July 11, 2016

A Kid Needs to Pet a Strange Dog Like a Reactive Dog Needs a Bicycle

Last week I had the funniest incident to date involving a child wishing to pet my dogs but it also brings up something serious: dog bite prevention. Kids are cute, dogs are cute, together they are cuteness squared, but that temptation to capture the perfect picture or upload the next viral video often overrides good judgment. Children are the most at risk of dog bites, and it is up to us as responsible owners to mitigate that risk. One of the easiest ways to do so is not to allow random kids to pet our dogs if we have the slightest hesitation about how they might handle it. 

My dogs have had very little experience with kids. Ruby is reactive and unpredictable, doing best when people come to our house but on high-alert outside the home. Boca doesn't worry me very much but when since I usually walk both girls together, her exposure to kids and strangers is limited. She does get nervous about people looming over her or reaching over her head. Boca did wonderfully at Blog Paws and also spent some time with my friend's 3-year-old daughter on our recent road trip. She was sweet and gentle with the little girl; however, several times when the hugging and kissing got too much she would move away. My friend and I took the opportunity to point out Boca's body language to her daughter and explain that Boca didn't want any more hugs or kisses right then. It can be hard to tell a child "no" when all they want to do is love on a dog. I was an animal-crazy little girl myself, but I grew up with a dog that was afraid of children and was taught about boundaries and body language at a young age. Even as an adult I tend to be very reserved around other peoples' animals. 

I do notice that more and more kids ask before running up to my dogs; however, as the inadvertently hilarious exchange below proves, they don't always take no for an answer...

Scene:  A warm evening in the townhouse complex, a woman walking her two ridiculously cute red-and-white dogs. She sees a cluster of girls on bicycles - stationary for now - and hurries to get the smaller dog out of sight of the bicycles. The larger dog would of course take a poop right this minute, and in the midst of picking it up and holding two leashes, one of the girls breaks from the herd and pedals industriously toward our frantic trio. The woman scoops up the smaller dog in the nick of time, with some miraculous third arm and strides away at a breakneck pace.  

Little Girl [pedaling]: Can I pet your dogs?

Woman [fleeing]: No, sorry, she's afraid of bikes. 

Little Girl [pedaling] [possibly mistaking "bikes" for "bites"]: It's okay, I've been bitten before! 

Woman [fleeing]: Oh, dear! Well, we have to go for now. 

Little Girl [pedaling]: Do they both bite?

Woman [fleeing]: Neither of them bite, but we are trying to get away from your bike! 

Little Girl [pedaling]: I can get off my bike! 

Woman [fleeing]: No, sorry, better not! 

I had to admire the girl's perseverance - she clearly loved dogs despite having a previous negative experience (although perhaps not used as a teaching moment by her parents). Maybe she'll grow up to be a trainer or vet tech! I laughed most of the way home, replaying the incident to The Ginger Sisters like the crazy dog lady I am. I felt bad telling her no...repeatedly...but as my dogs' advocate I have to protect them from even the cutest, most determined children. 


  1. Thank you for the glorious image of you scurrying your poop bag and dogs, while being chased down by Ruby's worst nightmare. For all the right reasons, I love this moment of apparent craziness! Well done, Ginger Sister Protector!

  2. This is so interesting to read because as you know I do therapy dog work with two dogs in two different situations both involving children. My dogs are child proofed as much as possible (although I have no children at home) but I'm always on-top of this situation because children and dogs are not predictable. Even with my dogs being very child proofed when for instance, we are at the library for the reading program and there is a particularly 'difficult and over zealous' child we might excuse ourselves for a moment and walk around in private for a minute or two to refocus our selves. I also have a time limit for therapy work that I strictly stick to and if I see a dog tiring we leave prior to that time. For me it is all about being sure my dogs are enjoying the work and are safe. I do see with every visit we do, children that are afraid of dogs. I find this so sad and I try my best to help them work thru it with my gentle, calm dogs. Each time we are in public doing therapy dog work I take it as an opportunity to be able to educate the public this is a side of therapy dog work that not many folks mention but for me it is huge opportunity not to be missed. I can help teach these children how to approach and interact with a dog as well as to ask before petting etc. One way that I work to socialize my dogs with children is to go to parks with playgrounds. We walk on the outskirts of the playground and I carefully watch for stress signs...we adjust the distance for the dogs benefit. We play games and do simple sits and downs and tricks with high rewards. This gives the dogs the opportunity to see and hear children..the screaming and crazy movements they make but at a distance that is best for my dog. .....ok that is a bunch of random thoughts all piled together, you can clearly see why I'm not a writer or blogger :-) BTW can you tell us how you work that third arm and call it into play ?? :_)

  3. Oh dear! That's the last thing I would have expected to come from that girl's mouth! How do you respond to that? Sounds like you handled it brilliantly!

  4. Ahahaha! I can just picture this scenario in my head and you saying those words. We're in the same situation. McKenzie has some reactivity and none of my dogs are well versed in the ways of children. This story was awesome.

  5. I am reading this at work and laughing out loud! I don't know which is funnier, picturing you juggling two dogs and a hot bag of poo while fleeing a determined elementary schooler, or the fact that the kid was willing to take one for the team and get bitten just so she could pet your dogs!! Hilarious. :-)

  6. Mom is having flash backs. When someone runs up to us I cringe
    Lily & Edward

  7. I have no idea how I would have reacted to the little girls commentary. Seriously? Such determination lol. It is nice that more kids seem to be asking before petting dogs these days, but it's still such an iffy situation for me because I cringe when instead of just petting they go in for a hug. Luckily Laika seems to adore children, but given her painful hips I can just imagine a child touching her wrong and... Yeah I don't want to think about it.

  8. Haha, that is a funny image!

    Dachshunds are kid magnets, and one the rare occasions Pike has to go somewhere (carsick is an understatement), it's even worse for him. My dogs are regularly around very young kids (1-3 years), and are great with them, but I do not allow strange children to touch my animals. Heck, I barely let adults touch them!

  9. My dogs LOVE kids. :-) Dante though tends to scare smaller children, all the kids though tend to love Ziva. I like when kids ask, if their parents are nearby I also want them to ask mom/dad if they can say hi. In our case I encourage the meetings if the kid wants to say hi so that we can be seen as friendly and positive pitbull interactions.

  10. I am glad you all were able to escape from the child and the bike!

    It's interesting... I find (working with my training clients) that some people feel guilty having to tell someone "no, you can't pet my dog." Which can lead to bad experiences for the dog, or to someone getting bit! But even with non-reactive dogs, not everyone needs to pet the dog!

    I often have my clients specifically practice telling people "no," and help them learn to tell the difference between good situations where it is okay to let someone pet the dog, and times when it is best to say no and move on.

  11. *facepalm* Seriously, the "I've been bitten before" statement is unbelievable to me. Clearly her parents need to work with her on appropriate behavior. We actually had a kid trying to chase us down on his bike to pat Cooper, who's terrified of kids, so we ended up crossing a super busy street with the assumption/hope that the kid wasn't allowed to cross there and would turn back. Thankfully it worked, but... ugh.

  12. I've had to sprout extra arms before, too. It always happens when you're trying to pick up poop, doesn't it? We had a little girl on a bike yell across the street to us that there was a dog a few houses down that had bitten her before and she didn't want us to get bitten. It was so sweet of her that Barley and I turned around and went the other way even though the dog was clearly inside barking at the window.


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