(Editor’s note: This blog is in response to a video making the rounds on YouTube titled “Pug and Baby Can't Share a Cookie.”)
Dogs and babies are definitely the stuff of cute videos. There’s no doubt about that. And there’s no surprise this video is so popular. There they are, a dog and a baby. We’ve got the two sweetest ingredients, right?
Trouble is, there’s poison brewing in the sweetness. The interaction between these two looks cute to some, but it’s dangerous – very dangerous. In fact, from the first 10 seconds of the video the baby is at risk of getting bitten (probably in the face).
What? Aren’t Pugs nice dogs? (We put way too much emphasis on the breed of dog in almost all cases). My dog would never bite my child. My child can do anything to my dog and he’s okay with it. He understands it’s a game. We tell stories about our dogs, and sometimes they are sweet. Oftentimes though, the stories we tell are not the whole story. That can get our kids, our dogs and us in big trouble.
Let’s look at what’s really going on in this video. Watch the dog. He’s guarding the cookie, an object he seems to value a great deal. The child reaches for the cookie and at 10 seconds into the video the dog yawns. This is a very common way dogs signal stress and try to diffuse it. At 22 seconds the dog lunges for the object, a sign he’s intent on keeping it and a warning to the child. One second later he puts his paw on the child, another warning. That happens again at the one-minute mark. At 1:10 the dog briefly freezes. This is a dire warning to end the conflict. Dogs often growl when they freeze. Frequently, the freeze is quickly followed by a bite. He freezes again at 1:30. At 1:34 the dog walks away with the cookie, another common and quite reasonable thing dogs do when guarding an object.
I can hear you. “Michael,” you might say, “It’s just a cute video. You are nit picking and over reacting.” Not really. This video ended well. We don’t see the interactions that end in bites. Maybe that’s because bites aren’t cute. But, children do get bitten, often in the face and usually by the family dog (who was always very sweet and tolerant before). Parents will report that the bite came “out of the blue” and that it was unpredictable and there was no warning. But there were warnings, plenty of them. They were all in the video we just watched.
When dogs bite children, everyone is hurt. Certainly, the child who was bitten is hurt. And, the dog is often killed – that’s the hard truth of it. We have a very low tolerance for aggression in dogs (much lower than our tolerance for human aggression). More dogs are euthanized every year for behavior problems than the three leading fatal dog illnesses – combined. That’s sad, very sad for the family who makes that decision to euthanize. Everyone hurts.
We can prevent dog bites. It starts with opening our eyes and seeing what our dogs are telling us. They are actually very good at resolving conflicts without aggression, just like the Pug in the video. We just have to notice. We can prevent bites by teaching our children not to antagonize our dogs. Yes, many of our dogs are very tolerant, but they shouldn’t have to be. Let’s give them a break. Let’s also teach our dogs good manners and coping skills. Yes, the trainer is recommending training , good modern reward-based training. There’s just no better way.
And finally, let’s decide together to stop glorifying these videos of dogs and children in conflict. There’s so much real cuteness out there: kids and dogs playing, kids and dogs learning, kids and dogs growing up in a spirit of love and cooperation. It’s the stuff of great stories – books and movies. Let’s celebrate that. It’s powerful stuff, and oh so sweet.
Michael Baugh CDBC, CPDT-KSA is a dog trainer in Houston, TX. He specializes in canine behavior related to fear and aggression.