Harmful Good Intentions

Dog And Baby

Harmful Good Intentions

Harmful Good Intentions

Every few months some video or image pops up in the media with the intention to dispel dog breed bias or illustrate the kindness or trainability of “bully” breeds.  We all love to see these images and anyone who has ever lived with and loved a dog can appreciate the messages behind these lovely posts.  Unfortunately, a well-intentioned video or image can lead to harm just by the chance that it becomes viral and gives people the wrong idea.

Case in point, the following video shows a well-behaved child feeding six large calm Pit Bulls: http://youtu.be/zQVZc7IVfpQ.  On the surface, this video seems to show how an often misunderstood breed can actually be as docile and polite as every advocate knows them to be.

Unfortunately, there has been a lot of controversy surrounding this video as many dog trainers and vets are cautioning people not to try this at home and praying not to have too many phone calls due to children being bitten by dogs while being fed.  This sounds crazy, but it happens. After a few images of dogs being hugged by children went viral a few years ago, there was a marked increase in facial bites from seemingly “harmless” dogs.  First things first — no dog is harmless. Even the sweetest, most acclimated dog can bite in times of stress or pain and, as many dogs are stoic, a bite often “comes out of nowhere” when it is being described by a pained owner.  It is much safer to capture an image of your dog and child with you as an intermediary.

This is not to say that there are no positive points of this video. The dogs seem engaged for the most part, the supervising adult is giving clear directions, the child is politely praising each dog for compliance, and there is an obvious release allowing the dogs to eat. However, if even one small thing went wrong in this situation, the headline would have been far more serious and, unfortunately, far more common.  For every awesome video and image of dogs and children, there are dozens more where a child is seriously injured because they were never taught to respect a dog’s body language or space.  In this situation, it is far better to err on the side of caution.  And keep in mind, a dog biting a child is a terrible thing in itself, but when a Pit Bull bites a child, it has wide reaching ramifications for the entire breed.

Here are a few of the more concerning aspects of this video:

  1. Multiple dogs are surrounding a well-known trigger with a child in close proximity. Food is a resource and often a trigger for aggression.  The sweetest dog can have a bad day or an unseen ailment and lash out.  When one dog in a group like this starts a scuffle, it can quickly escalate, which is why most multi-dog household feed their dogs in separate bowls at least a few feet apart at set meal times.  Free feeding, or having constant access to a full bowl, is different since the dogs are not competing for the food at the same time. These dogs are not being free fed, but are sharing one meal.
  2. Feeding a shared meal is an issue unto itself. Most vets recommend measuring your dog’s meal for good reason.  Obesity is definitely a large issue facing pet dogs, but more importantly changes in diet can alert us to health concerns.  A dog who is offered two cups twice a day, for example, and eats each meal hardily one day and is only eating half a meal the next, is a good indication that something might be wrong.  When you feed multiple dogs a large portion as this family does, you can’t really tell if there is a change in eating habits. In fact, you might only find out if a fight breaks out.
  3. Once the food is laid out and the dogs are released to chow down, the child walks around them and even pats them. At this point, the dogs are highly alert and aroused; a few even move about for more advantageous feeding positions.  This is a recipe for a potentially dangerous accident. The dogs are no longer focused on the child or awaiting instructions so they are not always aware of where she is.  At this point, it is a free-for-all.  Hand feeding your dog or acclimating them to being approached or touched during a meal is one thing. This, however, is not teaching the dogs anything.  The dogs are not even looking at or responding to the child. She is more at risk here than at any other point in the video clip.

Keep in mind that I would feel the same way if this were a group of Poodles or Pomeranians.  The fact that it is a group of Pit Bulls only heightens the attention this type of video gets, as it is geared towards dispelling bias of the breed.  While the intentions of this owner are clearly well meaning, he even intones the wonderful nature of these dogs at the end of the clip, this type of video can lead to misinformation and poor care practices, and potentially a bitten child.  Whenever you choose to post something or share something, please keep in mind that even the best intentioned video can have far reaching ramifications.

Happy Training!

Tamar Paltin
Head Trainer- Perfect Pooch
BA, CPDT-KA, AKC CGC Evaluator