12: This very young baby has been placed on the floor, at the dog's level which in itself isn't a good idea. Only two words to then describe what could go wrong; size differential! 

Example 13: Dog's very tense muzzle (see those lips forward again?), in close proximity to a small baby, who's blurred hand is on its way to grab, as babies of this age are prone to do. From the photo, it doesn't look like the dog is wearing either collar or leash, so how do you remove the dog if things go wrong? Grab him by his scruff & drag him away? Poor dog is really being set up to fail.

Example 14: The dogs ears look fairly relaxed, so this may be a good sign, but we can't see his facial features to judge further. What I am seeing, in terms of irresponsible interaction & learning, is whether the average parent would be happy if a strange dog put its feet on their baby's child seat & moved its face towards the baby for investigation? If the answer is 'no', why allow your dog to learn such bad habits in the first place?

Example 15: Ears back, whites of the eyes showing, universal canine communication signals for discomfort and/or stress. Are you starting to get the picture here?

Example 16: Another example as we saw before. A very young baby has been placed on the floor, at the dog's level which in itself isn't a good idea. 

Example 17: Again, just from the snippet we can see, & I apologies if I'm misinterpreting to labour the point (in fairness here, the owner may well be gently retraining the dog while he investigates the new arrival), this may be arms either presenting the dog, or restricting the dog from retreat during the interaction. Neither bode well for safe interaction!

Example 18: From the lay person's perspective, this dog looks like he's smiling & that's a good thing right? However, if we lined up 10 canine body language experts to give their interpretation of this photo, I am fairly sure they would all agree this dog looks stressed! His grimace isn't happy, or relaxed, it's tense &resigned! Again proximity if something did go wrong (Look! Another grabbing hand on the way!) means the child's face is terribly vulnerable.

Example 19: Size isn't everything, but it must be a contributing factor if things went wrong in this photo.  This dog's face is frighteningly close to a very young baby, who's cries & sounds can often be misconstrued by dogs as injured prey, resulting in at best, curious interest & at worst, well, headlines we all would rather not read! 

Example 20: Dog with his feet up on a what looks like a baby basket elevated & supported by a not-too-strong set of legs. If it tumbles & the baby starts crying (see above), what's next?

Example 21: A baby crawls face first towards a dog. As mentioned before, dogs often have trouble viewing children as small humans. Instead, due to strange noises, unpredictable actions & poor response to canine body language (kids are less likely to back off if they hear growling for example), dogs can see face to face approach & direct eye contact as highly threatening. If things do go wrong, again, proximity means the child's face takes the brunt of the bite!

Dogs & kids make wonderful mates. Dogs help boost a child's immune system, teach a sense of responsibility & encourage empathy with others. But dogs are not furry humans. They are a different species, who communicate in a totally different way to us. I know the adults who took these photos of their beloved dogs & kids would be horrified to think that anything could go wrong. Most of them would swear their dogs were safe & reliable & let's hope they are.

The more of these photos fly around the web daily, the more adult ignore dog body language signals, the greater the incidences of dog bites & fatalities towards children we will see. Parents, for the sake of your furry & non-furry babies, please, please learn to talk dog.  

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