Following the tragic death of a five year old girl who was mauled to death on New Years Day in Merseyside the issue of dangerous and aggressive dogs has been very much in the news. It is very important that owners of ALL dogs, regardless of breed, realise that even their best friend may become unpredictable and possibly dangerous under certain circumstances.
I believe the number one rule if you have a dog and a child or children is never ever leave them together unattended, however much you love and trust your pet. Children, especially young ones, can behave in an unpredictable manner themselves and may not realize the implications of their own actions. Toddlers or young children may decide that it is fun to pull a tail or push toys in ears for example, without realizing that these actions may hurt their pet. A tolerant pet may give warning signals but the child may not recognize these nor act upon them. If the child's actions cause genuine pain to the dog (for example the dog may have an ear infection and any touch on those ears could be tremendously painful) and the child does not respond to the warning signals what can the dog do but take it a stage further and bite? From the dog's point of view it is the only option left!
Of course in the event of a responsible adult being present in the above scenario the child would be told to stop and potential tragedy could be averted. We must remember that we have a responsibility towards all those in our household who are unable to completely fend for themselves. Our number one responsibility must be towards our children and if for whatever reason a dog and child cannot be properly supervised the person at fault must surely be the responsible adult. I know many people will be reading this article and getting cross with me because "their dog would never do such a thing". Well I would like to remind you that it is exactly what a wolf would do to another member of its pack if it was pushed too far and the behaviour of our canine companions is very little removed from that of the wolf.
Even adults often misread the signs which our dogs give us. For example what do you do when your dog rolls over on his back, legs in the air displaying his belly with a plaintive look in his eye? I would bet a lot of money that almost all of you would approach him and tickle his belly because he wants his tummy tickled doesn't he? No he does not. He is displaying a classic submissive posture which if you speak "dog" says; "I am totally submissive to you, I may even be slightly afraid of you, please approach no further and stop any dominant display which you are giving to me" But the average owner walks right up close and caresses that tummy. The dog may submit to this fine but you are not doing the thing he wants at all. If he is really frightened of you he is already on his back and cannot run, he has given you the most submissive display possible for him to give and in his eyes you are still on the attack. Again, what choice does he have in his mind but to bite? You have pushed him beyond his limits!
I know that some people get approached in parks and on the street by potentially aggressive dogs. The vast majority of these animals are in my experience merely inquisitive. However many people react by waving their arms, running about trying to get away (futile because a dog can always run faster!) and making a noise. All of which will excite the dog and make any attack more likely. Stay still and calm, keep your arms close to your body and shout loudly for help; start to back slowly away from the animal and avoid eye contact.
If the dog has his tail held up high, his hackles are raised, he is walking stiffly as if "stalking you" and possibly showing his teeth or snarling, an attack may be imminent. If there is still no help try to back towards any possible weapons such as large sticks which you could use to fend off an attack if it occurs. However it is much more likely that the dog is merely inquisitive and merely wants to have a sniff at you, in which case his tail will probably be down or level with his body and possibly wagging. He could "play-bow" at you in which case the front of the body is lowered while the back is raised. All these are non-aggressive, friendly signs. In all likelihood the owner will be nearby and will call the dog away eventually.
Another golden rule is not to try to break up a fight between dogs by trying to physically separate them yourself. Enraged dogs will be biting each other and will be likely to bite you by mistake if you get in the way. If you can get a bucket of water over them that might help to separate them, but if they are really going for it there may be little you can do to stop the fight before it has run its natural course. Ensure the losing animal has ample opportunity to escape from the victor.
Of course it is always the responsibility of the owner of any dog to ensure that it will not attack any innocent passer-by (human or canine). Dogs which are known to be aggressive and show dominant behaviour should be kept on leads and within the garden at home with a warning on the gate so any callers will be warned not to enter the area where the dog is.
I know that there is much publicity regarding the so-called dangerous breeds of dog. Although these animals may as a breed have a greater tendency towards aggressive behaviour I would like to point out that any breed of dog may become aggressive for many different reasons. Sometimes even the most loving pet can be grumpy and liable to snap, especially if in pain or unwell. Usually dominant behaviour by the dog in the family should be taken as a warning sign that things are not as they should be and behavioural advice sought before things get out of hand. A truly dominant animal will need very experienced and knowledgeable owners if it is to become a good pet and should never be homed with children.
If you have young children and a pet dog in your household you may be interested in a DVD called Blue Dog which aims to teach young children how to avoid being hurt by a dog in a way which is fun for them and easily understood. However as I said before, you should never leave a young child and a dog unsupervised together anyway, however much you love and trust your dog it is a risk which you should not take.