Thursday, April 11, 2013

Lessons learned

My son was bit on Tuesday, right on the lip, by a dog we didn't know. Let me answer your questions in the order they occur to you::

1) Cocker spaniel
2) He's OK, just has a fat lip.
3) No, he didn't do anything to provoke it.

As a "dog person," in general, and a pit bull owner specifically, the first question I always have and always hear after a biting incident is: "What kind of dog was it?"

It was startling, bloody (oh how head wounds bleed!) and a bit painful for Josh. It was startling and concerning for me -- not only had my son been bitten, but if this had been a pit bull or a "pit bull-type dog" as too many mutts are now called, it could have been headline news. Ultimately, though, it just presented a whole lotta teachable moments.

Josh knows his way around dogs of all kinds and all sizes, even though he's not quite 12. He and his sister had to learn about the characteristics and behaviors of pit bulls before I even considered bringing Hathaway home. Both kids are knowledgeable and conscientious, but they're also kids and sometimes they forget.

Josh loves dogs and they love him. He was not doing anything obvious to make a dog feel threatened and bite (teasing, startling, cornering etc ...) He gave it his hand to sniff. The spaniel licked it. He bent over a little to pat it on the head and the dog jumped up and bit him. No growl, no warning.

Thankfully, it was one bite, not an attack, and it didn't happen to a more delicate part of his face. It was a reminder to him to keep his face away from strange dogs and to ask the owner if it's OK to pet the animal. It's also a reminder that different actions are threatening to different dogs: Maybe his bending down scared it. 

The woman was shocked when I told her her dog bit my son. Her first question was "Did he have food?" (No) and then "Can I see?" (Uh, sure, just please don't touch his blood-covered face.) I also explained that there are a lot of younger kids at the park at that time of day that will be much less cautious about approaching her dog than my kid was. Hopefully she got the message.

For me, the incident reinforces my belief that EVERY dog -- regardless of breed -- has some trigger that will cause it to bite a person, and it's the owner's responsibility to learn what it is (or assume what it could be) and avoid that situation.

My dog has not bitten anyone and I don't think he would, but I watch as if he might. I have always handled my dogs this way, and always will, whether I have a house full of pit bulls or pugs.