June 22, 2006

How to meet a doggie

I'm a fellow for whom regret over past actions or inactions is a principally defining characteristic, so it's very heartening to know that through sheer luck and some small planning on my parent's part, I ended up with a terrific beastie, the best one in fact.

What causes me to wax so complimentary regarding Zeke's better qualities today, you ask? "Say Chief, why should I care about your dog?" you query. For the very simple reason that there are two things that are everywhere people co-habitate: dogs and children. Knowing how to mix the two properly is something you need to know.

There have been three points in Zeke's nearly 13 years when the laws of nature would have squarely stood behind his decision to bite the crap out of a small child, yet he refrained from indulging himself. I say natural laws of the world, because of course the laws of our great nation don't consider a 100 pound dog ever justified in biting a child, which is for the best overall I'm sure. But in nature, in the day to day experience of life, things aren't always so neat and clear cut.

There was the time he was fast asleep when a fast moving 5-year old tripped and did a faceplant into his gut. Most creatures when awoken from deep slumber by a sucker-punch to the breadbasket would snap first and ask questions later, but Zeke demonstrated tremendous self-control by stopping himself from the very justified impulse-chew he reflexively began.

Another time, one bright summer day Zeke and I were wiling away the hours in San Francisco when a small child of no more than 4 years old snuck up behind us and punched Zeke right in his asshole. Not near his ass, not in his flank... he walloped my dog smack in his pooperhole. Needless to say, this was startling to my otherwise stoic beastie, who responded by spinning around, jaws open, fully prepared to exact holy, wholly-justified vengeance on the uninvited intruder to his dignity. Once again Zeke's reflexes and even greater impulse control, upon recognizing that it was neither dog nor man but small child who had so accosted him, saved this ass-abusing toddler from a death-dealing chomp. Instead Zeke directed his anger at me, giving me the type of withering look which I interpreted to be somewhat akin to Mercutio bitching out Romeo for getting stabbed under his arm.

And just last night on our walk as we passed a house with two young children playing in the front yard, both Zeke and I were surprised by the unsupervised little girl who had left her yard to run up behind us and "pet" Zeke. Petting has several definitions, depending on one's age, but in no stage of development is it characterized by smacking a dog on his tailbone. Hard. Zeke, much slower with age and arthritis, nevertheless once again demonstrated his total good-dogginess by restricting himself to a simple dirty look at the child rather than taking her head off.

I chastised the little one somewhat roundly, which caused the mother to appear, wondering what I was doing with her daughter. I then chastised the absent-mother, and proceeded to explain several vital instructions to both of them regarding strange dogs, and how to instruct children on their interactions with dogs.

What you need to know
While death by dog bite is very rare, there's a heck of a lot of non-fatal dog bites each year, around 4.7 million according to the Centers for Disease Control. The most frequent victims are between ages 5 and 9, and almost all the bites were inflicted by a known assailant -- the family dog or that of a neighbor. 4.7 million a year seems like a surprisingly high number, but not nearly so much when you consider there are almost 70 million pet dogs in the US.

I wish these statistics could convey the circumstances of the bite; while there's no doubt that a number of dogs are unstable or just plain mean, as a dog owner and someone with more than the average knowledge of the species, my experience tells me that the dog's bite is commonly either a last resort defense, a panic response to an intrusive, unsupervised child, or a simple accident.

Here are what I consider the five most important guidelines for meeting dogs that you may want to teach your children:

1. Never, ever, sneak-up on a dog. Always announce your presence, as a startled dog may bite out of surprise.

2. Always check with the owner of the dog first. Some may know that their dog doesn't like children, strangers, or anyone (I have no idea who's dog is like that) or others may be in a hurry and have no interest in spending time with you. ** Special note for Service dogs: seeing-eye dogs are often "working" when you come across them on the street. Never let your child interact with a service dog doing its job without clear permission from the person it is assisting. Please don't be surprised to hear the person refuse your request. Don't take it personal; they're blind and in the middle of the street and you're just someone distracting the dog from keeping them out of traffic...

3. Always introduce yourself to the dog by letting the dog sniff your hand if it wishes. Offering your hand, palm-side down, to the dog slowly will help to keep a dog calm while they meet a stranger or a child, something that may be stressful to them.

4. Don't immediately try to pet the top of a dog's head. A strange child moving their hand above the dog's head will likely cause the dog to duck and squirm away, wondering what's about to be dropped on it.

And for parents...

5. Never leave your child alone with a dog, even one you know well. If you're sitting there saying, "ok, but MY dog would never, ever..." I'm sure that at least 2 million of the 4.7 million dogs who bite a child each year are dogs whom their owners swore would never, ever...

There are of course other suggestions, but the golden rule is to ensure you're always dealing with a supervised child and a supervised dog.


At 11:59 AM, Blogger Mr.T said...

Amen! Right in the poop hole? That's just wrong!

At 12:25 PM, Blogger Maya said...

Just a fantastic informative writing and Zeke is adorable...I have 4 Akitas and appreciate immensely these funny noble creatures! Maya-Cold Mountain


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