Gift Wrapping Dog Bites?!

We're well into the holiday season and the stores, despite the wintry weather, are bustling with Christmas shoppers. Many of our readers are dog lovers...

Casey Lomonaco  |  Dec 14th 2010


We’re well into the holiday season and the stores, despite the wintry weather, are bustling with Christmas shoppers. Many of our readers are dog lovers and parents to two-legged children. Some of them are also lovers of literacy and have realized that books often make wonderful gifts.

There’s been a lot of outcry recently from the professional dog training community about a recently released children’s book called Smooch Your Pooch by Teddy Slater and Arthur Howard. Why would a bunch of dog trainers care about a children’s book? Because many of the recommendations in this one are very dangerous. While the authors advocate “smooching your pooch” the fact of the matter is that hugging and kissing dogs are the reasons many children are seriously bitten by dogs each year. As trainers, we try to teach children safe, fun, and appropriate ways to interact with the family pet. The goal of dog training professionals should be increasing the enjoyment dogs and their people are able to have in each other through means which are safe for all involved parties.

Veterinary behaviorist Sophia Yin recently wrote about this book on her (wonderful) blog.

In fact, according to a study of dog bites to kids publishing in Injury Prevention in 2007, the researchers found that familiar children were bitten most often in the context of “nice” interactions — such as kissing and hugging — with their own dogs or dogs that they knew. And most children had been bitten by dogs that had no history of biting.

I think the last sentence in the quote from Dr. Yin may well be the most important – “most children had been bitten by dogs that had no history of biting.” Every dog can (and will) bite given the right circumstances. Yes, even your dog that loves your children. Yes, even Uncle Bob’s unbelievably well-trained service dog. To learn more about how a variety of factors can create the ideal situation for a dog bite, read my blog How Are Dog Bites Like Tetris?

Most dogs don’t like to be hugged and kissed. Many dogs may tolerate it, but few actively enjoy it. Compounding the problem is the fact that if you are hugging and/or kissing a dog, your face is generally right next to their teeth.

I have not yet read the book, but Dr. Yin says the “smooch your pooch” suggestion is only the tip of the “un-safety ice burg” in this children’s book. In her blog, she mentions at least four unsafe recommendations crammed into thirty short pages.

In reviewing some online reviews, I find that the reviewers are generally split into two factions – pet professionals and parents. Pet professionals are saying, “this book is dangerous,” and the parents are saying, “Yeah, but the pictures are really cute and this book is funny!”

I am all for a children’s book which encourages children to interact with the family dog in ways that are safe and enjoyable while promoting an enhanced bond. I am concerned about a book which makes dangerous recommendations that puts both dogs and children in considerable danger.

Hugging and kissing the dog may be enjoyable for the person involved but usually, a dog’s body language tells a different story. Here is a story of a toddler ending up in the emergency room as a result of doing just what this books’ authors recommend.

Karen Delise, dog bite researcher, stated: “My research and investigation into 45 years of incidents of dog bite injuries has convinced me that a situation we understand as non-threatening, may be perceived quite differently by our dog,” says Delise. “When we say a bite is ‘unprovoked,’ we mean ‘I do not understand why the dog reacted as he did.’.”

Most people watch the above video and think it is adorable. Cute dog, cute baby, cuteness all around. Do you hear the infant’s mom laughing in the background? Any dog trainer that watches this video generally obtains 97 new grey hairs over the course of one minute and two seconds. THIS IS A DOG BITE WAITING TO HAPPEN. It will not be funny to anyone when that beautiful child is in the hospital and the dog is potentially euthanized.

Doggone Safe, an organization committed to dog bite prevention and education, lists hugging as one of the more common reasons a dog may feel provoked to bite. During National Dog Bite Prevention week, the organization provided three tips for keeping kids safe around dogs:

The 3 Most Important Things to Teach Your Kids
1. Dogs Dont Like Hugs and Kisses Teach your kids not to hug or kiss a dog on the face. Hugging the family dog or face-to-face contact are common causes of bites to the face. Instead, teach kids to scratch the dog on the chest or the side of the neck.
2. Be a Tree if a Strange Dog Approaches Teach kids to stand still, like a tree. Trees are boring and the dog will eventually go away. This works for strange dogs and anytime the family dog gets too frisky or becomes aggressive.
3. Never Tease a Dog and never disturb a dog thats sleeping, eating or protecting something.

See how “dogs don’t like hugs and kisses” tops the list?

Saying that “my kids hug my dog all the time and nothing bad has happened yet” is the equivalent of saying, “I drive drunk all the time and have never been in an accident.” In both situations, someone could easily get hurt (or worse), and thankfully, neither has yet exploded into a situation where a life is lost or forever changed as a result of incidents which could have easily been prevented by responsibility.

If you want to buy your child a book about dogs this Christmas, skip Smooch Your Pooch. I highly recommend Good Dog! Kids Teach Kids About Dog Behavior & Training written by kids, for kids, featuring great suggestions for safe, fun, and dog-friendly means of promoting a better bond between your dogs and children. Younger children may enjoy Don’t Lick the Dog! a book which promotes safe interactions between dogs and children and is written for 3 – 8 year old audiences.