Keep Your Children (and Dog) Safe

Over the past week, we have been overcome by the tragic news of two dog attacks in Melbourne. One of these incidences resulted in the death of a man, and the other, a serious bite to the face of a child. The sadness is overwhelming, The sadness is undeniable. When a dog turns on a person, we are invariably shocked and hurt by the fact that our best furry friends have let us down.

But what I want to write about here is not about dangerous dogs. I don't want to ramble about how staffordshire bull terriers are bred to attack, or that dobermans are instinctive guard dogs. I do not want to entertain these controversial generalisations, because right now we are mourning the loss of life and the wide spread pain of these attacks. This is a time for reflection. And, it is a time for consideration, on how we can prevent this from happening to anyone else again.

But, as we continue to read baited articles about dangerous dogs, we continue to evade the issue larger than a white elephant. It is not the dogs who let us down. It is us. We are the perpetrators, despite the breed of dog we have. If we honestly want to avoid another serious dog attack, we have go to start looking at ourselves. For humans, this is very difficult, hence the blame being cast to the breed of a dog.

This article is not about judgement or blame. It is aimed to provide an opportunity for collaboration, accepting that;- We are all responsible for our dogs' behaviour. - We are all responsible for our dogs' emotions, including their fear, happiness, safety and anger. - We are all responsible for our dogs' decisions. NONE of this should ever fall on the dog and here's why:

dogs are animals. They do not have the cognitive capacity to reason, to rationalise and to make decisions based on societal expectations.

they cannot speak our language. If they are afraid or angry, they cannot communicate this in any other way, but in their body language and behaviour.

if they make a mistake, they never get the opportunity to explain their behaviour.

Dogs cannot control their environment. If they are unsafe, and we do not protect them, they will act to protect themselves.

Dogs have teeth. They do not have hands to push you away. They do not have man made weapons to protect themselves. They just have their teeth, which they usually use as the absolute last resort of communication.

Tonight I met some friends at a dog friendly pub and I watched a 5 year old child (at another table) hold a ticking time bomb for a dog bite to the face, whilst every adult in the room drank beer, looked at their phones, or watched her with ignorance. Believe me, it took all of my impulse control not to say anything! Thankfully the dogs there were extraordinarily tolerant and the child left unscathed. Most of the time, dogs tolerate us. They are extraordinarily tolerant! Why don't we thank them for all the times that they tolerate our overbearing, rude, confronting encounters toward them? Or better yet, why don't we consistently prevent our dogs from having to deal with these on their own?

After the child got bitten last week, I got to thinking that if we want to put an end to dog bites, we desperately need a shift in our own behaviour. So, I invite you all to start talking about the issue and consider my listing of the ABSOLUTE NO-NOs below:

Never let your child approach a dog they do not know. EVER!

If your child would like to greet a dog, certainly ask the owner, but then ask the dog. This means, that your child should call the dog to them, NOT approach the dog. If the dog chooses not to come to them, then let sleeping dogs lie.

Never let your child hug, lean on, pinch or pull on your dog. Yes, there are wonderful stories of three-year-olds pulling a golden retrievers tail without event. These are the lucky ones. Don't be a d*ck to your dog, or child.

DO NOT pat a dog on their head. If your child is patting a dog, teach them to hold their hand out and stroke the side of the dog's body that is closest to them.

MOST CHILDREN ARE BITTEN BY DOGS IN THEIR HOME. Just think about that for a moment.

Do not let your child chase, corner, scream or push a dog. At some point, your child will be snapped at or even bitten. It WILL happen. This will not be the dog's fault.

Do not let your child near your dog when they are eating, or playing with other dogs. EVER!

Do not let your child ride your dog like a horse. Even some horses don't like this!

Do not let your child be a nuisance to your dog. Instead teach them how to feed your dog treats gently and quietly.

NEVER let your child access where your dog sleeps. Never allow your child to wake your dog up.

WILDCARD: Try not to encourage your child to pick your dog up. Dogs have enough trouble trying to feel in control when children are around.

We all want loving happy dogs and we all want loving happy children. It is possible. It comes down to us growing up as responsible adults. The more we choose to deny the facts, ignore the statistics, and overlook the research, the more we will hear of dog attacks. Let's take a step forward on the same path together, and protect the little ones we love, whether they have two legs or four. To purchase the book dognitive therapy head to


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© 2019 by Laura Vissaritis Dognitive Therapy