One of the most irksome phrases uttered to me regularly since I had kids has to be: “Oh, he won’t bite.” I know this is a polarizing statement, but I’m going to venture forward in the hope of persuading even one dog owner guilty of this that no matter how absolutely certain you are that your dog is a well behaved angel, it’s a risk not worth taking for a mother and her baby to trust you and find you prove wrong.
Earlier today while I was chasing the kids around in a grassy public space, an off-leash dog came out of nowhere and chased Emilia down and brought her to to absolute tears, barking and circling her while the owner slowly mosied over, reassuring me that she wouldn’t ever bite a child. I had Caroline in my arms when the dog first approached us and recall that I looked to the owner with a smile, confirming with an almost rhetorical “She’s friendly?” at the same moment that I extended my hand to offer for a sniff. It was reflexive. I didn’t even think that the dog might not be friendly. She’d approached me calmly, sweetly, and she was off-leash. In the 10 seconds it had taken for this strangers dog to reach me, I’d intuited that the situation was safe enough that I’d been about to lean down and allow her to approach my 1 year old because I want my children to develop a comfort with dogs and appreciate how to positively interact with animals. I even mumbled something like “The baby is obsessed with dogs” just as I noticed the dog veer off to trot toward my other daughter, a bit farther off in the distance.
Off in her own world, Emilia had started to run right at that unfortunate moment, and as my slow mind caught up to process what my eyes were seeing (a dog bounding like a bullet toward someone she thinks is playing with her), I screamed: “Emilia! STOP RUNNING!” At that same moment, realizing that the dog’s owner wasn’t going to make any moves to intercede, I began to run.
I didn’t quite make it in time before the dog charged at my daughter, circle her and barked just inches from her face, but from her trajectory from my side to my daughter’s, I’d been anticipating her to be knocked to the ground in a full assault because the dog sped through the air. As soon as I reached her, I stood between her and the dog, yelling “GO! and “Stop it! Down!” before I could safely lean down to collect and comfort Emilia, but I was also in complete shock that this dog owner had done so little to control his pet — or intervene in any way.
And then as I’m trying to comfort my terrified, sobbing, shaking child, the dog owner yelled at ME that Emilia must have been afraid of dogs long before this. Something was said about her being just a puppy, and the old standard, she wouldn’t bite, she loves kids! And then finally, to “go back to my Utopia…” or something to that effect.
My daughters love dogs. I love dogs. How can anyone not like dogs, you know? But I don’t care how sweet you think your dog is, if my kid doesn’t know your dog and it’s not trained to listen to you and you have him off leash in a public space, have the decency to respond appropriately when there are children around because unless you’re the Wizard of Oz, operating your dog’s brain from behind a velvet curtain, you cannot and should not tell a mother (or anyone) what your dog is capable of! Have a little courtesy. A little compassion. And a little empathy. My daughter is just three years old and the last thing I want to encourage her to develop is an unnecessary fear of animals.
After her tears were dried, Emilia and I talked for a long time about dogs and how puppies play roughly like that and how important it is to remember to stay calm and keep your hand low for sniffing, if this should ever happen again. We talked about fear and how it’s an appropriate response to a dog charging at you and barking, but that this dog was just a puppy whose owner wasn’t being very responsible and making sure his dog listened to him and stayed on his leash. I reminded her how much she loved Lottie, our neighbor’s dog, and how Lottie once jumped up on Emilia and scared her and licked Caroline’s face once, causing Caroline to burst into tears. These things happen! And each time, Lottie learns a little bit more about how to play nicely with you guys, I think I explained.
What I wanted to say was Protect your face! Kick! Make a stomping sound and yell STOP! but that would have been irresponsible and thoughtless of me and if we all operated like that, the world would be a pretty miserable place. Instead, I’m going to leave you with this: please don’t tell me that your dog won’t bite. Instead, tell me that you’ve done everything you can to socialize your dog with children. There is always going to be a risk of a bite, but at least this is a more honest approach. Finally, if your dog hasn’t been socialized with children, maybe take a peek at this article and take some steps to help both your pet and all the moms out there, rest a little easier: Top Ten Tips for Childproofing Your Dog.