Child Bitten by Family Dog

By: Pam Taylor

Not a headline one wants to read in the paper or hear on the news. Within the past several days, I have counseled two owners of male Doberman Pinschers (ages 3 ½ and 4 ½ years old, one neutered and one not), whose dog bit a child (ages 6 and 10) on the face (each needed several stitches) and as a result will be euthanized after the required 10 day holding period. This “quarantine,” during which time ownership of the dog may not be transferred, is required by state law, even though these dogs are current on rabies inoculations. While euthanasia is not mandatory, loss of confidence in the dog and/or threat of cancellation of homeowner’s insurance can influence the outcome.

Why did this happen? In each case, a loved and trusted family pet was left unsupervised with a child visiting the household. My dog would not have done this . . . would yours, under these circumstances?

Let’s be “Mr. Dobie” for a moment: I have a wonderful home and have settled in for a couple of years of solid, relatively uneventful adulthood. I’m adjusted and happy and my folks feel safe when I let it be known I’m possessive of my turf. My owners think I’m wonderful; they love and coddle me. Usually I can have my way, and I feel good about my place in the family, my home, my territory.

ay, this kid came to play at my house. I met him rather casually, without much if any formal introduction. It seemed he couldn’t tell I didn’t want to be bothered. He kept trying to pet and hug me. I guess he thought I was wonderful, too. I really just wanted to be left alone, so finally, becoming irritated, I gave a warning growl and a nip to the nearest part of the child’s body, his face. I could have been much more physical had it not been a first warning, but even this “comment” aroused utter hysteria, with people rushing about and taking the kid away quickly. Maybe I’ll get more respect for my space now that I’ve told them the rules. This is the first time I’ve laid my teeth on a human and it sure works!

Again, why did this happen? And how could it have been prevented? Here are some thoughts.

  • The dog perceived himself as “boss.” “Give the adults in the household what they want when they insist, but life is usually on my terms.” Dogs need socialization, obedience training and a dog crate, and these help the owner to be boss, if this role is well-instructed and practiced regularly.
  • When guests come into your home, do not assume that your dog will accept them. Formally introduce him (or her) to these new people. Instruct young guests about appropriate interaction with your dog. If adults appear to need guidance, tell them, too. The stakes are too high to sit back. As leader and boss, it is your responsibility to protect your dog from inappropriate interactions with people.
  •  Observe your dog’s responses. Be reassuring. Do not leave your dog unattended with guests: teenagers, children or adults. If he appears uncomfortable or aggressive, remove him. Here’s where obedience training gets the dog where you want (with you). The best place for him after the introductions are done is securely confined in his crate with a chew toy for something to do. If the crate is in a “lived in” part of your home (your bedroom, the family room or kitchen, for example), Mr. Dobie will not feel “shut away.” If guests approach the crate, explain that this is his quiet time and ask that they respect his space by leaving him alone.
  • Take your dog out away from home regularly to be socialized, to meet new people routinely and to help him develop a sense of balance. Most of the world is not his domain. Only by experiencing outings away from his territory can your dog learn other roles besides that of protector.
  • Food has a whole set of rules. Do not allow others to feed your dog unless by permission and under your direct supervision and the dog must earn the treat: “Sit, Stay, OK,” and give treat. Crate your dog during human meal time, unless he is trained to lie quietly where told, away from the dinner table. Remember, you are boss. Food is a powerful motivator. Avoid the potential of your dog growling or snapping for food—behavior which can escalate gradually and go unnoticed until an unfortunate incident occurs.
  • However, food can be used as a reward for particular behaviors. In an obedience class you can learn training techniques using food. Dogs particularly enjoy clicker training, where a click earns a treat, and it is a very popular was of training. Whatever you decide, take a class and have a lot of fun learning and using positive training techniques.

Doberman ownership is a real responsibility! Remember that the Doberman Pinscher is a working dog, a home and hearth protector. Teach him what is appropriate. Set and maintain household rules with consistency. Monitor his behavior and correct, quickly and kindly, whenever needed. You’ll have a pet who will make you proud, and who will look to you, his master, for leadership.

Remember, your Doberman needs

  • a leader, You!
  • relief from boredom and intellectual stimulation, best accomplished by exercise, training and play times and regular outings (a walk, a training class, a ride in the car on errands)
  • access to a crate—a den and a safe refuge
  • to meet new people and situations to help him be a comfortable social being

Bottom line: Learn how to be your dog’s boss effectively. It has been said that some Dobermans are smarter than their owners. Unfortunately, the dog pays the price when the owner fails to provide intelligent, responsible leadership.

Let us know if you have questions. We don’t have all the answers, but we’ll help you locate a training professional who can help your dog to be a better citizen and the two of you to be a better team.

Many years ago the two bite experiences described caused me to write this article. To this day, we receive calls about similar situations all too frequently, and so I was compelled to share this information. The two dogs who inspired this writing were males, but a female could respond in the same manner. Whatever the gender of your dog, the stated suggestions apply.