Strap line

What happens when two canine scientists decide to become pen pals in an era of digital media?

Monday, 3 December 2012

Dogs and babies: Not always cute

Hi Mia,

Oh, Arf! Based on the way I treated him, it's a good thing he was stuffed. I remember dragging him around by his leg (or maybe it was his ear) so we could "spend time" together. 

Given he was a stuffed animal, I have to admit it's pretty cute. Nowadays, it seems like one of the functions of social media is sharing cute stuff. You can't go a day without seeing something posted, tweeted or shared that elicits an, "Aww cute" response.

Some photos mix and match baby animals:
Baby animals get us every time

Others photos are more in the cute-weird category:
I see a piece of strawberry and broccoli on that plate. Do you?

Then there are the dog and baby pictures. On our Do You Believe in Dog? Facebook page, I posted the below picture. We got 37 likes, 27 shares and 1, “Awwww!" comment. This picture also appeared elsewhere on Facebook, and I took a screen shot to capture all the attention it received (listed below): 1,658 likes and 464 shares.


In one sense, when it comes to dogs and babies, the above picture is something we are very accustomed to seeing, a gaggle of mushy cuteness.

But there's more to the story, and this is clearly where you are going in your next installment, The Science Surrounding Kids and Dogs: The Ugly (Part 3)


Kids are bitten by dogs and some babies don’t become kids because of an interaction they had with a dog.

This is a fact. A really upsetting fact.

  • A retrospective study examined 341 children who had been bitten by a dog, and they found: “Incidence was highest in 1-year-old patients and decreased with increasing age.” 
  • Another study found: “Children younger than 6 years constituted 52.8% (n = 204) of the sample. As compared with older children, a higher proportion of younger children were bitten by their family dog whose rabies shots were up to date.”  
  • And another: “Children younger than 5 years represented 34% of all dog bite victims, but 50% of all children requiring hospitalization. Thirty-seven percent of all children admitted to the hospital were bitten by a family dog. The cost of direct medical care during the study was $2.15 million.”

These figures are quite painful. Even writing them sucks. But the numbers tell us something. 

  • First, some families will have a traumatic experience as the result of an interaction between a dog and a child.
  • Second, many of the dogs doing the biting are family dogs.
  • Finally, young children constitute a high proportion of children being bitten (and often by the family dog).

Putting it together: Images of dogs and babies
Madeline Gabriel is a San Diego-based Certified Professional Dog Trainer who holds training classes about dogs and babies. On her blog, she recently took a look at ubiquitous dog and baby photos, exploring whether “Cute” Dog and Baby Photos Feed the Fantasy?
  
Photos of dogs and kids often suggest that dogs and kids are just supposed to be "best friends," that dogs should somehow be comfortable having their space invaded, their toys handled, their food bowls touched and their tails tugged.

Gabriel points out, "parents don’t know about safety with dogs and babies and toddlers.  Why should they when our society chooses to surround itself with imagery showing dogs and babies as “best friends?”  You cannot pick up a children’s book with dogs in it without finding talking animals or smiley cartoon dogs who seemingly love being hugged and [their] space invaded by babies.  We have chosen to sacrifice the real to the fantasy.

The price of fantasy is being paid every day by children and dogs and the families that love them.  Hardly ever does a baby or child die from a dog bite (that’s why a single incident will be news across the country), but even a less serious bite is devastating to a family.  Tearful clients tell me, “If only I knew, I would have done it differently…'”


She continues, No one purposely puts babies with dogs they think will hurt them.  The more a dog is tolerant, the more liberties will be allowed.  It’s human nature to believe what’s in front of your eyes (“He’s good with the baby!”), particularly when spurred on by a society that rewards and covets “cute” dog and baby interactions.  That is, until it goes wrong and then you’re spurned — as if you did anything different than millions of other parents who cling to the fantasy.” 

In her follow-up post, Gabriel gives examples of photos of dogs with babies and kids that don't foster the fantasy: each has personal space, no hands are in the dog's face and dogs are not cornered or smothered.

This photo would not have made Gabriel's list:
Feeding the fantasy?

Looking forward to your take on this topic!

Julie

Recommended reading 
. 2010. Good Dogs Don’t Bite Children, Do They? Dogs and Babies Blog


References
. 2012. “Cute” Dog and Baby Photos Feed the Fantasy. Dogs and Babies Blog 


. 2012. Should You Share That Cute Dog and Baby Photo? Dogs and Babies Blog

BERNARDO L.M., GARDNER M.J., ROSENFIELD R.L., COHEN B. & PITETTI R. (2002). A comparison of dog bite injuries in younger and older children treated in a pediatric emergency department, Pediatric Emergency Care, 18 (3) 247-249. DOI:

Daniels D.M., Ritzi R.B.S., O’Neil J. & “Tres Scherer L.R. (2009). Analysis of Nonfatal Dog Bites in Children, The Journal of Trauma: Injury, Infection, and Critical Care, 66 (Supplement) S17-S22. DOI:

Schalamon J. (2006). Analysis of Dog Bites in Children Who Are Younger Than 17 Years, PEDIATRICS, 117 (3) e374-e379. DOI:
© Julie Hecht 2012