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Don't trust dogs with kids: vet

Discussion in 'Training & Behavior' started by Vicki, Jun 9, 2010.

  1. Vicki

    Vicki Administrator Staff Member

    Don't trust dogs with kids: vet

    Risk of mauling; Even many experts aren't aware of danger

    By CHERYL CORNACCHIA, The Gazette June 9, 2010

    After hearing about Monday's fatal dog attack on a helpless infant in a small community northeast of Montreal, Hudson veterinarian Amanda Glew found herself thinking about a conference on animal behaviour she attended six years ago.

    The conference topic: Would you leave a child alone with your family dog?

    About 80 per cent of the veterinarians in attendance raised their hands to signal that they would. Then, Glew said, they were treated to a slide show with more than 100 horrific images, the human carnage from dog bites and maulings.

    Many of the dogs had belonged to veterinarians and veterinary technicians.

    "It was a visual 'oh my God' moment," Glew, a veterinarian at the Hudson Veterinary Hospital who also teaches at Vanier College, said yesterday.

    "I think I had let my own guard down," she said, adding that she altered her behaviour after that conference, crating her dogs rather than leaving them unsupervised in the presence of her own children. Even for a few brief moments.

    The reasons for these safety measures became abundantly clear this week with the death of a 3-week-old baby girl mauled by one, if not two, huskies while left unattended by her young mother in a house in St. Barnabé Sud, a small community about 70 kilometres northeast of Montreal.

    While it has become commonplace to give dogs human names like Jack or Bill, deck them out in designer duds and treat them as part of the family, the bottom line is that a dog is a dog and children should never be left unsupervised with one, no matter what its size or breed, animal behaviour experts cautioned yesterday.

    Some animal adoption agencies will not place a dog in a home with young children for this very reason. Rosie's Animal Adoption Agency, for example, requires that children be at least 8 years old before a dog or puppy known to the agency can be placed in a family, and 12 years old if the dog is a stray.

    Dogs are pack animals that have a natural instinct known as the prey drive - an instinct to hunt and take down prey - and if triggered it can wreak serious damage, especially when the dog is a large-breed dog.

    Children under the age of 10 often lack the maturity to see when this natural instinct has been triggered. A dog's stiffened posture, a forward lean, a straight tail are all giveaway signs to an adult.

    But they can be missed by a child.

    In addition, that very prey drive can be triggered by a child's rambunctious and unpredictable behaviour or an infant's flailing arms and cooing sounds.

    Of the 25 fatal dog attacks in Canada between 1990 and 2007, 85 per cent of them involved children under the age of 12, Enid Stiles, a veterinary behaviourist at the Sherwood Park Animal Hospital on the West Island, said yesterday.

    The median age of those victims was 5, Stiles said.

    Caution must be exercised when young children and infants are around dogs, especially strange dogs, Stiles said. "We know that any dog - even the most kind, sweet dog - can bite," she said. But "if we are there to supervise," those situations can be prevented.

    Fatal dog attacks are not common events, and the circumstances around this week's tragedy involving an infant are "extremely rare," she said.

    She said she worries that many dog owners with young children will become fearful that their animals cannot be trusted or think they have to give up their pet dogs, especially if they are huskies.

    Dogs that are socialized, fed well and supervised by a caring adult make wonderful pets that teach children about responsibility and companionship, and, Stiles said, parents must not lose sight of that fact.

    Education is the key, said Michel Gosselin, a veterinarian at the DMV Veterinary Centre in Lachine.

    Dogs lack the ability to see the full range of human behaviour as belonging to the same non-threatening, non-prey species.

    "To a dog, an infant, a child, an adult, an old person, a woman, a man, they are all different beasts," Gosselin said. "Even race can change a dog's perception."

    Rather than placing the onus on dogs to stop being dogs, Montreal-area animal trainer Gaby Popper said the responsibility lies with dog owners, who he says are all too often foolhardy.

    "You shouldn't leave a 3-year-old unattended, period," Popper said. "Never mind unattended with a dog.

    "You don't trust a child's judgment about anything else. Why should we trust them to be alone with a dog?"

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