The consequences of setting a dog up for failure

My heart is broken tonight over a terrible situation that has absolutely no winners.

It’s a no good deed goes unpunished story. A woman agreed to take on a challenging dog with an apparent history of biting to help a friend.  Yet for some unknown reason, she then permitted her one-year-old child to play with the dog, only a few short days after the troubled animal moved into their home.  During this interaction, the dog bit the child’s face, causing serious and what’s expected to be long-lasting damage.

The dog is being killed.

The little girl has no nose.

The mother will have to live with the guilt.

A breed will be further vilified by an unfortunate and entirely preventable set of circumstances.


This incident is an important reminder of how both dogs and small children so completely depend on us adults to keep them safe. My dog Freyja, a labrador retriever, has issued warning barks and growls to small children, and I know enough to heed them (and to avoid having her around small children).

Freyja needs her humans to keep her safe from everyone who would have her killed for reacting in a situation in which she should not be placed, just as this dog needed the same. Freyja is not a dangerous dog, per se. But she is a dog.

She isn’t always friendly. In fact, someone leaving something on my doorknob for me once said he thought there was a bear in my house, from all the ruckus she created.  She’s been known to lunge and bark at people and other dogs while we’re on walks (after a year and a half of training, she rarely does it now.)  She’s imperfect, but she’s an absolutely wonderful companion, and has been amazing with her older foster sister. She’s also petrified of my cats.

It sounds like this dog, Boss, may have been irreparable. It’s hard to say. Freyja may have responded the same way.  The critical missing element in this situation is lack of common sense.  Boss was set up to fail because of the actions of the human being who was entrusted with his care, and he will pay for that lack of common sense with his life.  Check out this link for info about dog body language, and this one for some illustrations. And here’s some fascinating info from the National Canine Research Council about contributing factors to dog bite fatalities.

I don’t know the mother, or anything about her other than what’s been reported, but that she permitted her young child to play with a troubled dog tells me that she may not have been quite the dog whisperer that she thought she was.  I’ve seen many people call for her to be investigated by child services, which seems a bit histrionic. Despite her incredibly poor judgement where Boss was concerned, everything else indicates that she’s a caring mother.

On the other hand, the chortling of those who are shouting for breed bans and euthanization of any dog who’s not an elderly golden retriever is a bit much as well (on certain news sites). I’m always troubled by those who seemingly delight in the misery of another species. To expect behavioural perfection in a dog is absolutely ridiculous, and a huge double standard considering how laughingly imperfect every person alive is.

Cutting though the shouting on both sides, it comes down to education, and taking our responsibility seriously. We need to protect the vulnerable members of our society, be they small children, those who lack advantages that many of us take for granted, or the animals who depend on us.

As my friend Tanya put it, “Not all dogs are safe, and by trying to ‘fix’ dangerous dogs, you are breaking a breed I love. Why we set this breed up to fail so miserably, why we seem to need to find an enemy in a loving breed, I can’t begin to imagine.”  Pit bulls are currently euthanized in very high numbers at shelters across North America, because the prejudice that has been built up against them means there are few homes available. According to one article, in the US they have a 93% euthanization rate, and only one in 600 pit bulls will ever have a forever home. How incredibly sad is that?

People who have dogs in their life need to be on their toes, and take that responsibility seriously because lives literally depend on it. Don’t set your dog up for failure. Know your own limits, and assume your dog can never be left alone with a child.

And while parents need to use common sense to protect their children, it’s also not reasonable to expect childhood to be a completely sanitized, risk-free bubble.  I remember being bitten and nipped and barked at ferociously by virtually every dog I encountered when I was growing up.  That same behaviour now would have people calling for euthanization. (For the record, most of these were small dogs.)

This didn’t have to happen. And only adult humans have sufficient agency to prevent it from happening again. I wish the child and her family my very best wishes as they recover from this terrible event.



4 thoughts on “The consequences of setting a dog up for failure

  1. Well written & my sentiments as well. This was poor judgement on the handler’s part & all parties suffered from it. And unfortunately fuels the fire in the breed’s ban & the people who blindly support it. Such a shame!

    My husband & I were discussing this yesterday, we had a dalmatian that was brought up with our young children (they were 5 & 7), though aloof, our young dog was kind, loved everyone & we encouraged this in her. (we’d been told her mother was kind but her father was aggressive) Circumstances were that we had to find a home for her. We thought it was a good home but in the 8 years the new owners had her (though we warned her about her lineage & possible health & behaviour issues), they were disregarded & our beautiful dog became aggressive & miserable. We eventually got her back & within a year, we were able to rehabilitate her but not 100 %. The aggression towards certain dogs & small children was still there, though very much under our control & we did our best to warn people about this. Some people don’t understand that ANY dog can bite if the stress becomes too great for them.

    Such a sad situation. I feel deeply for all involved, it should have been prevented but, mistakes do happen, we’re not all perfect. 😦


  2. Thanks for your comment Lynne. People often do not make their decisions with the appropriate amount of thought, and the animals are suffering terribly for that. I’m glad you were able to get the dalmation back when you were in a better place to do so, and contribute to her rehabilitation. Here’s an interesting study about dog bite fatalities and the contributing factors: I believe that most dogs are good at the core, and that it’s largely humans who are messing them up. 😦


  3. Everything you have said here is absolutely true and the unfortunate part is that it likely was a lack of judgement on this woman’s part that has led to her daughter being horribly disfigured for the remainder of her life.

    I have a 6 year old Golden Retriever who is the sweetest, dopiest, most gentle creature you could ever wish to meet BUT, I would still never leave him alone in a room with a child. My daughter is 5 and has grown up with him. She doesn’t know any different life than the one that includes her dog. When we got him, we seriously trained him over the year before she was born to try our best to ensure that he not only knew his place in the pack, but also so that he knew there were rules. To give you an idea of how gentle he is, when we’re out walking and he sees the kids at the bus stop, he lays down to let them come to him. He becomes submissive with them and will happily lay there while they play with him. That being said, I am very mindful of this activity and am sitting on the ground with him and the children to ensure that nothing goes beyond his tolerance level. As you mentioned, we need to do these types of things in order to protect our children and our pets. I guess my ultimate message here is that no matter the breed, the message should always be the same, the dog can’t talk and tell you that he feels threatened or scared by the situation nor can he tell you that something is hurting him and he’s grumpy as a result. It is our responsibility as dog owners to be aware of our pets and our children and protect them both.

    As for vilifying the “bully breed” in general. It’s utter garbage. I have had close contact over the years with pit bulls, staffordshire bullies as well as other “vicious bully breeds” and it really is a load of crap. They are just and kind and loving as my golden retriever. Given the right environment, any breed can be trained. As well, when they are loved and cared for properly, they will show the same love and companionship to their owners. Just one girls opinion…for whatever it’s worth.


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