Dogs, Babies and Bites

Welcome, everyone, to my new BLOG!*

A part of this glorious new website, for which I am most grateful to Monica at Sniff Design for her many hours of hard work!

4_17_4 All Hail Monica, for she is Awesome!!!

So this video appeared in my feed today — let’s watch and then discuss.

(Warning: Dog bites kid. No explanation given about whether kid is alright. Not graphic, but could be disturbing.)

(Facebook version here is slightly longer)

The video was posted to a dog trainers group, and the comments from dog trainers were all “I can’t believe that mom just let that happen,” “That dog was obviously stressed,” “You can see that bite coming, how can people allow this?” And so on.

So let me ask you, Dear Dog-Owning-General-Public-Reader, did you see that coming? Was it obvious the dog was stressed and ready to bite?

The signals the dog in the video gives are — looking away, tense closed mouth, still posture, ears pushed back, and a bit of “whale eye” (whites of eyes showing). I admit, they are subtle, so I thought, “I’ll find another video showing a calm dog around a baby, and the difference will be obvious.”


Such a video was HARD to find amongst the too-many-for-comfort videos of “cute” babies and dogs posted by their wholly unaware owners. Consider:

Yikes. Or this gem:

Holy Crap. That is one ridiculously tolerant dog. Not surprisingly, comments are disabled for that video.

So, SO many stressed-out dogs with kids or babies while parents who are are filming find it “cute.” Yet a quick search brought up numerous articles and infographics discussing dog body language and signals. The information is out there. So why aren’t people getting it? Here are a few handouts I give out in my classes. Feel free to download them.

body language Boogie2c  Dog Signals-Lili ChinSophiaYin_body_language_poster_fear_

To summarize them, if a dog:

  • pants
  • looks away from something
  • yawns
  • licks his nose or lips
  • scratches himself
  • sniffs the ground
  • “shakes off”
  • puts his ears back
  • puts his head down
  • has a “whale eye

And especially if the dog does more than one of these things, or if any of them are out of context (e.g. panting when he’s not hot, shaking off when he’s not wet, etc.) he is likely stressed. Leave him alone.

If the dog:

  • has a stiff or tense posture
  • stares directly at something for more than a second or two
  • has mouth tightly closed
  • is very still
  • snarls (shows teeth)
  • growls
  • snaps (air bite)

Then his next move is likely biting. Move away slowly and don’t make eye contact.

I had a client family who had a young daughter around four, who liked to try to pick up their small-ish dog. They asked me, “Barkley** snaps and growls when Audrey** tries to pick him up. How can we get him to stop snapping and growling?” I said, “Stop trying to pick up the dog.” Many dogs don’t like being picked up. Snapping and growling is the dog’s way of saying “Please don’t do this. If you continue to do this, I will have to bite.”

I had another family say to me, “Daisy** growled at me, but the day she growls at my kid is the day she leaves this house.” While the parent was telling me this, the child was pushing a high chair towards the dog, cornering the dog in the room! The dog was frantically trying to get away from the child.

** Names changed.

I wonder how many dogs are sadly put to sleep because owners who aren’t aware of signals force the dog to escalate his responses to make them heard? Have dogs become so immersed in our human culture that we forget they are a separate species with their own language? Sadly, I wonder how many dogs are punished for snapping and growling and other very “appropriate” dog language, forcing them to bite, which ironically seals their fate as “dangerous dogs”?

There is a great organization, Doggone Safe, that is working to get the word out about how to stay safe, and especially, how to keep kids safe, around dogs. The Be a Tree presentation is a quick seminar that can provide a lot of information in a fun format to help kids learn how to read dogs and to stay safe around them. I am a qualified presenter of the program and I can do a presentation for your school, religious group, club or organization. Call for details and scheduling. Here are a few more great resources to learn about doggie language and signals:

Finally, I did find a video of a dog being (relatively) calm around a baby.

The Golden does do some lip licking but he lets the baby take the ball (eventually), he has a happy open smiling mouth and he lies down relaxed toward the end. This is about as good as it gets with dogs and babies.

(Side note: There’s an awful lot of dogs licking babies in these videos. Do babies taste nice? Or are babies just that close to dogs’ faces, thus making licking the obvious thing to do – in which case, YIKES. Thoughts, anyone?)

Cassie whale eye watermark
Cassie making “whale eyes” towards another dog — “Um, you’re not thinking of taking my stick are you?”
Cassie ball watermark
Happy Cassie with no whale eye





*A blog? You ask, why would I want to add to all the noise that is already out there? Well, for one, to Google, noise = relevance = “Hey Searcher I think this great site here is what you need,” so there’s that. I could say “Because I want to enlighten people with my profound wisdom” but I’m not sure how wise I really am, so that leaves “Why the hell not?” Why does anyone write blogs? That’s a topic for another blog post…


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